I live in California, but my heart—and my historical mystery series—are in Leadville, Colorado. As a frequent visitor for research, first to trace my family roots and later to inspire and inform my writing, I’ve noted quite a few great places to visit and wander. Once you catch your breath at the ten-thousand-plus foot elevation, there is a lot to do and see!
In addition to the sights listed in the Moon Colorado travel guide (Healy House Museum and Dexter Cabin, the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, etc.), make time to visit the House with the Eye on West 4th Street. Built in 1879 by Eugene Robitaille (who plays a small but significant role in What Gold Buys, the fifth in my Silver Rush historical series), this house was one of four he designed and constructed on West 4th. There are many stories about “why the eye” in the design. I suggest you mosey down to the museum and ask the curator to explain. Inside you’ll find a 1920s electric player piano, a Prohibition-era still, period clothing, a collection of nooses (I kid you not!), vintage mining equipment, and—in the Carriage Room—a horse-drawn, 1890s hearse.
Another great museum, just a little farther down on West 4th Street, is the Temple Israel Museum. Built in 1884, this synagogue-turned-museum documents pioneer Jewish life in the area during the 1880s and 1890s. Did you know, for instance, that Meyer Guggenheim, patriarch of “the” Guggenheims, laid the foundation for the Guggenheim fortune with his purchase of two mines during the Leadville silver rush?
The Tabor Opera House on Harrison Avenue is also a must see. An imposing three-story brick building, it was constructed in 100 days in 1879. This speed is all the more amazing when you consider all the materials were hauled up into the mountains by wagons (this was long before the railroads arrived).
If you are interested in genealogy and have an ancestor or two who wandered through town (a surprising number of people came to check out the prospects during Leadville’s heyday), a stop at the Lake County Public Library and a chat with the friendly research librarians is in order. You can also visit the online Colorado Mountain History Collection from the comfort of your home.
If you get hungry and thirsty—and you will if you spend much time traipsing around town and visiting the mining district—here are my current favorites for food and libations: Coffee on a Hill, Treeline Kitchen, and High Mountain (Pizza) Pies. And don’t forget the iconic Golden Burro Café.
Enjoy! If you find Leadville as enchanting as I do, be sure to spread the word about this amazing high-mountain town.