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History of Central City


Central City is located in the Rocky Mountains, 35 miles west of Denver. It is at the southern end of Gilpin County at an elevation of 8,496 feet.  According to mining records, there are over 17,000 mining claims in the southern end of Gilpin County.  The deepest mine in the area is over 3,000 feet deep, and a tunnel still connects the Argo Mill in Idaho Springs with some of the mines around Central City.


On May 6, 1859, John Gregory discovered lode gold in a gulch between what would become Black Hawk and Central City.  Within two months the population grew to 10,000 people seeking their fortunes.  There are two stories as to how the town got its name.  One says that William Newton Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, reportedly gave the town its name because of its central location in the district.  The other says that the town was named after the Central City Store that was at the present-day intersection of Eureka and Main Streets.  Central City soon became an economic and political powerhouse in Colorado, providing the state with its first two United States Senators and United States Representative in 1876.  Because of the large amount of gold removed from its mines, Central City became known as "The Richest Square Mile On Earth."  Gregory’s discovery is commemorated by a stone monument at the eastern end of the city.

Legend holds that in 1861 alone, Central City recorded 217 fist fights, 97 revolver fights, 11 Bowie knife fights and one dog fight, but Central City was not the Wild West of legend.  The people who called Central City home wanted law and order because that provided stability, which in turn attracted outside investors whose money was needed to help develop the mines. Miners quickly brought in their wives and children, hired a police force, and established churches and schools.  

In order to prove the permanence of Central City, a group of businessmen built the Teller House hotel in 1872. Advertisements proudly proclaimed the 80-room building the finest hotel between the Mississippi River and San Francisco.  The following year, President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife visited Central City (his third visit to the town). Proud residents laid 26 silver ingots from the Caribou Mine (outside of Boulder) outside the main entrance to the Teller House for the president to walk on.  Amazed at the site of so much silver on the sidewalk, the president and his wife walked across it and enjoyed a dinner on the second floor of the hotel.  


In 1874, all but one of the buildings on Central City's Main Street were destroyed by fire.  Insurance covered most of the costs of rebuilding, but city leaders ordered that all new buildings in the business district be of brick or stone in order to minimize damage in a future fire.  Most of these buildings still stand today, making Central City's Main Street a rare historic survivor.  

The grand opening of the Opera House in 1878 built on a long a tradition of community theater (another sign of stability and permanence), and performances at the Opera House have included operas, plays, boxing matches, political rallies, and movies.  Buffalo Bill's performance in a poorly received play at the Opera House in 1878 even helped inspire him to create his Wild West show a few years later.  Numerous famous actors have been on stage in the Opera House, and cowboy Tom Mix filmed several movies in the area in 1910 and 1911, starting a long movie career for Central City. Several movies and television shows, including "The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox", portions of the TV mini-series "Centennial" and "Dream West", and several Perry Mason episodes were filmed in Central City.  

Uranium was first discovered in Central City's mines in the 1870s, and Marie Curie used pitchblende mined in an area south of the Glory Hole Mine for her radium studies in Paris.  Public health practitioner Dr. Florence Sabin, who was the first woman to become a full professor at a medical college in the United Staes, was born in Central City, as was early 1900s actor Schuyler Ladd.  Other well-known residents of Central City included Baby Doe Tabor, wife of the silver magnate Horace Tabor, Henry Teller, Eben Smith, George Pullman, Ozie Waters, Frank "Pancho" Gates, and Pascal Quackenbush.  

Central City has endured many boom and bust periods, including the current phase of limited stakes gaming, which began in 1991 as a way to attract people to the area year round.  We hope you'll visit soon and be a part of Central City’s current boom!

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