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.







12 comments:

  1. What a great post, Doris! I love it when folks dig out and share these "hidden" stories. The bit about the miner who refused to work in a place that looked like a church because he wouldn't be able to cuss is priceless. :-D

    It sad that folks who apparently harbored as much interest in the community's welfare as their own suffered such a catastrophic loss. The world needs more people like that, not fewer.

    Nice to see you blogging for Western Fictioneers! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kathleen, thank you. It is my pleasure to share with all of you. The stories that are hidden are the gems I get when I research history. It looks like they were forced to join the mine owners when the second labor strike hit the area. Doris

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting piece. Well done, Doris!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you sir. Appreciate the feedback Charlie. Doris

    ReplyDelete
  5. Doris, my husband and I visited Cripple Creek and Victor about ten years ago. It's a fascinating area. I loved being able to learn about the history firsthand. It intrigued me and still does. Very beautiful but haunting places. I felt I reach out and touch some of the people who lived there, feel their hopes and dreams, their desire for a piece of the American dream. Thanks for such an interesting post that brought back memories. My husband is gone now but I treasure our trip to Cripple Creek and Victor.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The only thing I previously knew about Cripple Creek came from a song, now lost in the sands of my memory. Thanks for filling out the spaces, Doris.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Doris, I love the pictures--I have never been to Colorado--can you believe it? With me living in OK nearly all my life. I love to learn about history and you put such interesting details in your post, I've gone back and read it again, just to be sure I didn't miss anything. Then I discovered I put "Victory" in my blathering on FB instead of "Victor"...duh. LOL Great post, and I'm so glad you joined us today!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  8. Well done, Doris. Good to know about the people who pulled all that gold from the ground. Duke and I visited several ghost towns in Arizona in June. Suppose I should dig up some of the lore from those places, too. Thanks for the memory jog.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Linda,
    So sorry for your loss. Still I am glad you had the chance to drive the high mountains and see what some have said was the greatest gold camp. I live fairly close and head up to the 9900 feet and visit when I can. Doris

    ReplyDelete
  10. Andrea, I always loved the CCR version of the song. There is so much up there in terms of history. I feel blessed to me near such a rich and physically beautiful place. Thanks for stopping by. Doris

    ReplyDelete
  11. Cheryl, I was lucky for the Gold Coin Club is privately owned. I was there for an event and shot the inside photos. Cripple Creek/Victor is stunning and the views from the high roads even more so. The photos in my haiku are all taken in Colorado and most near where I live. You'll have to visit sometime.

    It was my pleasure to join you today and share some of my passion for history. Doris

    ReplyDelete
  12. Chuck, I thank you for the kind words. The Cripple Creek/Victor area still has an active gold mine. However for me the gold is the rich history of the area.

    I look forward to the lore you dig up on the places in Arizona.

    Doris

    ReplyDelete