Sprocket and I were so excited to head out for adventure in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that we left Thursday evening although we weren’t going to meet Mike until Friday afternoon. By the time I got to Buena Vista I was starting to get a little bit tired so we headed up in the mountains and found a place to sleep just shy of the ghost town of St. Elmo.
Founded in 1878 as Forest City the name was soon changed to St. Elmo since Forest City was too popular a name and it was causing confusion for the post office. The name came from a novel one of the founders was reading. In 1879, construction began on the Alpine Tunnel that would connect Pitkin and St. Elmo through the Continental Divide. Between construction of the tunnel and mining operations the town filled with the usual assortment of saloons, dance halls, and brothels.
Alpine Tunnel opened in 1881 and St. Elmo became a stop on the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad. Along with the railroad came more “reputable” residents including the Stark family. Population of St. Elmo swelled to nearly 2,000 around the turn of the century with most working at the Mary Murphy Mine, Teresa C. Mine, The Pioneer, or the Molly.
The Stark’s descendants were some of the towns only year-round residents after Alpine Tunnel closed in 1910, the mines closed throughout the 1920s, and the last train ran in 1922. Anabelle Stark and two of her siblings remained in the town through the early 1950s, aquiring most of the structures in town believing that St. Elmo would rise again. Anabelle and her brother Tony were institutionalized for their own protection in the mid 1950s; they bathed rarely and let garbage build up in their hotel. Although authorities were later convinced Tony and “Dirty Annie” weren’t a threat to anyone, Tony died shortly after being released. Anabelle went to a nursing home in 1958 and died in 1960.
Most of the structures in St. Elmo are privately owned and many are summer vacation homes. An effort is currently under way to find money to stabilize and preserve several structures including the Home Comfort Hotel and the Stark Bros. Store and the American House Hotel parlor with various grants. Historic St. Elmo & Chalk Creek Canyon, Inc. will be attempting to raise $18,000 in matching funds for these grants in 2016 with work to be completed by the end of summer 2017.
In the summer, the rebuilt town hall is open to visitors as is the general store. I’ll definitely have to stop when I come back through to explore more of the area including Tin Cup Pass!
Danger, Tatiana. “St. Elmo’s Fire: The Tragic Story of America’s Most Enchanting Ghost Town.” Roadtrippers. 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
DeJong, D.J. “St. Elmo receives grant for American House.” The Chaffee County Times. 13 Feb. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
“St. Elmo, Colorado.” Legends of America. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.