Your journey begins in Golden, where you can enjoy a day exploring a delightful historic town. You have the option to drive Clear Creek Canyon while you are in the area. From there, you’ll be headed to Georgetown and Silver Plume, which both started as mining camps, one for managers and the other for the miners. At the end of that visit, it’s time to drive the Guanella Pass Byway.
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.
So near to Georgetown that they are basically one town, Silver Plume was the location of workers housing, while Georgetown was the center of the district where wealth was concentrated. The homes are much less impressive than in Georgetown and most of the mines were nearby. Fortune hunters and miners who came from several European countries made the mining town a multi-cultural and multi-lingual town. Today, you can tour Silver Plume to discover the contrast from its near neighbor.
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.