Sunday, November 17, 2013
TO BUILD AN EMPIRE BY DORIS MCCRAW
Near the end of the Nineteenth Century Colorado saw one of the last great gold strikes. Into what became know as the Cripple Creek Mining District flowed the men and women who were searching for their pot of gold. Many of the names are lost to time, only a few like Stratton, Penrose and Moffat remain. One of the lost names is Woods. This family, father Warren, and sons Harry and Frank built an empire.
The Woods began their Colorado mining ventures in 1878 in the Leadville area where silver was king. They owned properties throughout the area, but were unable to continue mining and shipping when funds ran out. The family returned to the east with Harry going into the newspaper business and Warren and Frank to grocery and drug stores.
Ten years later in 1888 Harry returned to Colorado and invested heavily in mining in the Creede area, with varying degrees of success. He ended up in Denver where he established a brokerage house. When news of a promising property near one of theirs in the Leadville area, Harry made sure their interest were secure. Soon his father and brother joined him in Denver and the Woods Investment Company was born.
Shaft House for the Gold Coin
In 1893 they family purchased the Mt. Rosa Placer from J.R. McKinnie for $1,000 dollars. The platted this 160 acres and the town of Victor was born. The Woods promoted the lots by saying that all the lots were gold mines. They were not too far from wrong in their case. While excavating for the upscale hotel the family was building for the town, gold was found. This mine, the Gold Coin, was literally in the center of Victor. The hotel location was moved two blocks away, while work was done to make the strike pay.
Victor was always seen as second to Cripple Creek, which had given the district its name. While the owners lived in Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs, Victor was populated with the working man. This made sense since all the big and wealthiest mines were on Battle Mountain just to the northwest of Victor. So close was Victor to the mountain, that many considered the Gold Coin to be part of that group.
The Woods Investment Company continued to pursue their empire and by 1899 had holdings in seven mines and mining companies. 1899 also saw the fire that destroyed most of the town of Victor, including the Gold Coins shaft house. All totaled 12 city blocks were destroyed by the fire and the dynamite used to create a fire break. Another 25 blocks were severely damaged.
The Gold Coin Club as it looks today
The Woods, known for the generosity and good wages, set about rebuilding the Gold Coin. The mine shaft house was rebuilt with ornate pressed brick and the reading room that was in the original shaft house was improved upon with books and magazines for their workers. The shaft house also had stained glass windows. Popular legend says one miner refused to work in a place that reminded him of a church for he wouldn't be able to swear.
They also built an ornate club nearby for their employees. Build along the lines of the mens clubs in the east, this building was also used for visiting dignitaries. Theodore Roosevelt was one such visitor, and records seem to indicate he was there twice.
Underside of the Gold Coin Club staircase.
Jack Dempsey, the renowned fighter, also fought his first fight in the Gold Coin Club. Dempsey worked a doublejack at the Portland Mine. (The Portland story is another great story.)
The Woods attempted to consolidate their holdings after the fire, but the cost of rebuilding, which they wanted only the best possible, and over extension caused a collapse in the empire the family had built. They never did recover their glory and are almost forgotten today. Still what a grand time they must have had.
Doris McCraw has a passion for and writes about Colorado and Womens History. The book “Film & Photography in the Pikes Peak Region” contains her story of Karol W. Smith, the first state film commissioner in the United States. She recently finished a paper on the Cripple Creek volcano. Doris is also a haiku poet and recently returned to writing fiction.