Today, Colorado is celebrated as a dream destination for outdoor lovers, but much of the state’s history and current economic activity is rooted in mining. The discovery of gold on Pikes Peak (historically inhabited by Jicarilla Apache, Cheyenne, and Ute Nations) in 1858, which led to the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, was a pivotal factor in the development of the current state of Colorado. The Rush brought record numbers of prospectors (by some estimates 100,000 people) to the mountains known as Colorado’s Front Range. The population growth that resulted from miners and their families flocking to the area led to the establishment of the Colorado Territory only three years later, in 1861.
Roughly thirty years after Colorado became a territory, the town of Eldora (historically inhabited by Cheyenne Nation peoples, and currently part of Boulder County) was established. Eldora served as the local center of gold mining activity west of Boulder. After Eldora (peak population 1000) was settled, the lure of gold brought another wave of miners to the vicinity, and a smaller camp town, “Hessie,” grew up a few miles to the west between 1895 and 1905. Hessie Cabin, AKA “Kennewick Cabin,” is one of the few standing residential structures left from Boulder County’s mining history. Kennewick Cabin, built in Hessie prior to 1906, is an excellent example of the type of cabin miners living and working in the Front Range during the 19th century would have lived in.
When Captain J.H. Davis brought his wife, Hessie, to the new settlement, she made herself indispensable by launching a crude postal facility in the Davis Cabin. In gratitude, the miners decided to name the settlement “Hessie” in her honor. The town of Hessie was thus added to the map of Colorado. Hessie supported about eighty residents at its peak. Located just east of where the North and Middle Forks of Boulder Creek come together, the settlement at its peak had several stores, a schoolhouse, boarding house, sawmill, and residences. The high elevation, about 8,600 feet, made agriculture difficult, but some settlers managed to grow hearty vegetables like potatoes, radishes, carrots, and peas.
Mining efforts continued until about 1904, but gold mining around Eldora and Hessie was never as productive or profitable as hoped. To make up for the lack of mining profits, a large-scale timber business was started in Eldora. In 1899, a massive fire swept through the mountains surrounding the town. Eldora itself did not burn, but the trees in the neighboring mountains were gone, marking the end of lumbering. With mining unprofitable, the timber gone, and an unforgiving climate, there was little to encourage residents to stay. By 1910, the towns of Eldora and Hessie were mostly abandoned, but (according to the book Colorado Ghost Towns), not before Hessie became the site of a complicated murder case that remains unsolved to this day.
Most of the area west of Hessie is now public land managed by HistoriCorps’ project partner, the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. Hessie Trailhead is a busy access point to popular hiking and snowshoeing trails within Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forest and Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Parking is limited, so since 2012 a free shuttle service to the trailhead from the Town of Nederland has been provided on summer weekends and holidays. Just south of the Hessie townsite is Eldora Mountain, a local favorite for skiing and snowboarding.
Many thanks to volunteer Miki S. for their assistance in researching and writing this description!