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Summitville Colorado Ghost Town

Photos courtesy of Mike and Joan Sinnwell 2003

A real Ghost town with lot's to see. You will love this one. This ghost town is located in the San Juan mountains. The town sits at about 11,800 feet and was first mined about 1870. A stampede from Del Norte developed in the early 1870's after a miner showed a piece of float gold in a local bar. By 1886 there were at least fourteen saloons operating in town.

By 1893 the town was a ghost town. It did reopen for mining several times, 1907, 1930's, and in 1948 two mills were still in operation. Finally a toxic spill, potassium cyanide,  in the early 1990's Ended the mining. Now it is the site of a environmental cleanup.

With only 5,303 Ghost towns in Colorado it is always a struggle to decide which one should I use on my site this month. I really enjoyed Summitville as it has numerous buildings still standing, garbage dumps to search through, lot's of photos ops and a relative easy drive to get there. All the elements for a great adventure.

A reader writes - The pictures you took of Summitville were wonderful. I visited there with my cousin and my three grandkids (Michael-10, Kate-7, and Joe-4)this July. Thanks for sharing. Barbarann, Cincinnati, OH

A reader writes - I have been to Summitville prob about 20 yrs ago. It was a great ghost town then. You could search thru the old buildings.We always go thru South Fork on our way to Gunnison for vacation. But never have been back to see Summitville. One of these days I will return there.I love old Ghost towns of Colorado. I am from Oklahoma.There is another ghost town thats around Crested Butte, called Gothic. But last time I was there. There were college students there doing research about Colorado environment.That was a couple of years ago. But I still love to look at the old buildings and try to imagine what it was like to live back there.My name is Kaye and I am from Oklahoma.

A reader writes - We were just in Colorado (7/2006, Wolf Creek Pass & Pagosa Springs)and a friend said she was raised in Summitville, her father being a mining engineer. Her husband, a good friend, his father was an engineer & gold miner. These pics have made the experience much more meaningful.

A reader writes - Several years ago I was driving over the pass and saw the sign for Summitville, 22 miles. Knowing that Summitville was near Platoro from my Boy Scout Camping days I had to make the run. The last two miles were in snow. I have some great pics from that day. I am sure that the gentleman in the National Parks Service truck was wondering what the heck I was doing there on that day, driving a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII. I wouldn't have traded that day for the world. I did know however that I was not going to try to run over to Platoro that day. I have some great pics of your buildings in snow. Please let me know how to forward if you're interested.

A reader writes - I also saw Summitville for many summers, as I hauled freight up and down that wonderful road. Too bad Galactic Resources ruined it all.

A reader writes - April 10, 2009 - Hi, I really enjoyed this site. My mother grew up in Summitville and told me of her memories of winters there. She said that she had to ski to school on home-made skis, and that the children would enter the school building through the second story windows. What a contrast to today's schools where they close school for a few inches of snow! Thought I'd pass this along. Marvin Goad

A viewer writes - Tuesday, January 12, 2010 A history of Summitville can be found in my historical novel "Citadel Mountain III - 1885-1920." Summitvile is truly at the top of the list when it comes to ghost towns and is easy to access. The area is scenic and beautiful. It should be at the top of the list as a place to visit. Maynard Cornett Adams/MCA Books, PO Box 804, Ft. Lupton, CO 80621

A viewer writes January 13th 2010 - My family owns a cabin down the mountain from Summitville and we visit there every year. I can only imagine what it would have been like in it "Hey Day". I am so glad that it has not been completely trashed. It is wonderful to take new people there and see their reactions. Jennifer. Norman, Oklahoma

A viewer writes - Sunday, March 20, 2011 -- We visited Summittville Colorado Ghost town just this past week....what beautiful scenery all the way up....I have some of the most incredible pictures from our drive.

A viewer writes - Tuesday October 4th 2011 --- After a visit to Summitville on the 26th of September, 2011 the decline and weather damage to the site know as Summitville and the adjacent site know as Sunny Side have given over to nature. I suspect within the next few winters none of this will be visible as your initial photos so elegantly portray. I do not believe it is possible to even walk to the Sunny Side area to photograph the remains there. It was accessible in 2002 era but not now due to over growth of the vegetation. The Site know as Summitville is declining rapidly but one can get to it on foot. The EPA's Superfund Site of Summitville has likewise undergone yet more drainage and contaminated water control and has also changed since 2002. Kenn Strasser

Kenn Strasser has provided these great photos from September 2011.

A viewer writes -  Sunday, December 18, 2011 --  My fiancée and I traveled to Villa Grove, Colo. from Ponca City, Okla. to marry. We chose to marry on what was (likely) the main street of the ghost town of Exchequerville, one mile from Bonanza.  All that remains in Exchequerville today is the cemetery and a Forest Service building. It was beautiful and private, and the only guest was a chipmunk.

The next day we left Villa Grove and took the Forest Service road out of Bonanza past Exchequerville to the ghost town of Summitville, a real trick in a Honda. That mining town where we spent our day is where we consider to have spent our honeymoon. On leaving Summitville to the north, we encountered a bear parked in the middle of the road, staring at us for about five minutes. That was my first encounter with a bear in my life, and I had no intention of moving or startling it, or even breathing if I could help it, being only about ten feet from the car when we saw it.

That whole road from Bonanza to Summitville and north out is stunning scenery (except the Superfund cleanup site at Summitville). I would recommend to anyone who wishes a scenic drive that road, though in something more substantial than a Honda.

A viewer writes -- Sunday, December 18, 2011 -- My fiancée and I decided instead of marrying in Oklahoma, we would do it in Colorado (she having lived in Colorado Springs before). She decided on the location: Villa Grove, Colorado, where we stayed at a wonderful bed-and-breakfast. The next day, after obtaining a license from the Saugache County Courthouse, we went to Bonanza, toured that tiny ville, then to Exchequerville, the ghost town one mile above the "City" of Bonanza. Exchequerville is a true ghost town, nothing remains but the cemetery, and a Forest Service building. On where we estimated the original main street of Exchequerville was, we married, on 7 September 2007, under the trees and mountains, with only a chipmunk for a visitor. After taking our wedding photos (she of me, me of her), we then went back down into Villa Grove, and asked the two waitresses at the restaurant (one of whom my wife knows) to witness our signatures on the license. On the last day, we went back up the Forest Service road (in a Honda - not recommended), stopped by Exchequerville to take in the beautiful area one more time, then on to Summitville. That ghost town is where we consider having spent our honeymoon. It was also my first encounter with a bear. The bear was sitting in the middle of the Summitville Road, and refused to move just for a mere Honda. We couldn't back the Honda down the road, as it is steep, narrow, full of curves and large rocks. No room to turn around either, and we didn't want to upset the bear. We stood facing off each other for about ten minutes (with me trying not even to breathe), until the bear got bored and lumbered off. After we spent the day in Summmitville, we left via the road north out of town. When we returned the next day to Saugache to register our marriage, the County Clerk noted we had put the place as Exchequerville, and said she could not find any record of a marriage there for over a hundred years. The Saugache Crescent Newspaper (the nation's only remaining lead type newspaper) ran a wedding announcement for us, complete with listing of Exchequerville as the place we exchanged our vows, and sent us a copy of the paper in Oklahoma. Now we live in the Nebraska Panhandle, and I am itching for a trip back to that beautiful place where we were married, I just want to take something different than our Honda.

A viewer writes Monday, September 30, 2013 -- My grandfather joined the mining frenzy in Summitville during the 1930s era. I have a photo of a group of miners just off shift there. Are you interested in posting it here? The men need identifying. I would be most grateful for any sharing of insight to the miners identifications. Sincerely, Lynn  email:  30 Sept 2013


I am grateful for your willingness to post the photo of mud-covered men fresh off their shift, at 1930's French Mine, Summitville, Colorado.  As I shared already, my grandfather is likely in it, but no one is identified. If you think it might help spark anyone's knowledge or memory,  it is okay with me if your post of the photo includes the few clues from documentation and notes:

His name was Elmer Wilson, who was known in area rodeos with his Wilson brothers, mostly south - Durango, Pagosa Springs, CO and around Chama, NM. Young men by the surnames of Burster or McGuire may also be in the photo.

Thank you,  Lynn

A viewer writes Jan 15th, 2018 -  Hello, I wondered if you had any resources or could point me to history of Summitville, CO?  My Father was a professor at Adams State for 34 years and taught a class about Summitville and there is a story about this class surrounding a local shooting - way back in the day (20s or 30s).

I would like to find out more but cannot.  I would like to find places for my Dad's research and notes one day - he died last Spring 8 months after my Mother died unexpectedly.   He was an avid historian.

Thank you. Regards, Norma Katherine Carter  - Daughter | Dr. C. Joe and Shirley R. Carter

Rocky Responds   -  Norma, THANKS for visiting my site. I appreciate the visits. I am not sure what you are asking me. Are you saying there is a story, dating back to the 20's and 30's, about a shooting in Summitville? That might make sense as in the 30's they opened Summitville and started to mine the area again. I don't recall any such stories, but I have not researched it via newspaper reports. Usually when I start looking for evidence I use the History Colorado site and then go to the Denver Public library. Scan the newspapers of the time. Both are excellent resources. I did scan my library of various books, but I did not find any reference to a shooting. I would be interested in his notes and research. Do you have them? or are you looking for them?

Norma writes - Hello Michael, What I know is my Father taught a class during summers called San Luis Valley History.  A man I know attended this class as he was short about 3 hours to graduate around 1967-67.  Maybe earlier.

My Father had these courses at night once a week and known for sitting on his desk with round toe black cowboy boots.  He was telling class about this shooting when a much older student raised his hand - my Father acknowledged him and the man went on to say that this story was a good one, but it was false.  My Dad asked what he prefaced that comment on and this much older man - very shy - who kept coughing and coughing said "well, I know you are wrong because . . . I was there!"   My Father stopped and told all to circle the chairs and not speak . . . Mr. Knapp had the floor.  He was at this shooting when he was about 5 years old.

My friend (a retired local businessman in Alamosa) - Chuck Owsley - was a star athlete and just desperate to get a couple missing hours to graduate - he says this particular evening was one of best in his life.  I got to thinking about it last night and tried to find out more but came up with nothing.   I will check with Chuck on year, Mr. Knapp and more details.   Mr. Knapp was well into 70's or even 80s so I may have detail wrong and it could have been in before or early 1900s - I guess I need more details.

Any fun details of a shooting in 1880s or 90s?

I do have a great deal of my Father's research, class notes, grade books - he did not use a computer but twice and did not like it!  He wrote a history on Zebulon Pike and back in 60s way before GPS and cell phones - got students and friends and recreated the hike through SLV in winter - and disproved the common notion of how/where Pike traveled.

He wrote numerous articles and a book on the history of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Alamosa.  I have the only hardbound copies.  

I have truly not yet even begun to accept he sudden death of my Mom, then my Dad failing and dying 8 months later.  Just now I am barely going through more of their personal affects.  I had to sell their home in Pueblo West - which was a museum in itself.  I wish I did things differently but when in the middle of it - you do what you can... but hopefully I have a lot of his treasured writings and one day find the proper home for them.

My Mother grew up in Pueblo and her Father was a barber there - and I have an antique 1860s Shave/Shoe Shine traveling chair.  Just another treasure.

Hoping that slowing by digging a bit into my Dad's world it will give me some closure - as coming up on a year in April and again I have zero acceptance of what transpired.  

I wish you could have visited with him - he loved to talk history that is for sure.

I will let you know what I find out.  Thanks for reply.  Helps to know people appreciated him/them so much - those who love and pass on history to others such as yourself.

Regards, Norma Katherine

Rocky responds - Norma, keep digging and find the closure. I too lost both my parents and often regret not spending more time with them discussing their early lives. My dad passed away 11 years before my mom, so I was lucky in a way. Lucky because I realized how much I missed with my dad, so I was able to spend time listening to my mom’s stories. I especially remember one night when my daughter and I took Mom to a fancy restaurant for dinner. As she was telling the story about her (rascal) brother being arrested for bootlegging she kept looking over her shoulder to see if anyone was listening and she spoke in whispering tones. He was my favorite uncle....

Fortunately, my dad had written a short biography of himself as he was the oldest of 11 kids and he shared that with them and his children. I still have his original writings.

On the mystery of the shooting. I sent a note to a friend of mine who recently published a book "Frontier Colorado Gunfights". He said he is not aware of any shootings in Summitville as described but that does not mean it did not happen.

 Stay in touch please and THANKS for visiting my site and writing in.