Lake City


The Town of Lake City is the Statutory Town that is the county seat and the only incorporated municipality in Hinsdale County, Colorado, United States. It is located in the San Juan Mountains in a valley formed by the convergence of Henson Creek and the headwaters of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River about seven miles (11 km) east of Uncompahgre Peak, a Colorado fourteener. Lake City is named after nearby Lake San Cristobal. This area lies at the southern end of the Colorado Mineral Belt and when rich mineral deposits were discovered the native population was pushed from their tribal lands and the town of Lake City was incorporated in 1873. Despite the several booms that were seen in Lake City, it remained a quiet and peaceful village, perhaps because Lake City was founded by the powerful men of the time, such as Otto Meirs, who were speculating on a mineral wealth not yet discovered rather than on actual discoveries of any vastly rich mineral deposits. This village developed by building homes and businesses and moving families in rather than following the pattern of boom towns built for a boom crowd of prospectors having heard of a rich find and hoping to quickly strike it rich, as well. Lake City had four churches, a ball park, and a school, but unlike other boom towns – such as Leadville – few saloons or brothels.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Lake City’s economic base shifted from mining to tourism. People had recognized the area’s scenic and recreational resources from the earliest days, however, Lake City’s remote location had discouraged visitors. Until the branch of the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad line was completed in 1889, people journeyed by stagecoach 100 miles from Saguache or 140 miles from Del Norte. The rustic Lake Shore Inn opened at Lake San Cristobal in 1917, signaling the era of tourism that has continued into the twenty-first century. Lake City’s mountain environs offered an array of outdoor recreation that encompassed fishing, hunting, boating, mountain climbing, horseback riding, hiking, tent camping, and picnicking. Local merchants accommodated sportsmen; for example, Last Chance Livery and Feed Stable advertised “Fine Saddle Horses” and “Special Arrangements for Fishing and Hunting Parties” at the turn of the century. Lake City Café and Bakery offered to “cook your trout” and packed picnic lunches for visitors. An early booster club promoted boat racing on Lake San Cristobal. Within town, diversions included horse and bicycle racing around a quarter mile-circular track built about 1910 at Ball Flats. Sportsmen were invited to Lake City’s “happy hunting grounds” and promised “if you make Lake City your camp headquarters you can be sure of bagging your buck.” Game included deer, elk, bear, bighorn sheep, and wild turkey. Uncompahgre Peak and the surrounding mountains were covered by abandoned mining roads that became hiking trails, routes for trail rides and pack rides, and, later, jeep roads.

The Lake City Historic District contains a collection of intact buildings associated with the 1875-1881 boom as well as buildings constructed during the second boom period of the 1890s. The town’s remote location and decades of economic decline helped conserve the buildings from the mining era, and the weak local economy discouraged new construction; thus Lake City avoided many of the modern “improvements” to historic buildings that often occurs in more prosperous towns. The Hinsdale County Historical Society formed in 1973 and began accumulating documents and photographs recording the town’s history, and has been a strong advocate for preservation in Lake City since then. In 1978, the Lake City Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


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