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Idaho Springs. Morrison. Central City. How Colorado Mining Towns Got Their Names.

Colorado history is intrinsically tied to gold mining. For instance, one of Colorado’s most well-known towns is literally named Golden. While that example maybe a little too obvious to write about, there are plenty of towns in Colorado that can trace their name to their past as a thriving mining town.

How Colorado Mining Towns Got Their Names: Idaho Springs

The Argo Mill and Tunnel is in the heart of Idaho Springs, which is the site of the first significant discovery of gold in Colorado. In 1859, George Jackson found gold while panning the confluence of Chicago Creek and Vasquez Creek. Thus, ‘Jacksons Diggings’ became the common name for the area.

Once word of this discovery traveled to the rest of the country, the area’s population exploded to over 300 people. A name change to Sacramento City came from the increase in population. This is a reference to the gold-filled hills near the Sacramento River in California.

The ‘Gem of the Mountains’

First, the term Idaho, which was originally spelled Idahoe was invented by mining lobbyist George Willing when presenting the area now known as Colorado to the United States Congress. Willing traces the term to the Native American Shoshone tribe ‘E Dah Hoe’ phrase that supposedly meant ‘Gem of the Mountains.’

However, days after Willing presented to congress, it was discovered the name Idahoe was never based off a Native American phrase. Willing invented the word to attract mining investment to the ‘Gem of the Mountains.’ It was a marketing ploy. In response, congress named the territory Colorado, which is a Spanish word that references the state’s red sandstones. Thus, Idaho Springs maintains its name as a remnant of what Colorado could have been.

Over five years later, another mining territory came to congress to receive official federal designation and this time, the Idaho name stuck.

The second part of the name is straightforward. The incredible hot springs near Soda Creek would reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit and drew crowds of tourists. These same hot springs draw in tourists even today and literally put the ‘Springs’ in ‘Idaho Springs.’

How Colorado Mining Towns Got Their Names: Morrison

The eponymous George Morrison was a stonemason and influential businessman whose impact reverberates through Colorado mining town history today. Morrison moved to the Mt. Vernon area and helped found the territorial government that became an important stop for travelers heading west into the goldfields found in the Rocky Mountains.

A decade after settling in Mt. Vernon, George moved south-east and created the Morrison Stone, Lime, and Town Company. Morrison plated the town of Mt. Morrison that same year. Just 20 years later George Morrison’s grandson, Pete Morrison, was born in Westminster, Colorado.

From Westminster to Hollywood

Pete Morrison is notable for two main reasons. First, Pete worked at the Argo Mill and Tunnel in a variety of roles. From motorman to teamster hauler, Pete played an integral role in the extraction of gold for years. The second reason Pete Morrison is noteworthy is for his success in Hollywood as an actor in silent western pictures.

While working at the Argo Mill and Tunnel, Pete became an expert horse rider. Soon Pete drove cattle and sheep across Colorado. A production company out of California was filming in the mountains and needed assistance with their on-screen animals, thus they set out to find expert riders and they discovered Pete. The grandson to the namesake of Morrison, Colorado then moved to Hollywood where he worked on over 200 films from 1909 to 1935.

How Colorado Mining Towns Got Their Names: Central City

Central City’s current location is due to a major gold discovery. John Gregory found a large gold nugget referred to as the ‘Gregory Lode’ today. Within months, thousands of prospectors filled the area seeking fortunes, and quite a few found it. Part of the area in the Clear Creek watershed became known as the ‘Richest Square Mile on Earth’ due to the area’s immense wealth.

Between 20,000 and 30,000 people lived in Central City and nearby Black Hawk before the year’s end. Due to the insane population growth over a short period, Central City rivaled Denver as the territory’s cultural epicenter. Central City even nearly became the Colorado state capital, losing to Denver by a single vote.

Central City’s name can be traced back to two popular stories. First involved a man by the name of William Byers. The same Byers who founded Rocky Mountain News, which is a publication that was in circulation up until 2009. Byers pitched a tent in the center of the Clear Creek Mining District. He suggested a town named Central City should be founded there.

The second story involves a supply store that was built within the first three months of John Gregory’s discovery. The name of this store was ‘The Central City Store.’ It can be easy to forget just how big of a role mining played in Colorado history. However, by taking a deeper look into the onomatology of well-known Colorado mining towns, it becomes apparent that Coloradans owe the state’s legacy to prospectors, miners and the Argo Mill and Tunnel.