In Chaffee County, Colorado, there is a ghost town called St Elmo, formerly known as Forest City. St. Elmo lies 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista, at an elevation of 9,961 feet in the heart of the Sawatch Mountain Range.
Established in 1880, approximately 2,000 people inhabited this town for more than 40 years during the Gold Rush. However, the silver and gold mining industries began to decline in the early 1920s, and the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad ended service in 1922.
Originally known as Forest City, its name was changed to St. Elmo because there were so many other towns with the same name. The name St. Elmo was chosen by one of the founders, Griffith Evans, who got the idea for the name when he was reading a novel with that title.
St. Elmo reached its peak in the 1890s, when it sported a schoolhouse, five hotels, saloons, a telegraph office, a newspaper office, a general store, several dancing halls, and a town hall. The Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad line had a regular stop at St. Elmo. There were 150 registered or patented mining claims in the area and the majority of the people who lived in St. Elmo worked at the four largest mines; the Mary Murphy, the Teresa C, the Molly, or the Pioneer mines.
The Mary Murphy Mine was the largest mine in the St. Elmo area, as well as the most successful. While the Mary Murphy was in operation, over $60 million dollars’ worth of gold was mined. While the other mines ultimately began shutting down, the Mary Murphy mine maintained operations until the railroad halted service in 1922.
The population of St. Elmo severely dropped once the mining industry shut down. The miners and their families left St. Elmo as they searched elsewhere for gold and silver. It didn’t take long for the business district in St. Elmo to follow suit and close down as well.
However, there were still a few people who continued to live in the town. In 1952, after the death of St. Elmo’s postmaster, the postal service was terminated.
St. Elmo still has a few inhabitants even though it is considered a ghost town. Tourism attracts many visitors to the St. Elmo region every year. There are several excellent places to go fishing along Chalk Creek, which runs through St. Elmo, and the old mining roads are now exceptional trails for 4-wheel-drive and offroad vehicles. Tourists can rent four-wheelers or buy supplies from the old general store, which is open during the summer.
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Many of the original buildings are still well preserved; however, in 2002, the town hall and a few other buildings burned down. The entire community is listed as a historic region on the National Register of Historic Places, and Buena Vista Heritage is restoring the town hall to its original state.