Vien R. Guenther
Historic Town of Creede – Mineral County, Colorado
Updated: Jan 8
The historic mining town of Creede is tucked into a scenic corner of the San Juan Mountains (the largest mountain range in Colorado), in Mineral County - in the Rio Grande Valley. The town is small but offers a lot of charm, so we make sure to stay and spend some time here before driving to Lake City. The town of Creede was once full of prospectors and miners, saloon keepers and “ladies of the evening”, but today it is a quiet little town with many of its Victorian houses restored. This is a place to get away from the busy life of the city.
Visiting the underground mining museum and a 17-mile drive called the Bachelor Loop will give you a glimpse of what it was like in the old days. There are Forest Service Roads, 4-wheel drive and hiking trails in the area, popular throughout summer and late Fall. If you are into fishing, the Rio Grande is nearby.
TO GET HERE
To get to Creede from South Fork is 21 miles, about 25-minute drive via the Silverthread Scenic Byway/State Highway 149. Another is State Highway 149 coming from Gunnison via Lake City. From Denver it is about 256 miles via US Highway 285 going south - this is the shortest route. It can take you a while though, since there is plenty to see along the way.
CREEDE, COUNTY SEAT OF MINERAL COUNTY
Before it was called Creede, the first settlement here was known as "Willow", located at the base of the cliffs on West Willow Creek, a tributary of the Rio Grande. The area was once a hunting ground for Ute Indians before it became a Silver Mining boom town. After Nicholas Creede of Holy Moses Mine discovered a high-graded silver vein in East Willow Creek in 1890, the great rush began resulting in what was called "Creede Camp". Later, other mining claims discovered veins of other minerals such as Amethyst. The population in the area swelled, and with the mining boom, it attracted "colorful" characters - gambling, dance halls and saloons were built. Then the old and new parts of town were incorporated as Creede in 1892.
Mineral County was incorporated on March 27, 1893 and Creede became the County Seat. The drop in the silver price in 1893 caused most mines to close. But despite the end of the silver boom, unlike many other mining towns throughout Colorado, Creede never became a ghost town. Mining for other minerals continued for many years after the Silver Panic.
Today, Mineral County has a full time population of about 700. Half of them live in Creede. The residents are a mix of old mining and ranching families as well as newcomers; If you were not born in Mineral County, or even if you lived there for 30 years, you are still called newcomers. The population in Creede increases during summer season to around 4,000.
Creede is not a resort town, although there is a spa if you just happened to need a "pedi" or "mani" after exploring the area. There is only one gas station and no traffic signal as well. If you are looking for modern conveniences, you will not find them here. But the town became known for its rich history, and with restored buildings, it now has a charming atmosphere, good restaurants, nice shops and galleries. Also, the town was voted Colorado's Top Art Town in 2010.
MINING IN CREEDE
Creede was the last town in 19th century Colorado to join the silver boom. The discovery of silver in 1869 did not immediately start a boom since the silver could not be profitably extracted from the ore at that time. It was another 20 years before the real boom started, with the discovery of rich minerals in Willow Creek Canyon upstream of the present town site - near where the original Creede was located.
The silver boom in Creede lasted until 1893. At that time Creede "enjoyed" a shady underworld of crime resulting from legal reform against gambling clubs and saloons in Denver, which many of the affected business owners simply relocated to the central business district of Creede.
Ultimately, on June 5, 1892, a major fire destroyed most of the town's business district, and eight days later Denver's anti-gambling reform ended and the business owners returned to Denver. A year later, the Silver Panic hit all of the mining towns in Colorado, causing the price of silver to plummet and most silver mines to close.
However, Creede managed to stay alive for many more years by relying on other minerals such as lead and zinc, which continued until 1985. This might explain why many of the old mining buildings outside of town remained in such "good" repair. The Creede District has yielded over 84 million ounces of silver (produced from nearly 5 million tons of ore), plus substantial amount of lead, zinc, copper and gold.
Make sure to visit North Clear Creek Falls located halfway between Creede and Lake City.