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The Rise of the Silver Queen: Georgetown, Colorado, 1859-1896 (Book Review)

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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Reviewed by B.B. Swan
By Liston E. Leyendecker, Christine A. Bradley and Duane A. Smith
University Press of Colorado, Boulder, 2005

The Griffith brothers arrived in what would become Georgetown, Colorado (yes, one of them was named George), in the summer of 1859 and found gold; they also found silver but didn't pay much attention to it. Georgetown's "golden" era only lasted until 1864, when George Griffith left town. But that same year, successful silver mining began, leading to a new Georgetown, whose fame spread worldwide — about the time that the Comstock mines near Nevada's Virginia City were seeming to fade. By the early 1870s, Georgetown's streets were packed with recent arrivals from all over the globe and the town was well on its way to becoming the "Silver Queen of the Rockies." The crown did not stay put for long, however. The three Colorado authors explain in Chapter 8: "Leadville, only two passes and several mountains away from Georgetown, took away the latter's title of Silver Queen in a twinkling….Leadville produced far more in its first four years (1878-1881) than Georgetown could muster in the entire two-plus decades from the 1870s into the early 1890s." The silver era officially ended in 1896 when William Jennings Bryan, champion of the "silverites," lost the presidential election. Mining in the Georgetown area soon became a relic of a bygone day.

But what a day it was; Georgetown had enjoyed more mining days than most silver and gold boomtowns in the West. The Georgetown story is a fascinating one, and it is done justice in the hands of three authors: Liston Leyendecker, a onetime history professor at Colorado State University who died in 2001; Christine Bradley, archivist for Clear Creek County; and Duane Smith, professor of Southwest studies at Fort Lewis College. They touch on one of the more interesting facets of the community, though a few more details and examples would have been nice: In Georgetown, blacks owned property and invested in the mines. "Black residents intermingled with whites on a regular basis in early Georgetown," write the authors. Other residents included Cornish miners, Englishmen representing British mining companies, Irish laborers, several Italian families and a Frenchman who opened a restaurant. As things turned out, each mountain in the neighborhood had producing mines, but none ever became as rich or famous as the Comstock Lode. By the end of the 1870s, an estimated 2,000 men were engaged in the silver mining business (mining, milling and hauling ore) in Clear Creek County. The total population only briefly topped 3,000.

The tale ends in 1896, but the authors conclude that the town had helped "open, 'tame,' develop, settle, promote, and mature Colorado and had helped build the foundation that carried the state far into the future." The 310-page book includes a rich assortment of photographs, 175 in all. In the book's dedication to Leyendecker, who died of cancer while researching Georgetown history, historian James E. Hansen II writes, "Liston once described Georgetown as a place that's 'as close to heaven as I'm going to get on this earth.' " It's a history long overdue…the history of heaven will have to wait.



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