Tom Ross: Author Preethi Burkholder to speak at Steamboat’s Tread of Pioneers Museum

Tom Ross
Tom Ross

— On my one and only visit to the the Colorado ghost town of St. Elmo, I was unable to meet up with Annabelle Stark. But one can never count on ghosts keeping their appointments.

Even if we didn’t encounter any specters there, we were fortunate to visit St. Elmo in Chafee County in December 2011, when there was relatively little snow. That allowed us to drive our vehicle instead of a snowmobile down the main street of the mostly but not-quite-abandoned town. St. Elmo is about 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista in the heart of the Sawatch Range.

The well-preserved Western false-front buildings on the old gold and silver mining town founded in 1880 were etched with snow that day. And there still were old newspapers and advertising signs plastering some of the windows in the buildings.

Author Preethi Burkholder will tell stories about St. Elmo, nearby Tin Cup and other ghost towns at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Tread of Pioneers Museum during a talk about her new book, “Ghost Towns of the Rockies.”

“Annabelle Stark’s family played an important role in building the town, but when the mining ran out, everyone left, and she lived alone until she died in 1960,” Burkholder said during a telephone interview Friday. Some people think Stark still haunts the town. I couldn’t say for sure.

Burkholder added that she once had an opportunity to interview a 90-year-old woman who had met Annabelle Stark in the 1950s and described her as an eccentric character and a bit of a pack rat. Aren’t we all like that?

St. Elmo, situated in a steep ravine in the mountains, once was a station on the Denver, South Park and Pacific narrow-gauge railroad line, Burkholder said. Today, if you have a high-clearance Jeep or other off-road vehicle, you can drive over 12,154-foot Tin Cup Pass to another semi-ghost town of the same name. Otherwise, you would be wise to retreat down Chafee County Road 162 to Colorado Highway 24 and return to the vicinity of Buena Vista to take the trip over milder Cottonwood Pass to reach Tin Cup.

Like St. Elmo, Tin Cup is featured in Burkholder’s book and benefits from the presence of part-time residents who respect the history of their buildings and preserve them much like they always have been with a few modern conveniences. Some ghost towns collapse into ruins if there aren’t people with an interest in maintaining them, Burkholder observed.

“Tin Cup was a fairly rowdy town, and by 1882 it was the biggest silver producer in the Gunnison Area,” she said. “The town had a population of 6,000, and you wonder how they made it in the winter months. It had 26 saloons and gambling houses operating 24-7.”

Burkholder has many more stories to share about gold mining towns like Victor and the labor strife that seized it up as well as Creede, which went through a period as a ghost town but is a vibrant year-round community with ample commerce today.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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