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Houses

What do these photos tell you about the kind of houses mining town people lived in?

Frame House In Leadville

The house in this photo is a frame house with “gingerbread” trim. The fancy trim work was made of sawn boards.

Frame House In Leadville

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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The first houses in almost every mining town were tents and log cabins. Within a few years, most of the new houses were wooden frame houses. Most were small houses like the one in this photo. The windows in this house have shutters that helped keep out sunlight in the summer and cold air in the winter.

Their Own Words

"The next morning we resumed our journey, passing through lovely valleys and winding up and around towering mountains. . . . Occasionally we saw a parcel of men engaged in making shingles and shakes for market, cutting wood and prospecting, and now and then the buzz of the saw was heard, together with the puff, puff of the laboring steam as it escaped from work below, marking an era in the history of the mountains which had never before resounded with . . . such industry, that was cutting and shaving the heavy timber from their sides into . . . a commodity that brings sixty dollars per thousand in the cities and mining districts."

Source: C. M. Clark, A Trip to Pike’s Peak and Notes by the Way, (San Jose: The Talisman Press, 1958 [originally 1861]): 113.

The Healy House In Leadville

This is a photo of the Healy House in Leadville. It was built in 1878 for August R. Meyer, a Leadville smelter owner.

The Healy House In Leadville

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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The Healy House is a large frame house with three stories. Although built by a wealthy smelter owner, it is simply decorated. Look closely and you will see trim work on the porch. The windows on the first two floors of this house also have shutters. The house is surrounded by a white picket fence.

Their Own Words

“Father met us in Denver and filled Madge and me with excitement by telling us that a big surprise awaited us in Leadville. . . . He did not tell us before we saw with our own eyes the new house which he had built for us. It was on a hill beyond the stores—on the back side of the hill, the yard running down to the creek. . . . The house did not compare with those on the street in front of us, some of which had barns for horses, or a horse and vehicle of some kind.”   “Ours had but two rooms but they were each heated by its own stove, our old range heating the kitchen (which was also the bedroom for us girls), and a heater for the other room in which were a real bed and dresser. And there was carpet on the floor. And the house was painted! After the cabin, which we never saw again, it seemed palatial.” 

Source: Georgia Burns Hills, “Memories of a Pioneer Childhood,” Colorado Magazine, 32 (April 1955): 118, 119.

The Lace House In Black Hawk

This house in the town of Black Hawk is called the Lace House. The trim that decorates the roof line is delicate and lacy-looking.

The Lace House In Black Hawk

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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The Lace House is a very good example of the decorative trim that is sometimes called gingerbread trim. Although some houses like the Lace House were decorated nicely, the overall feeling of mining towns like Blackhawk was often dreary.

Their Own Words

“Narrow and dingy as is this mining town [Black Hawk] its people are making a brave effort to give it a look of comfort, in pleasant private dwellings, neat churches and fine school buildings, perched up against the mountain-side, where it would seem no building larger than a miner’s hut could find lodgement. Scarcely a tree or shrub is to be seen, or even a flower, except it be in some parlor window: but, as we drove up into Central, we came upon a very pretty conservatory, attached to a neat cottage. It was something strangely cheering, yet touching, in the universal dreariness. . . .”

Source: Mrs. Sara Jane Lippincott (1871), quoted in Duane Smith, “Mining Camps: Myth vs. Reality,” Colorado Magazine, 44 (Sprint 1967): 94-95.