The Willow Springs Tuesday Study Club met with hostesses Pauline Cape and Doria Wildeboor Nov. 19 at the Willow Springs Senior Center for a regular business meeting, after which Claudia Marvin gave a presentation on St. Elmo, Colo.
St. Elmo, Colo., is nestled in Chalk Creek Canyon. Today, it is one of the best preserved ghost towns in Colorado and the entire district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
The area was originally settled in 1878 and was made official in 1880 when gold and silver began to bring many people to the area. It reached a population of more than 2,000.
In 1881, the railroad came through the area and a station was built in St. Elmo. Anton Stark brought a herd of cattle to the railroad and was so taken with the town that he and his family quickly took up residence. Anton became a section boss for one of the local mines and his wife, Anna, ran a general store and the Home Comfort Hotel. Anton and Anna raised three children — Tony, Roy and Annabelle, who worked in the hotel and store.
The miners worked at several mines throughout the area that were rich in silver, gold, copper and iron. The Mary Murphy mine was the largest and most successful, shipping as much as 50-75 tons of ore per day. It recovered over $60,000,000 worth of gold while it was in operation.
The railroad continued to run until 1922 and it has been said that the rest of St. Elmo’s population rode the last train out of town, never to return. The Starks turned to tourism, leasing the empty cabins to vacationers and continued to run the general store.
In 1925, The Mary Murphy mine closed. From 1870 to 1925 it produced 220,000 ounces of gold worth $4.4 million at the time. The Stark family stayed, believing that St. Elmo would thrive again. By 1930, the population of St. Elmo had dwindled down to only seven.
In the 1930s, Roy Stark and his mother, Anna, died. That left Annabelle and Tony as the only residents who lived in the dead town. They neglected the old hotel but continued to run the Home Comfort store. Annabelle was known to have roamed the old town, with rifle in hand, to protect her property.
The town officially died Sept. 30, 1952, when the post office closed. The postmaster had died. Eventually, Tony and Annabelle died. The survival of the town was largely due to the Stark family and their descendants, who remained the only year-round residents for many years. According to local legend, perhaps Annabelle Stark still keeps a ghostly watch over the town.
Shortly after Annabelle’s death, a friend’s grandchildren were said to have been playing in a room of the hotel, when suddenly all doors in the room slammed shut and the temperature dropped nearly 20 degrees. The children cried and screamed. Finally, the room returned to outside temperature, and the door slowly swung open. The terrified children refused to play in the hotel again.
Another one of the grandchildren, a young woman in her 20s decided to take on the hotel as a project: cleaning out the rooms, making minor repairs and washing down the walls and floors. After cleaning up for the day, she and her friends would put away their tools and cleaning supplies, only to find them in the middle of the floor when they returned the next day. After this continued to happen, they started placing the items in a padlocked closet, but still they would be in the middle of the floor when they came back.
A skier was said to have seen a very attractive woman in a white dress framed in the second story window of the old hotel. The young woman’s eyes were focused on something in the distance and when the skier followed her gaze, she saw a group of snowmobilers who were riding through the street. The skier informed them that snowmobiling was illegal in St. Elmo. The group apologized and rode away. The skier looked back at the hotel, the woman nodded to her, then turned away and vanished.
On July 6, 2002, the St. Elmo property owners passed a resolution to donate the Town Hall property as well as the St. Elmo school house, to the Buena Vista Heritage Museum. The museum plans to work closely with the Association and residents to preserve and protect St. Elmo.
The Willow Springs Tuesday Study Club will meet today for a Christmas party.