Visiting the “Richest Square Mile on Earth”
Central City, like many settlements in the area, owes its existence to the shiny yellow metal that can drive ambitious men to the ends of the earth. The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush was already in full swing when John H. Gregory discovered a gold bearing vein in Gregory Gulch in May 6, 1859. What came to be known as the Gregory Lode soon joined the Bates, Gunnel, Kansas, and Burroghs veins, discovered in the following two months. Prospectors flocked to the site. By, 1860 an estimated 10,000 prospectors ascended to the growing settlement known as Mountain City.
Yet, the population dropped by the 1900 census when 3,114 people are registered in the area. As gold bearing veins continue to be exhausted, so the population drops as miners search for more ready wealth. It is not until the 1930s, when the price of gold rises from $20 to $36 per ounce, that the mining town experiences a second revival. This continued until WWII, when gold mining is considered non-essential for the war effort. Despite a minor spark of interest in the area during the 1950s, searches for the new hot stuff, uranium, were unsuccessful.
Since it’s hey day, Central City remains a rather small outpost of mining history. By 2010, only 663 people are counted as residents of Central City. Today, most people come to Central City for the gambling establishments. Yet, much of Central City’s mining history is discoverable for those who will search.
The Virginia Canyon Road is a particularly diverting opportunity to discover mining history at your own pace. The route, starting in Idaho Springs quickly gains elevation with sharp switch backs and an amazing view. All along the way, the route is dotted with dilapidated head frames, ore carts, rails, and other mining artifacts. Conclude your travels in historic downtown Central City to explore the preserved structures from the City’s golden years.