Museum Blog

Coal Creek

The oldest coal camp in Colorado, Coal Creek, was once quite a large bustling hub of activity. The town was first platted in 1887 by Harry and Willard Teller. However, the town had already been well established by that point however with coal discovered in 1860. The first major coal mine was the Canfield, doing decent business by 1871. This mine was eventually purchased by Colorado Fuel & Iron (CF&I) who operated mines all over the area. The Denver & Rio Grande extended a line into the town which accelerated its growth bringing in workers and their families from all different backgrounds looking for jobs in the mines. The population continued to steadily grow and was incorporated in 1882. The residents enjoyed a degree of culture with the hotels hosting performers to entertain town residents. Unfortunately for the town, this prosperity wasn’t set to last.

In 1907, the town experienced a disaster that ended its steady rise from coal camp to bustling city. A fire ripped through the town destroying 102 buildings. Fire was an ever-present threat in many mining towns as it could spread quickly between wooden structures. The fire began on the roof of Alf Salmon’s bottling works, possibly due to a spark from the smokestack. Many buildings were dynamited to create firebreaks. After the fire was under control, the schoolhouse stood alone, one of the few buildings that was saved. The town had an estimated population of 5,000 people, but with many of the homeless, they began to trickle away in search of other jobs and homes before the town could finish rebuilding. As coal mines began to close due to the lessening demand for coal, the town continued to dwindle to around 130 people in 1969. Today, the population sits at just under 350 as of the 2010 census. 

Coal Creek, ca. 1900. Object ID: 1992.070.004; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center
“Coal Creekers waiting for the 4th of July parade”, ca. 1905. Object ID: 1992.070.001; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center
Coal Creek after the fire, 1907. Object ID: 1999.030.001; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

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