By NewMexiKen [Written in 1997]
At 10,152 feet, Leadville, Colorado, bills itself as the highest city in the U.S. I know of no challengers. It’s a mining town that had a robust 30,000 people 100 years ago, but has fallen on hard times today with the mines closed and no real transition to tourism. The outskirts are the disheartening aftermath of bygone days, but the downtown itself is attractive with a stunning view of Mount Massive and Mount Elbert. We spent a couple of hours walking up one side, then down the other of the main street, visiting shops and the Tabor Opera House.
We talked to a shop owner who said that she and her husband had discovered Leadville in 1982 and worked to get back to live, finally settling in 1995. She said that first month, January, it snowed for seven straight days non-stop, then quit, then snowed again for nine more days non-stop. She wondered what they’d done. Leadville gets about 200-300 inches of snow a year, but hasn’t had a school closure for snow since 1939.
A lady running the bookstore told me she had been there 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else. Her father had heart problems though, and the doctor made him move to a lower altitude. He moved down to 8,500 feet.
The highlight was the Opera House. It was built in 1892 and was a main stop between Denver and Salt Lake City. Sousa played there. Houdini. Lilly Longtree. All the stars of the turn of the century. We took the tour and enjoyed its history but the best part was the 84-year old lady who owned the place. She’d come to Leadville at age 20, eventually inheriting the opera house from her mother who bought it in 1955 to keep it from destruction. This lady was delightful—the person at the door being the same person heard on the audio tape tour. After I bought 50 cents worth of postcards she kept hustling me for other 25 cent items. When she said something about getting too old, I mentioned my grandmother living to 95 and she lit up and said she guessed she had time for lots more stuff then. What a pleasure to see anyone, of any age, so totally absorbed in loving life and what they were doing. Maybe it’s in that high, thin air. If you’re in Leadville, don’t miss the Tabor Opera House and its present star.