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Brief History of Crested Butte

Offering a rich Western history influenced by native Americans, miners, ranchers and railroads, Gunnison County is quintessential Colorado. The county, which is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut, is located in central Colorado on the western slope of the Continental Divide, an area blessed with pristine mountain peaks, shimmering lakes and hundreds of miles of picturesque streams.

Some 1.6 million acres (more than 85 percent) of Gunnison County is public land, an appealingly diverse landscape that includes alpine desert, verdant ranchland, flower-carpeted mountain meadows and craggy peaks jutting above timberline.

Two historic communities–Gunnison and Crested Butte–serve as jumping-off points for a variety of outdoor adventures, which include world-class alpine skiing at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Plenty of excellent hiking, mountain biking, skiing and hunting land can be found in abundance.

The century-old mountain town of Crested Butte (population 1,500) exudes a 19th century charm that dates to its humble beginnings in coal mining. It is surrounded by some of Colorado’s most spectacular and unspoiled mountain landscapes, including the Gunnison National Forest and the Oh-Be-Joyful, West Elk, Maroon Bells/Snowmass, Collegiate Peaks and Raggeds wilderness areas.

With its rich ranching heritage and sweeping valley setting, the city of Gunnison (population 7,000) offers genuine Western appeal. It serves as an excellent location from which to explore the region’s inspiring scenic wonders.

Coal Marks Early Growth of Crested Butte

During mining’s early years in Gunnison County, Crested Butte provided neighboring communities with supplies and cut lumber. After a huge deposit of high-grade coal was discovered, the town grew rapidly, boasting 1,000 residents and 13 saloons by the 1890s. The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad transported more than 1,000 tons of coal per month to the outside world.

Having survived the mining bust, Crested Butte became a prosperous company town under Colorado Fuel & Iron until 1952, when the last mine was closed.

Crested Butte might well have become a true ghost town had it not been for the efforts of the ski industry. Development of the ski area at Crested Butte began during the early 1960s; the resort community of Mt. Crested Butte was built at the base of 12,162-foot Crested Butte Mountain.

The ski resort is known for its deep powder and steep runs and has become a center for international extreme skiing competitions.

Today, ranching and farming still play vital roles in Gunnison County’s economy, as does year-round tourism. The county’s small-town appeal and wealth of outdoor recreation pursuits make it a growing vacation destination for those who want to experience Colorado’s legendary mountain beauty.

City of Gunnison Named for Early Explorer

For several centuries, prehistoric hunter-gatherers roamed the river basins and lush mountains that now comprise Gunnison County. The region later became prime hunting territory for nomadic Ute Indians, who were forcibly removed during the mid-1800s. The 1873 Brunot Treaty opened the region to farmers and cattle ranchers who were eager to settle the new frontier lands.

In 1874 the town of Gunnison (named for explorer Capt. John W. Gunnison) was founded at the confluence of the Gunnison River and Tomichi Creek. Five years later, miners struck lucrative gold and silver deposits and the mining boom days began.

The young town quickly became a major supply and transportation center for surrounding mining camps such as Gothic, Pitkin and Tincup. By the early 1880s, both the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and the Denver South Park and Pacific Railroad served the growing community.

However, mining’s glory days proved to be short-lived. Disaster followed the 1893 demonetization of silver; many of the mining communities served by Gunnison became ghost towns virtually overnight. With its cattle industry and role as a supply center, the town survived this period of economic upheaval, as did the nearby town of Crested Butte, whose fortunes were built upon coal.

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Jana Barrett

Bluebird Real Estate
Crested Butte, CO
970-209-9510 - Cell
970-349-6691 - Office
970-349-6693 - Fax
janabar@rmi.net

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