The former townsite of Apex Colorado is nestled into a shadowy, narrow, and windswept valley. Only a few of the city's buildings remain today and few people come to visit. It’s best viewed after the winter snow melts off the roads and Pine Creek is flowing behind the former main street. April or May is an ideal time to avoid snow and for viewing wildflowers and wildlife.
During my visit I spoke to an elderly gentleman who claimed to be the last resident of Apex; however, he also gave me instructions for the best places and methods for BigFoot viewing. He is the self-proclaimed mayor and sees himself as the watchmen of the land. Considering the source, he did have some interesting facts about modern-day Apex that were not cryptozoology related and was able to show me some of the gems in this hidden valley. Today I would like to share with you some of what he showed us during our journey while expanding upon the history of Gilpin County Colorado and Apex.
When making your way up Apex Valley road and entering the townsite you will see very few buildings but will notice the tree line has been pushed further away from the road. Giving way to lush meadows and a view of Pine Creek. While it may not seem like it, you have entered the former city. With the exception of several buildings, the Meadows are all that marks the land where Apex Colorado stood. Today it can be hard to imagine over 1,000 settlers living in this valley. The valley is not very hospitable with the aid of modern technology, let alone over a century ago.
One of the most noticeable buildings is a swaying false-fronted building. This building boasts a large brass medallion that lists it as the first site (Site #001) in the Gilpin County Historical Society Register. The Juxtaposition of the new and heavy brass affixed to an old and fragile building is striking. The marker indicates a desire by this organization to preserve the structure. And this is made evident by the temporary buttresses that have been added to brace the building from falling. Many people would look at this structure and assume that it cannot be saved. However; I have seen larger and worse off structures that have been brought back from this condition. You can see an example of a similar building being brought back from the brink in my Ohio City video and vlog. That said; this particular structure in Apex Colorado served as a hotel and boarding house during the city's boom period, the 1890’s.
The area was first prospected by, Richard Mackey in the 1870s when he stumbled on an outcropping of gold. Shortly after his claim was sold, and resold until a man named “Mountz” purchased the claim as a partner. In need of money, Mackey sought a partner and found it in Mountz. After clearing out the easiest to reach gold and making $30,000, Mackey vanished. Shortly thereafter Mountz ran out of money again and began to live in squalor. Weary and upset, he planted his last two sticks of dynamite at the mine opening with the intention of closing it off. The next morning as he ate his last bit of food and prepared to leave, he noticed the shattered pile of debris from his explosion was all gold ore and behind the ore-pile was an exposed vein of Gold. Mountz once again stumbled onto Gold, but this time he found an extremely rich vein of Gold. This claim became known as the “Pine Mining District''. This load was the largest acquisition in the area and produced ore at a value of $1,800 a ton. Which in today's value would equate to $110,500 a ton. Mackey’s find continued to produce ore and it justified the creation of a mill in the town, this was a rarity for a community of this size.
The Colorado Bureau of Mines; in a 1919 report, describes the community of the Apex mines:
“The Pine Mining District, six miles north of Central City, is where the Evergreen Mines Company properties are located. During the fall and winter of 1917 and 1918, they erected a 100-ton flotation mill, which is equipped with electric power. This company gives employment to a great number of men year-round. The Pennsylvania and Colorado Mining Tunnel and Milling Company's mines and mills are located in this district and several other smaller properties.”
With such valuable ore, the mining camp quickly blossomed into a city and was established as a town in 1891. It’s worth noting that this was 30-years after the nearby communities of Central City and Nevadaville were established. This means that many prospectors combed through these mountains during the Gregory Gulch Goldrush and were not able to find gold. But thanks to the patience of Mountz, Apex continued to grow until the early 1900s.
A small cluster of cabins and sandy streets is all that remains of a once-bustling metropolis that served as the Capital of the Pine Creek Mining District. A newspaper from the nearby town of Idaho Springs reported throughout the boom years and produced several photos of the town's construction. At its peak, it featured over 80 businesses downtown and housed over 1,000 residents in the surrounding community. Although the railway never made it to town, several stagecoach lines ran from Nevadaville and Black Hawk. The stage line brought with them a daily stream of mail; which was a luxury for most mining communities. They had several saloons, a dance hall, grocery store, hotels, a schoolhouse, and eventually, its own post office. It operated intermittently from 1894 to 1932.
The districts’ mining companies were well represented on the main street, with multiple offices dotting the street. By 1897 the town achieved its next milestone by producing its own weekly newspaper, called “The Apex Pine Cone”. The first volume was printed on July 3rd, with the intention of the first run being ready to read on Independence Day (July 4th).
Like many of the communities in this mining district, it did not have a cemetery of its own. Rather they choose to inter their residents in the nearby Central City Cemetery. Which created a massive set of cemetery plots in the nearby town of Central City. Despite being a substantial mining town, the lack of a cemetery makes it difficult to discover details of the town and its citizens. Unfortunately, some of the most interesting details of this wealthy mining town are lost to history.
It took its architectural secrets and history to the grave when Apex lost large swaths of buildings over the course of two separate wildfires. Much of the business district was destroyed and we are left with only the open meadows we see today. The residential areas of town have been reclaimed by the woods and are mostly collapsed. Except for a handful of cabins, illegal mining operations, and homes.
Apex is mostly abandoned, with the exception of the aforementioned “Mayor” and his “visiting kin”. I had the pleasure of speaking with the Mayor and although it was hard to get a word-in with him, I was able to get his permission to record our conversation. This was of course only if I agreed to hear him out about his tall tales of espionage, Nicola Tesla’s ongoing work in Colorado, radio waves in his teeth, and his uniquely insane worldviews. As you might be guessing, this man is as crazy as they come but is generally harmless and well-intentioned. He is extremely verbose and can be found on the top of Elk Park road in a set of trailers that are surrounded by snowmobiles and ATVs. Do not seek him out, but if you are lucky enough to meet him and decide to engage with him in conversation, be prepared to spend 20-30 minutes chatting.
While the Mayor is about as friendly of a schizophrenic as you’ll find, his dog, “Dummass”, is not. This white Pyrenees dog guards the mayor and his property with extreme prejudice. He feels like it is his job to direct traffic and he personally owns the road. Don’t be surprised if Dummass attempts to herd you or your vehicle away from the Mayor's property.
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