Teller’s Trials by Fire

By Beth Dodd:


The government of Green Mountain Falls is moving forward in its new temporary location at a nearby school following the fire that consumed the historic town hall in February 2012. Ironically, the town hall building was first used as a school when it was built in 1898. This is certainly not the first time that Green Mountain Falls and other local communities have bounced back from fire-caused tragedies. Back in 1908, the beautiful three-story, 70 room, Green Mountain Falls Hotel, which once stood at the corner of Hotel Street just south of the lake, burned down. It had opened in May of 1889. The hotel and nearby lake and hills were popular for hot air balloon rides, baseball games, hiking, boat races, concerts, and dances.

Back in 1908 the town did not have a fire department, and the hotel fire must have been valiantly but unsuccessfully fought by a bucket brigade from the lake. Today’s Green Mountain Falls Fire Department is located on a site just north of where the hotel went up in flames. Other early fires in Green Mountain Falls included the burning of a barn, which tragically killed an unidentified drunk who had picked the wrong place to sleep it off. In another incident, an ice house near the lake burned down. Apparently, it was rather ugly, and few missed it. Other Ute Pass hotels suffered a similar fate to the Green Mountain Falls Hotel. Dr. William Bell, founder of Manitou Springs, operated a popular resort north of Woodland Park in Manitou Park near Manitou Lake. His hotel burned down, not just once, but twice! He did not rebuild after the second fire, but when Colorado College acquired the property they built a third hotel. It also burned. It would seem that building a hotel in Manitou Park is like attacking the Russians in winter – just not a good idea. The Ute Hotel in Chipita Park, which was called Ute Pass Park at that time, opened in August of 1890 with great fanfare. VIPs, including Senator Horace W. Tabor from Leadville, arrived in a special Colorado Midland Railway car to attend the grand opening stag ball. A beautiful red sandstone train depot was built below the hotel to accommodate guests.

The Ute burned down after only nine years due to a chimney fire on the eve of the new century on December 31, 1899. After the fire, the train station was closed and later torn down. Speaking of train depots, they seem to be very flammable. The Colorado Midland Depot in Victor was destroyed in the fire that swept that city in 1899. The Colorado Midland Railway Depot in Divide burned in 1904. The Colorado Midland depot in Woodland Park, built in 1903, also burned down around 1935. The worst train depot incident however, was when Harry Orchard bombed the Florence & Cripple Creek train depot in Independence east of Victor in June 1903. This was during the height of the union disputes between the Western Federation of Miners and the mine owners in the Cripple Creek District. Thirteen miners were killed and several others were injured. Rioting soon followed, resulting in martial law and the state militia being called in to restore order. The town of Divide has also experienced tragic fires. The worst one was on November 1, 1898. At least eight homes and businesses, including the mercantile, the drug store, two saloons, and a boarding house, were destroyed. By the following summer, most of the town had been rebuilt. The original Pikes Peak Community Club in Divide was built in 1927, and hosted dances, meetings, and fairs. It burned and was rebuilt after the New Year’s Dance in 1952. Of course, most locals know about the great fires that swept through Cripple Creek and Victor. A fire that burned seven buildings on Bennett Ave in Cripple Creek in April of 1892 was an omen of worse things to come. The hero of the hour was Lutie Cook, a dance hall girl who rescued two trapped children. Four years later in April of 1896 two fires in four days devastated Cripple Creek. Jennie LaRue, another dance hall girl and the Terry Barton of her day, was blamed for starting the first fire after a stove overturned during a fight with a man in her room. The man, later suspected to be future Denver Post sports writer Otto Floto, was never blamed by the media which roasted LeRue. The second fire in Cripple Creek began as a grease fire in the kitchen of the Portland Hotel. This second fire was made worse by panicked or downright criminal behavior by some of the locals. The water supply, already depleted by the first fire, quickly ran out and dynamite was used recklessly to try to stop the flames.

There was looting as well as additional fires being set and the hoses of the overwhelmed volunteer fire department being cut to try to get insurance money. Police officers and fire fighters became violent in their efforts to stop the thieves and arsonists. In the end, thirty acres in the heart of town burned, 5,000 of the town’s 15,000 residents were made homeless, 400 buildings were destroyed, and at least 6 died. Two relief trains full of food, blankets, and tents from Colorado Springs were quickly organized by Winfield Stratton and began the recovery of the community. The city was rebuilding in brick within just a few days. Victor’s trial by fire came in August 1899. The blaze started near Third and Portland and high winds spread it rapidly. One photograph shows painters working on the side of the Gold Coin Club, unaware that it was about to be destroyed. Looting was again a problem. The city was almost completely destroyed in a matter of hours with everything north of Portland in ashes, a total of 300 buildings. 3,000 people were made homeless and many were injured. The citizen’s began to rebuild almost immediately. Most of the old brick buildings standing in Victor today were built back then. The little town of Anaconda, in the middle between Cripple Creek and Victor, was not so lucky. It was destroyed by fire in the winter of 1904. The town was never rebuilt. The roughly 1,000 people who had lived there moved on to other gold camp towns.