Walk Back in Time in Downtown Leadville
To wrap up Leadville History Month, let’s share some fun facts about this 1880s silver mining boomtown.
Did you know that a popular Harrison Avenue jewelry store once offered one of Queen Isabella’s diamonds for $10,000, way back in 1880? (In that location, you can now buy or rent two-wheeled human-powered machines that let you access the gems of Leadville trails, for way less cash.)
That the idea that led to Leadville Ski Joring was born in a downtown eatery, now the county’s oldest continuously operating restaurant? (There’s another popular four-legged Colorado critter in this café’s name.)
Or that 70 square blocks of downtown’s shops, saloons, restaurants, and homes are designated a National Historic Landmark District?
To learn even more interesting history, take the Leadville Downtown Walking Tour. You can find it in the Leadville/Lake County Heritage Guide. Or contact the Delaware Hotel about their ever-popular Leadville Safari Tours for fascinating tales and tours of local history.
Legendary Mining Magnates, Merchants, and a House with an Eye
Here are just a few of the walking tour’s many highlights.
815 Harrison Avenue
When you turn the corner into downtown from the north, the turreted Furman House is one of the first buildings you’ll see on historic Harrison Avenue. Privately owned, this home was built in 1895 and is an example of Queen Anne architecture. The United Services Organization, which entertained the troops, occupied the house during World War II.
Next to it at 809 Harrison Avenue is the Visitor Center, a great place to stop, stretch your legs, and learn about all the fascinating things you’ll find in North America’s highest city.
609 Poplar Street
An impressive part of Leadville’s skyline is the strong spire of Annunciation Church, on the corner of East Seventh Street and Poplar St. The Unsinkable Molly Brown, of Titanic fame, and her husband JJ Brown were married here in 1886. In 1935 in this storied church, Leadvillites paid their respects to the legendary Baby Doe Tabor.
516-522 Harrison Avenue
The minerals markets have always been important in this mining town. The Iron Building, built in 1893 and trimmed in iron, is believed to get its name from a newspaper editorial praising the area’s iron ore, which helped Leadville’s economy recover after the silver panic that same year. Today it houses retail shops, including Leadville’s corner bookstore.
Site of David May’s First Store
318 Harrison Avenue
Did you know that the precursor to May Department Stores was right here in Leadville? In the late 1800s, founder David May at first sold clothing from a tent in Leadville, then from 318 Harrison Avenue. While the building is no longer standing, a stone tablet marks the spot.
Tabor Opera House
308 Harrison Avenue
Momentous from its very start, the Tabor Opera House was said to be built in 1879 in only 100 days, with its construction materials brought to Leadville by wagon. Mining magnate Horace Tabor created this performance hall, once said to be “grandest opera house between the Mississippi and San Francisco.”
The City of Leadville purchased the building in 2016, and in 2017 the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation began leading the rehabilitation and fundraising efforts and presenting performances. In 2018, you can enjoy interactive tours and 16 cultural events, from theater and spoken word to flamenco dancing, comedy and a diverse variety of musical performances. Or take an interactive tour starting June 1, Tuesdays through Sundays.
House with the Eye
127 W. 4th St.
Feel like you’re being watched? It could be the House with the Eye, built in 1879 and furnished as a model home by master carpenter and architect Eugene Robitaille, an early real-life version of Better Homes and Gardens. The eye itself is meant to be the All-Seeing Eye of God. The house is open as a museum in the summer months. Check back soon for details on the 2018 Leadville Museum Passport.
Has this walk down Memory Lane made you thirsty? Check out the tour’s two late-night watering holes.
Silver Dollar Saloon
315 Harrison Avenue
This building has been a saloon from its start in 1879 and became the Irish-themed Silver Dollar Saloon in 1935. Both Irish wit Oscar Wilde and gunslinger Doc Holliday are said to have quenched their thirst here. Check out the old ornate bar, rare diamond-dust mirrors, and fascinating array of memorabilia on the walls. Then taste your way through the Silver Dollar’s new menu!
Leadville’s Historic Pastime Bar and Café
120 W. 2nd Street
Leadville’s Historic Pastime Bar and Café was once one of 64 bars on what was then called State Street. A bit of a renegade, the Pastime stayed open throughout Prohibition and has hosted prize fights and wrestling bouts, including with women wrestlers. To round out its storied past, it also served as a theater and a brothel. Visit today, and you can still see the original Chinese-style back bar and the booths with diamond-dust mirrors—along with bands, karaoke, DJs, drinks and some of Leadville’s best burgers and BBQ.
The Leadville Downtown Walking Tour
Print versions of the Leadville/Lake County Heritage Guide, a special free publication of the Herald Democrat, are available in boxes outside of its office at 717 Harrison Avenue, at the Visitor Center (809 Harrison Ave.), and at other town locations. Can’t wait? Read it online, then come explore Leadville’s history yourself!