Updated: Mar 4, 2021
By Emily Herrington, IPWA Volunteer
Colorado is steeped in mining history. We pass through the reminders of this every time we hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Places such as Eldora and the Hessie townsite came into existence this way. I always wondered about the abandoned, collapsed cabins on the way to the Hessie trailhead. Who lived there and when? What brought people to live through winters at 9,000 feet and why was it abandoned?
From 1898 to 1899 Eldora was a hub of mining activity in the mountains above Nederland. Prospectors flooded the area in hopes of striking rich on telluride gold ore. Investors and businessmen followed to provide services for the growing town. At its peak, Eldora grew to over 1000 people. Prospectors camped in the surrounding mountains, branching out in hopes of finding new ore veins. A man named J.H. Davis took the flood of people, the ore interest, and the need for a new lumber mill to found the town of Hessie, named after his wife.
Hiking along the trail, I imagine Hessie at its peak -- the post office and a school lining the main road, a lumber mill providing building materials for the increasing population. Hessie in 1899 had 30 permanent residents and more than 50 prospectors in the surrounding area.
This ore rush didn’t last long, however. All the prospecting amounted to very little actual ore. The boom quickly busted, eager prospectors moved on, and investors pulled out. By the year 1900, only 400 people remained in Eldora and 70 in the surrounding area including Hessie. The Hessie townsite was completely deserted by 1905.
This two-year telluride ore boom, though brief, left a legacy behind. The interest in Eldora and Hessie brought people, money, and attention through Nederland. Prospecting in Eldora lured the Colorado/Northwestern Railroad into Nederland, encouraging tourism to flourish when mining was not sustainable. It’s a legacy that endures today.
Most of the townsite is gone now, and all that’s left are the small cabins scattered along the trail. The trail itself is a remnant of the old road. Wilderness reclaims the buildings. Next time you set out from the Hessie Trailhead to hike, imagine those buildings bustling with activity, feel the creaking wagon wheels rumbling where you walk, imagine the lives of the people in that brief moment in time hoping to make it rich in a harsh environment, and the legacy they left.
I love volunteering for the IPWA because it brings me closer to this history. I am proud to protect this area and be a resource for others to learn and appreciate it, too. Volunteering in this way is critical with record numbers of visitors to our wilderness areas.
Thank you for your continued support, contributions, and time with the Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance. If you applied and didn’t get to volunteer this year, thank you for your continued interest, and I look forward to seeing you on the trails in the future!
Twitty, Eric. “Amendment to Metal Mining and Tourist Era Resources of Boulder County Multiple Property Listing.” Www.historycolorado.org, 2017, www.historycolorado.org/sites/default/files/media/document/2017/623amend09.pdf. p. 89 - 95