Walk Back in Time in Historic LeadvilleApril 9, 2023
This year, take a walking tour in the 1880s silver mining boomtown of Leadville, Colorado. Here’s a preview of some fun facts and ways to make your tour extra special!
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.)
Did you know that the idea that led to Leadville Ski Joring was born in a downtown eatery, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2023? (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 on page 10 of the Leadville and Twin Lakes History Guide.
Denver Public Library Special Collections, X-440
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 door is the Leadville/Lake County 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, married JJ Brown there in 1886. In 1935 in this storied church, Leadvillians paid their respects to the legendary Baby Doe Tabor.
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.
Catch a Show or Tour
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 “the grandest opera house between the Mississippi and San Francisco.”
In summer, you can enjoy a wide variety of shows, from live music and theater to comedy, cowboy poetry, and more. Be sure to also take a guided history tour, with tours open from Memorial Day weekend through September.
Visit Historic Museums
Feel like you’re being watched? It could be the House with the Eye, (127 W. 4th St.), 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.
Most of Leadville’s museums are on the walking tour. Be sure to also visit the Heritage Museum (102 E. Ninth St.) once a public library, and the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum (120 W. Ninth St.), originally Leadville’s high school. The Healy House Museum & Dexter Cabin (912 Harrison Ave.) were a gift for a lucky bride and hunting lodge, respectively. Tour a frontier synagogue at Temple Israel (201 W. 4th St.), and be a guest at the Tabor Home (116 E. Fifth St.), built by Horace Tabor.
Shop the Historic District
Storefronts throughout these historic blocks are packed with fun finds of shops of all kinds. Go shopping for maker goods, antiques, souvenirs, clothing, housewares, books, outdoor gear, and much more in these Victorian-era stores!
Raise a Glass at Historic Saloons
Has this walk down Memory Lane made you thirsty? Check out two places that have been late-night watering holes for well over a century. Or finish up your walking tour at any of our local bars and saloons!
120 W. 2nd St.
Have a specialty cocktail or beer and a burger at what was once a gambling saloon in Leadville’s red light district. Doc Holliday, Jesse James, Wild West ruffians and more filled the Pastime Saloon, which continues to be notorious. This beer-slinging parlor has helped people pass the time since 1878.
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 many delicious offerings on the Silver Dollar’s menu!
Grab a Bite to Eat
Most of Leadville’s restaurants are in historic buildings. Be sure to stop in for delicious vittles and special ambiance!
Stay the Night
Never want to leave the historic walking tour? Spend the night at the Delaware Hotel, Leadville’s remaining grand Victorian hotel at 700 Harrison Avenue. Or reserve one of our many other places to stay, many of which are in charming historic buildings.
The Leadville Downtown Walking Tour
Print versions of the Leadville and Twin Lakes History Guide, a special free publication of the Herald Democrat, are available in boxes outside of its office at 717 Harrison Avenue, at the Leadville/Lake County Visitor Center (809 Harrison Ave.), and at other town locations.
Can’t wait? Read the History Guide online, then come explore Leadville’s history yourself!
East Side Mining District Driving Tour
Rather drive than walk? Cruise down Harrison Avenue, then head into Leadville’s East Side Mining District. The Route of the Silver Kings driving tour will take you past original mining headframes and structures and magnificent views. See the History Guide, starting on page 30, for a description of the route and a map!