Where mining began: touring historic Idaho Springs

9Neighborhoods: Idaho Springs. 9NEWS at 7 a.m. 12/16/16.

IDAHO SPRINGS - Earlier this month, our 9Neighborhoods' tours brought us to the picturesque holiday mountain area of Georgetown. But if you're headed west from Denver to get there, there's another town that's worth stopping by, too.

Idaho Springs is about 32 miles (a 38-minute drive) west of Denver. It's easily identifiable because of the Charlie Tayler Waterwheel, located on the eastbound side of I-70.

With a population of about 2,000 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey's estimates), the 2.2-square-mile city is the most populous in Clear Creek County.

A Gold Rush History

Idaho Springs’ history begins along with Colorado’s inception as a state.

It was one of the first areas gold prospectors rushed to mine along Clear Creek. An explorer named George Jackson was eager to explore the area that is today Clear Creek County, along with his friend, Tom Golden.

On one of his explorations to the area known today as Idaho Springs, Jackson came across hundreds of grazing sheep, munching on green grass as the warm vapors of the nearby hot springs rose around them. That night he camped in the area of Miner Street and Soda Creek Road.

As the snow melted nearby his bonfire, Jackson panned for gold in the sand using his coffee cup. He found nine dollars’ worth of gold and rushed back to Golden to tell his friend.

Months later he returned with 22 men from the Chicago Mining Company. They quickly discovered what today would be more than one million dollars’ worth of gold!

In June of 1859, the area was formally organized as Idahoe. 400 people lived in the settlement at that time. In 1874, land lots were given to settlers from Mayor R.B. Griswold.

Infrastructure developed relatively quickly, with a modern water and sewer system – at least for the 1860s – and two different electric companies providing power and heat to the town by the 1900s.

As the Colorado and Southern Railroad expanded through the town, it continued to grow in population and amenities. Ore was transported more easily into Denver, too.

By the late 1930’s, Highway 40 was constructed, which gobbled up a section of the city. 

All non-essential mining was banned in World War II to conserve powder and supplies, which once again, changed the complexion of the community.

The construction of I-70 in the 50s and 60s further changed the landscape of the town.

Today, very little mining is actually done – none, really, other than the Colorado School of Mines' experimental mine, the Edgar, on the north edge of town. 

Tourism is the modern, major draw to the town which sits along popular skiing and hiking routes for travelers and adventure-seeking people.

Idaho Springs Today

The median home price in Idaho Springs stands at $250,000, up 5.3 percent since last year, according to real estate website Trulia.com.

Idaho Springs' business and recreational scene has quite a bit going on. Because of its proximity to Mount Evans, many people frequent the city before or after driving on the Mount Evans Byway, a scenic, 14-mile ascent on the highest paved road in America, climbing 14,200 feet above sea level. 

As one of Colorado's Front Range Fourteeners, Mount Evans offers plenty of beautiful campgrounds and hiking trails, ranging in length and difficulty.

Idaho Springs' history also makes for a good day at the Argo Gold Mine and Mill, which offers tours and has a museum. Downtown Idaho Springs also has a historical offering — the Heritage Museum, which gives visitors insight into the city's mining roots.

For adventures, local companies provide everything from white water rafting, to horseback riding, to cliffside ziplines and more. Nearby are plenty of ATV and mountain biking trails, too.

And this summer, a new place to play opened just outside the city. The Lawson Adventure Park, located at 3424 Alvarado Rd., spans 42 acres and includes activities like a bungee trampoline, a maze, rides, Frisbee-Golf, rock climbing and a challenge course.

For winter fun, the Echo Mountain ski area near the city is small, but affordable, with day passes costing $49 and season passes costing $259.

Local Fare

Idaho Springs has no shortage of delicious spots to grab a bite either. Pull off I-70 for gas, and you can literally smell the meats cooking at Smokin Yard's BBQ, at 2736 Colorado Blvd., which has both indoor and outdoor seating.

If you like Cajun food, head to Da Rivuh (1446 Miner St.), or grab American dishes at either Marion's of the Rockies (2804 Colorado Blvd.) or MTN Prime (1600 Miner St.)

Colorado's original Beau Jo's location sits along the main drag of Miner Street, too. Most of the businesses along Miner Street are housed in historic buildings with explanatory plaques on their facade. Beau Jo's prides itself on "Colorado Style Pizza," and has a rather amusing history on its website. 

These days, no mountain town would be complete without a brewery. Westbound & Down Brewing Company is a swanky spot serving up home-brewed beers like Colorado Pale Ale, Centennial Smash, Seven Sisters Stout and more. (People love to hit this spot up after climbing nearby Mount Evans, one of Colorado's Fourteeners).

Idaho Springs' original brewery is Tommyknocker Brewery, which has been around for more than 20 years. Their beers have won them 17 medals at the Great American Beer Fest, and they now serve food alongside their brews. It's a good place to stop with the whole family since they brew and bottle their own non-alcoholic sodas, too. 

There's also some shops to check out — The Soap Shop (1542 Miner St.) makes 100 percent organic soaps of all shapes, sizes and smells.

Unique gifts and furniture can be found at Wild Grape (1435 Miner St.), and Emporium (1620 Miner St.) sells Irish and Celtic goodies.

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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