Colorado's Gold Mining History

Idaho Springs: A Golden History

Idaho Springs was founded in 1859 by George Jackson when he discovered gold at the confluence of Chicago Creek and Clear Creek. When he returned and the secret spread, the gold rush was on. Jackson’s discovery put in motion the biggest gold rush and immigration in American history. As a result, the Colorado Territory was formed in 1861 and a short seventeen years after Jackson’s discovery the State of Colorado was admitted to the union in 1876.

The town had several names such as Jackson’s Diggings, Sacramento City and Idaho “Springs” was added in 1872 (some text says 1866). Idaho was rumored to be named after an Arapaho word “Edauho” meaning “Gem of the Mountain.” The Arapaho and Ute Indians occupied this area and shared the natural hot springs water as neutral territory. Today Idaho Springs has a population of about 1,900, the largest town in Clear Creek County.

The golden era of mining in Clear Creek County was 1870-1900 evident from the elegant homes and business buildings, many of which featured central heating, hot and cold running water, cooking ranges and indoor toilets. When nonessential mining was banned during WWII, most of the area mines were forced to close. The boom was over, but Idaho Springs continued as the county’s primary center of business and residence.

Idaho Springs continues to benefit from its rich mining heritage. The Downtown Commercial District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and several properties within the city limits are also on the registry. This area is a collection of one and two story brick and a few of the original frame buildings that housed the markets, hardware stores, banks and saloons of the 19th century mining center (most of the original clapboard, false-fronted wood frame buildings were replaced with brick, iron and more durable materials following the introduction of the railroad in 1877.)

Today you can explore the history and have amazing adventures in the area!

Get a true glimpse of local Colorado life with a behind the scenes look at historic Idaho Springs as you paddle right through it on Clear Creek! It’s been over 150 years since Colorado’s Gold Rush, which started with a discovery worth about $9, found right here in Idaho Springs, at the confluence of Chicago Creek and Clear Creek. Join us in exploring the unique cultural elements, rich natural resources and interesting history that make this legendary town distinctly “Colorado’.

Lawson Adventure Park & Resort itself is also located directly where mining and encampments in the area had been. An old mining trail once ran where the ziplining path can now be found. Our guided UTV Tours also drive through history with a stop by the remains of the old mining town of Silver Creek and a brief tour through an old gold mine.

It was constructed in 1893 and was the first mill designed to extract more than one type of mineral from the ore it processed. At the time, the 4.5 mile long Tunnel, which connected the mill with the mining operations, was the longest transportation and drainage tunnel in the world! In 1943, when the tunnel flooded, gold mining operations ceased due to WWll and the Argo was closed. In 1977 it was purchased, renovated and opened as a museum. 

This heritage railroad is located in the Rocky Mountains in Clear Creek Country. The train runs between the communities of Georgetown and Silver Plume for a distance of two miles. The train does ascend through mountainous terrain so you’ll be treated to some scenic views.

This is one of Colorado’s first visitor attractions and was completed in 1885. Considered an engineering marvel for its time, the train was able to connect two thriving mining towns. While on the train, keep a lookout of some of the remains of several gold and silver mines. You’ll have an unobstructed view of everything along the line, and is definitely something that you wouldn’t want to miss.