Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Air Force Academy Spirit

Ghost Town recalls life in gold mining era

The museum’s General Store is typical of Gold Rush era merchandising which featured everything from clothing and kitchen utensils to food staples and china.

The museum’s General Store is typical of Gold Rush era merchandising which featured everything from clothing and kitchen utensils to food staples and china.

By Ann Patton

Academy Spirit staff

It was a time when a haircut cost a quarter, when horses pulled fire trucks, when gold was king and when civilization followed miners into Colorado.

The Ghost Wild West Museum at West 21st and Cimarron streets takes visitors back to the Old West along its “main street” and into the homes of early settlers.

Shops and services are housed in authentic Colorado ghost town structures, disassembled in mountain ghost towns and restored inside the museum. The museum contains thousands of authentic artifacts and many more warehoused and not on display.

“It is a good representation of Colorado history and what pioneers brought with them during the Gold Rush and after,” said owner Dave Harris.

The family-owned museum, opened in 1954, was the inspiration of Lois Akers, Mr. Harris’ “grandmother-in-law,” who was intrigued with the era and enjoyed collecting artifacts from it. The museum reflects life in mining towns roughly from the 1880s to 1910.

“Visitors can get an idea of what a town looked like then as they rode into it,” Mr. Harris said. “Everything is original.”

The museum begins at the General Store, packed with products and equipment typical of the time. Shelves and displays hold dishes and earthenware, shoes, clothing, bins for staples such as flour and sugar. It also features early household helpers like a knitting machine and carpet sweeper. In the store’s window are small collections of Limoges and Wedgewood fine china, undoubtedly brought in to the area in wagons.

The blacksmith shop with its bellows and tack pays tribute to early settlers’ dependence on horse power. Like other shops, its story is told through spoken narrative at the push of a button.

The long arm of the law is felt in the cramped, one-room jail, complete with a chamber pot, where long-ago wrong doers were held in custody.

The Pikes Peak Bugle kept area residents informed of the area’s goings on. The newspaper shop contains authentic type-setting equipment and an early printing press.

The Apothecary features powders, potions and sweets dished out from counter-top glass cabinets. Visitors can imagine weary travelers checking into the boarding house next door where the parlor is dominated by an early Chickering Baby Grand piano.

In the saloon are mutoscopes, sort of early View-Masters, with entertainment of the era, and a gambling table, a rare survivor of the Pikes Peak Saloon Fire in Cripple Creek in 1896.

At Wells-Fargo & Co., a worker weighs the gold booty of miners. An early Wells-Fargo safe, gold scales and mail cubbies are among its artifacts. A sign asks customers “Please do not expectorate on the floor.”

Inside the fire station visitors can appreciate the burden of early fire fighters as they struggled with primitive water lines and horse-drawn engines.

Lining the boardwalk is a collection of carriages, including a totally refurbished pallbearer’s coach. Other early vehicles located near the museum’s “main street” are a Cutter sleigh, designed for deep snow, an early fire truck, a Hundley stage coach and an authentic 1903 Cadillac, the first year of the Caddy’s existence, plus a Sears Motorgo from 1907.

The museum’s main building was once the old machine shop for the Colorado Midland Railroad, which ran on tracks on what is now Highway 24. The building housing VanBriggle Pottery, now closed, served as the railroad round house next door. The Golden Cycle Mining Corporation mill operated across Highway 24 and treated gold ore from the Cripple Creek and other gold districts in Colorado.

The old tin shop, a few steps outside the main museum, now serves as a depiction of domestic family life in various rooms of the pioneer home. The home’s resident mannequins are dressed authentically for the time, and visitors can view activity in the kitchen, nursery, dining room, sitting room, master bedroom and even an early bathroom.

Children can get a taste of pioneer life with interactive displays, including a shooting gallery. They may also try their hand at cranking a butter churn, operating an old-time arcade or panning for actual gold during the summer months.

(Parents, beware: The shooting gallery’s noisy gunshot effects are triggered by camera flashes.)

Picnic tables are available outside, and the museum has a well-stocked gift shop.

Jim Thobe has been on the museum staff for about five years.

“I like the history,” he said, particularly the General Store and Wells-Fargo. He enjoys learning and relating information from the Gold Rush period. A collection of old letters, for example, recently intrigued him.

From its guest registry, the museum tracks visitors from every state in the U.S. and 50-plus countries.

Admission is $6.50 for adults and $4 for children 5 and under. A $1 discount applies to all military visitors.

The museum is open September through May from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Hours from June through August are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Plenty of parking is adjacent to the museum’s buildings.

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