Touring the Byway
22 Miles | 3 Days/2 Nights | Gateway City: Golden, Colorado
We recommend beginning your journey in Golden, to enjoy this delightful historic town, named for the gold that was discovered in Clear Creek in the early days of the Gold Rush. During your first day in the area, you have the option to enjoy the Clear Creek Canyon Drive, which can be a nearly whole day experience, ending in gold rush boom town of Central City, where you can get lunch before traveling back. The adventurous can take the “Oh My God Road” with sheer drop-offs and narrow turns. Back in Golden, you can take the Golden History Tour through the Golden Historic Districts.
After a good night’s sleep, it’ll be time to head for Georgetown, which grew to rival Central City in the 1860s. Today, it is hard to believe it started as a mining camp. A trip on the Georgetown Loop Railroad introduces you to the engineering marvel that was the first to reach Leadville. You will have the option of disembarking for a hardhat tour of the Lebanon Silver Mine, 500 feet into the ground. When you return, you can tour the Hamill House, the centerpiece of the Georgetown Historic District. The Hotel de Paris Museum in Georgetown is the unique creation of a French miner turned hotelier when he was injured in a mining accident. The town took up a collection for him and the hotel opened in 1875. On Day Three, it’s off to tour Silver Plume, the working side of Georgetown, closer to the mines and less impressive than its neighbor. The George Rowe Museum, housed in a Romanesque school building, features artifacts that reveal the story of the town’s rich mining history. Then, it’s on to drive the actual route of the Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway over the pass. Before the top of the pass, you can turn off to the Silver Dale Interpretive Site which features a mining ghost town, where the Colorado Central Mill is buried deep in the aspen forest among waterfalls. Further up, you’ll find further remnants of the ghost town. From there, you can return to Golden or continue on another Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway. Whichever you chose, we wish you a safe and pleasant journey home.
Building the Georgetown Loop Railroad that will power you through a forested gorge and lots of mining history was considered an engineering marvel of its time. As soon as Georgetown became the “Silver Queen of Colorado,” news of a strike in Leadville spread. Industrialist Jay Gould wanted to be the first in Colorado to each Leadville, but the 6% grade was too steep. His chief engineer devised a system of curves and bridges that reduced the grade to 3%. Today, an excursion on the line offers postcard-worthy shots of the mountains.
The Hotel de Paris is a must see – and one with a great story. Louis Dupuy was born in France in 1844. He enrolled in seminary at age 15, but ran away to Paris, where he squandered an inheritance. He moved to London and then to New York at the age of 22. He enlisted in the Army, traveled to Wyoming and deserted. He went to work for the Rocky Mountain News as a roving reporter for the mining camps, and then decided to become a miner. In 1873, he was injured in a blast while pushing a coworker out of harm’s way. When the injuries ended his career as a miner, the people of Georgetown took up a collection to help him start a new business. He purchased a bakery and transformed it into the Hotel De Paris in 1875. Since that time, the hotel has hosted thousands of travelers and now sits as a tribute to the hard work and diligence of this French-American entrepreneur. By the early 1890’s the original building was unrecognizable; it had tripled in size, contained numerous rooms, a large restaurant, a sizeable kitchen, and apartments for Louis himself. It also had indoor plumbing and electric lighting. Dinners were served in the dining room on Haviland china from Limoges, France, with elegant linens and imported glassware. The menu included steaks from cattle raised on Louis’ ranch in North Park and delicacies such as oysters, and anchovies in olive oil imported from France. Today it is a museum.
The museum in Silver Plume is not in a historic house, it is in the 1894 Romanesque brick schoolhouse that served the community until 1959. Ore carts and other mining artifacts on display highlight the town’s rich mining history. Exhibits include an old fire truck, furniture, and clothing from the early 20th-century, an antique dentist chair and manual washing machine, plus a 1920 schoolroom with original textbooks, personal chalkboards, and wooden desks.
When you stroll through historic Georgetown, it may be hard to believe it started as a mining camp in 1859. The town quickly grew to rival Central City as the hub of a large mining district, where the area was rich in minerals, yet getting the ore out of the Rockies was a challenge. East Coast industrialists brought in the railroad to connect Georgetown and Silver Plume in 1877, to make transporting ore to Denver easier. The boom resulted in great architecture that today includes the Hamill House and the Hotel de Paris.
The Hamill House is the centerpiece of Georgetown’s historic district. Built in 1867, it was sold to William Hamill, a very successful mine operator in 1874. He added a dining room, solarium, and kitchen, later adding a magnificent conservatory. Hamill departed during the crash of 1893 and by 1914, the house was used for dairy cows. After the new owner the Bank of Georgetown went bust, the property until it was purchased to open it as a museum. Today, it is a meticulously preserved example of late-1800s residential living, offering an extraordinary opportunity to see the architectural styles, furnishings and landscaping techniques of the day.