The Cripple Creek District Museum observes 61 years
Note: (June 14 marks the 61st anniversary of the opening of The Cripple Creek District Museum on Fifth and Bennett avenues. The following is excerpted from an article by former Director Leland Feitz 30 years ago)
At the turn of the century, when Cripple Creek was a booming gold-mining city, the Midland Terminal Railroad depot at the head of Bennett Avenue was one of the busiest places in Colorado. Then, some 18 passenger trains arrived and departed every day. The depot was certainly the gateway to the gold camp and through its doors passed men and women from all over the world, who came to try for their share of Cripple Creek’s incredible wealth.
In 1949, after the proud red brick building had served travelers for well over half-a-century, the last passenger train steamed out of Cripple Creek and the old station was boarded up. It stood sadly neglected until 1953. By then, a trickle of tourists had begun to discover Cripple Creek’s charm. There were a few forward looking citizens who felt a museum should be established where bits and pieces of the past might be collected, preserved and enjoyed. The Midland Terminal depot seemed to be an appropriate place for such a collection.
The old building was then purchased by Margaret Giddings of Colorado Springs, whose grandfather had struck it rich in the hills above Cripple Creek, and by Blevins Davis, a New Yorker, who had fallen under the spell of the little mining town. The two gave the building to the community and a marvelous transformation took place. Donations of all kinds poured in from old Cripple Creek families and on June 14, 1953, the new Cripple Creek District Museum was officially dedicated by Gov. Dan Thornton.
The building with its fascinating architectural features had been handsomely restored. Several rooms were devoted to mining and transportation exhibits. A series of elegant Victorian rooms occupied the third floor. One room was dedicated to former Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr, who had roots in Cripple Creek. The hallways were hung with area photographs and rare maps.
More than 44,000 people visited the museum that first year. In 1954, some 60,000 came to see Cripple Creek’s new attraction. Then, before the place was even five years old, attendance passed the 80,000 mark. The Cripple Creek District Museum had become one of the region’s most popular attractions and one of the most talked about little museums in all the west.
In 1963, the museum acquired the old Colorado Trading and Transfer Building. One of the most historically important buildings in town, it is the only building now standing on Bennett Avenue to have withstood the great fires of 1896. In the museum complex is the Assay office, opened in 1974, where a visitor may see exhibits on the geology and history of the area. Board members and staff are either natives or people who have lived in the Cripple Creek District much of their lives. They add to the flavor and interest of a museum visit. The museum has a large library and an extensive collection of photographs and archival materials, which have been used in books, films and research worldwide.
And what of the future? The folks at The Cripple Creek District Museum will hold to the philosophy that has guided its operation from the beginning: To continually preserve and interpret the vital history of The World’s Greatest Gold Camp.
Director’s Update: Since that article 30 years ago, many things have changed, but the history of The World’s Greatest Gold Camp remains intact at the museum. Recent additions include the two historic cabins and the reconstruction of the Bear Caves from the zoo at Pinnacle Park in Jeff Miller Park on the museum grounds and the ongoing expansion of the museum’s programs, new exhibitions, and the acquisition of significant collections from the District. But that’s another story, to be continued.
The Cripple Creek District Museum will hold an Open House on June 14 at the Trading & Transfer Building on Fifth and Bennett Avenue from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (free for members, regular admission for the general public.) A benefit performance by country and western singer Belinda Gail will be co-hosted by the museum at The Gold Bar Theater in the Imperial Hotel at 2 p.m. Admission for the performance is $15 ($12 members.)
All museum buildings are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May 15 to Oct. 15. The main buildings are open weekends only from Oct. 16 to May 14, or by appointment. Admission is $5, adults; $3, military/seniors; children younger than 12 are free. For more information, call 719-689-9540/719-689-2634 or go www.cripplecreekmuseum.com.