The Early Days
Most people are familiar with Nevadaville Colorado as a road-sign they pass on their way to the glittery casinos of Black Hawk or Central City. However; if you make one wrong turn on your way up I-70, you may find yourself in one of the many ghost towns that are crowded into the landscape of Gregory Gulch. One of the most stunning and well-preserved examples is Nevadaville Colorado.
In the 1800s Nevadaville was bustling with businesses, families, and of course; gold miners. It was founded in 1859 when John H. Gregory discovered the first lode-gold (or underground gold) in what would later become the state of Colorado. However, when Mr. Gregory was prospecting in Nevadaville; it was not yet a state and still a part of the western Kansas Territory. The town was primarily Irish and the miners worked two large gold lodes; the Burrough lode and the Kansas lode.
The town was also known in the 1860s and 1870s as “Nevada City”. Its post office was called “the Bald Mountain Post Office”. This was supposed to avoid confusion with other towns with the name “Nevada” or other Nevadavills in Colorado. Most people continued to call the settlement Nevada, Nevada City, or Nevadaville (Fun fact: Nevada is a Spanish word meaning “snow-clad” or “snowy land”).
The town died due to gold and silver running out in the early 1900s. At its peak it had over 4,000 residents, today only two full-time residents live in the community. Before its collapse, Nevadaville was one of the most important and largest mining settlements in the area. A fire destroyed over 50 buildings in 1861, including the taxidermist, a naturalist, and Martha Maxwell’s Boardinghouse. Interestingly the town folk made use of TNT to dig fire lines and saved the remaining portion of the city from the fire. They literally used fire to fight fire.
Despite the reconstruction efforts, the area’s gold veins were almost gone and Nevadavills glory days were behind it. This is because the near-surface mines were oxidized and tapped out. Leading the miners deeper into the mountain. The rudimentary ore mills had trouble recovering gold from the deep-sulfide-ores. Basically, it was looking bleak until more advanced and capable ore mills were built in the nearby city, Black Hawk. This sustained Nevadaville through the 1920s and ’30s, the town remained as a shadow of its former self. By the latter half of the 20th century, the population had declined to just a handful of individuals. Census data from 1950 shows only six residents living in the town.
I visited the town in 1998 and it was a much different place, even when compared to today. At that time the community was 4x larger, but even then this amounted to only 8 residents. The locals answered our questions politely but were not keen on holding long conversations. The town still sported a trading post, saloon, and a quaint little art gallery.
The Nevadaville Freemasons
Today the community is largely abandoned, but it is not completely deserted; a few very determined residents call Nevadaville home to this day. Only a few buildings stand on the main street. Acting as tributes and relics of the Old West version of Colorado. The Masonic Lodge continues to hold regular meetings. A tradition stemming back to the start of the temple in 1861.
The lodge was a planned part of the post-fire reconstruction and has remained active ever since, though it was not completed until the 1870s. Despite not having a lodge, the masons were already active and well established in the area. For the miners of the late 1800s becoming a Freemason was something to aspire to. The dues to be a member were $4 a year and the average miner made $1 a week. Meaning the cost of membership was an entire month's wages and not easily obtained.
Being a member of the Nevadaville Lodge gave men high status and wealth. It was an assurance that the brethren would help pay for medical needs or after-death expenses. A tradition stemming back to the gilded and medieval ages. It served as an early form of health insurance, life insurance, and general welfare services. It was the social-safety-net of its time. Larger modern institutions have adapted and incorporated elements of this system into theirs; such as labor-unions, international trade packs, and democratized medicine systems. Even to this day, the brethren of Masons help each other with their monetary needs.
Once a month the town population has a short-lived boom when the Freemasons converge onto Nevadaville. To practice their rituals in a building that was made by brothers from another era. The central hub of activity and the basic unit of the Masons is the lodge name. The group that meets in Nevadaville is called: “Nevada Lodge #4”. Today, there are a little under 2-million Masons in America and over 4,500 lodges.
The practice of Freemasonry (or Masonry) dates back to the medieval stonemason fraternities. Despite the wild and speculative rumors, most of their meetings involve mundane and structured conversations. Very similar to a board meeting or a shareholders meeting. But what captures the imagination of outsiders are the secretive ceremonies, rituals, and initiation process. The confidential nature of these meetings has bred a cacophony of conspiracy theories. Theories that were popularized in works of fiction; such as Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” or films like “National Treasure”.
Nevadaville is host to one of a handful of ghost-town lodges and temples that reside in Colorado (you can see another example in this video). Many of these derelict buildings are still around today thanks to the efforts of the Freemasons, who over the decades preserved this particular structure. However; we can see more grand and ornate lodges and temples that are falling to ruin in cities like Victor or Cripple Creek Colorado.
Fortunately, the lodge in Nevadaville did not meet this fate. In a 2020 Colorado Public Radio interview, the current “Worshipful Master” (or elected leader) of the Nevadaville Lodge; Patrick Dey, said "you can still see the original wallpaper and wainscoting". According to Dey, the lodge-room has impressed outsiders, including members of other local lodges who come to the abandoned town for initiation.
According to Mr. In Dey's interview, they typically blindfold the pledges as they are led into Nevadaville and the lodge. Once the pledge is seated in the meeting room, the blindfold is removed. As Dey puts it, “when it comes off… I always hear them go, ‘WOW’. Just to be in that room during that is such an experience.”
Dey went on to say; “Up here in Nevadaville, we don’t get good cell phone reception, so you don’t have to worry about guys sitting there playing on their phones in lodge… So hang out, enjoy yourself. You’re in a ghost town!” Day says there has been looting and a few break-ins, but folks should know Nevadaville is not completely abandoned. Again, two residents live in the town year-round. There are many brethren and community members who visit often. If anything is suspected or at times where a disruption is likely; such as Halloween, the Masons post lookouts to make sure their property remains secure. Dey concluded with: “We...want to protect it. It’s important to us, and we think it’s important to history”.
Can You Visit?
While it’s important to protect the structure, it’s not completely closed to the public. The Masons are happy to show it off on special occasions. Annually they hold a pancake breakfast fundraiser that the public is welcome to attend.
Random visitors to Nevadville are generally not welcome, but passing through on the roadway is not an issue. However, I suggest that you drive by slowly and do not stop. If you do decide to park, be mindful of where you do so. The street itself is public, but the buildings and surrounding land are privately owned.
BEWARE DO NOT WANDER: the mine shafts are extremely dangerous to approach. This is because the ground nearby can collapse under the weight of a single person. The mines and equipment can be seen off in the distance and it may seem tempting to wander over for a closer look; do not do this. I cannot stress this point enough. The mine shafts were made in a manner that pulverized the granite walls and sides. This leaves us today with an ever crumbling sinkhole. The edges have a tendency to cave and you can end up dead at the bottom of a 13-500 ft (3.9-154.4 m) shaft. There are numerous sinkholes appearing daily. One such hole is nicknamed, “The Glory Hold” which is 1,450 ft (441.9m) deep. That’s large enough to fit the entire Willis Tower (Formerly SEARS Tower) in Chicago.
Thank you for visiting! This is a collection of media from the lost and abandoned corners of the world. Please have a look around, I hope you enjoy.