Day 6 – August 6, 2015
We arrived at the highest altitude incorporated city in the United States at 10,152 feet – Leadville, Colorado! We were starving by the time we got there so the first order of business was a stop at the Tennessee Pass Café (Tennessee Pass is one of the mountain passes near Leadville).
I had a fabulous buffalo burger with pasta salad, Jon had a buffalo burger with bacon on fried eggplant with Kettle Chips. I enjoyed a Cock’n’Bull Ginger Ale (the original brand for making a Moscow Mule) and Jon was happy with his Dog Fish Head IPA (a Delaware brewery). Linda had a delicious mushroom soup with lots of big chunks of mushrooms, along with a spinach and beet salad. Robby had a Caesar salad with shrimp. This was one of the best meals of the trip!
After satisfying our ravishing hunger, we drove over to do a tour of the Healy House and the Dexter Cabin – two tours for the price of one.
Dexter Cabin was built in 1879 by James V. Dexter, a successful businessman from Denver who had cabins in several Colorado towns where he did business.
It is quite surprising, because a small, plain exterior opens up to a lavishly decorated interior. The cabin has extravagant wallpaper, hardwood parquet floors, and a stove with inlaid European tile! It is much bigger than it looked from the outside too.
Rumor has it that Dexter had high stakes poker games in the front room – with a minimum bet of $10,000! The only room in the cabin that isn’t lavish is the kitchen – its simplicity is in contrast to the rest of the cabin – but apparently Dexter typically went out to eat.
After the Dexter Cabin, we went into the Healy House. It was built in 1878 by August R. Meyer for his wife Emma. Meyer was one of the founding fathers of Leadville, along with Horace Tabor. The house at that time only had two stories, but was very richly appointed. It was definitely built as a status symbol!
The Meyers only lived here for a few years, and the new owners, Daniel Healy and his cousin Nellie, turned the home into a boarding house. Nellie was also a schoolteacher in Leadville, and there are some interesting artifacts from her teaching days in the home, including her teaching certificate.
The third floor of the home was added on during its boarding house days. Interestingly, there is a distinct contrast between the first two floors and the third floor, which is much more utilitarian in design.
Our docent played an antique Victrola for us, letting us know how music sounded when played on the wax rolls that predated records. And in case you were wondering why these two homes share a site – the Dexter Cabin was moved to this location around 1950.
When we left the Healy House, we still had a little more time before things shut down for the day. We drove up to the Matchless Mine. The Matchless is the mine that Horace Tabor purchased in 1879. Tabor was one of the richest men in Colorado, spending money to build the Tabor Opera House, the most expensive building constructed in Colorado, at that time.
Tabor also created a local scandal when he left his first wife for a younger, more extravagant model – Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor. Baby Doe was married once before to Harvey Doe, prior to her marriage to Horace Tabor – rumor has it that the nickname Baby Doe came from men watching her walk through the city when she was married to Doe.
Horace Tabor already was a rich man when he asked for a divorce from his first wife Augusta; he married Baby Doe shortly after the divorce was finalized.
At that point Tabor owned portions of several mines, but he wanted to own one all by himself; he purchased the Matchless Mine, which was already known for having periods of non-production, water leakage issues, and was embroiled in the legal action of previous owners. He was not to be dissuaded. The Matchless produced spectacularly for a while, but the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act led to a calamitous drop in silver prices in 1898. Horace Tabor’s fortunes evaporated, his family was destitute and he died of appendicitis in 1899.
In an ironic twist of fate, Tabor’s first wife invested in Singer Sewing Machine stock after their divorce, and ended up a rich woman. Baby Doe, with no money of her own, convinced the new owners of the Matchless Mine to allow her to move into the foreman’s shack on the property, where she lived out the rest of her life a virtual recluse.
A devout Catholic, she refused a lot of charity from the community because she believed that she must do penance for her previous misdeeds. She died in 1935, her frozen body found several days after her death by a community member who noticed that the smoke was no longer rising from her wood stove.
Our visit was a self-guided tour – you receive a book with information about each stop, and you can look into the foreman’s shack where Baby Doe lived and died, the repair shop, the powder magazine, and down into the mine shaft. The shafts all flooded way back when Baby Doe was still alive, so there isn’t much to see down in the shaft. There was a neat miniature model of the mine that was created in the 1930s too!
My father-in-law enjoyed chatting with the present day owner of the mine, who explained in detail its operations, the number of employees at its height, techniques for mining silver, and the maximum output of the Matchless. The rest of us listened for a little while, but were eventually driven back to the car by the relentless mosquitoes.
That night, everybody was a bit burned out on restaurants, so we cobbled together a dinner of snacks and leftover pizza. Our evening culminated with watching the Trump debacle on TV – the first of the Republican debates. I try to keep politics out of this blog, but dear lord, what is our country in for?
Total driving distance on Day 6: 95 miles – Salida – St. Elmo – Leadville
Hotel for the night: Super 8, Leadville – Hands down the shabbiest hotel of our trip. The layout was strange, the windows needed to be replaced and the door didn’t close that well. Not to mention, some men across the hall came back to their room at about 11:30 at night, and were quite loud in the hallway. Not the hotel’s fault, but it certainly didn’t improve the “experience.”