Take a Day Trip from the Frisco Lodge: St. Elmo Ghost Town

Posted by: admin March 22nd, 2016

St-Elmo-main-street-1889Colorado has a pretty rich history. First there were the Native Americans, then came the European settlers, and finally the miners arrived looking to hit the jackpot during the Gold Rush. Each of these groups of people built settlements and towns only to leave them unattended when they moved on to bigger and better things. However, these abandoned towns didn’t just disappear along with the exodus of their occupants … some of them became a physical reminder of the life that used to inhabit them, and can now be referred to as “ghost towns.” There are many ghost towns to be found throughout the state, but you never know what kind of condition you might find them in. Some are dilapidated, some weathered, and then there are some, like St. Elmo, which are so well preserved that you couldn’t imagine it has been 100 years or so since anyone had occupied most of its structures. And that is exactly why the two-hour drive from our Frisco bed & breakfast to St. Elmo is well worth the day trip.

Situated high in the Sawatch Mountain range approximately 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista, the former gold and silver mining camp of St. Elmo is one of the most preserved ghost towns in the state of Colorado. Originally settled in 1878, the town was built for miners working out of the nearby mines and reached the height of its population at more than 2,000 workers. In 1881, railroad tracks were laid and St. Elmo became a station on the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad line making the settlement a main source of supplies. Soon thereafter, three hotels, several merchandise stores, two sawmills, five restaurants and a weekly newspaper put the town on the map.

St. Elmo eventually became so well-known that a cattleman, Anton Stark and his family, took up residence and soon became part of the settlement’s elite class. Anton’s wife, Anna, ran the general store and the Home Comfort Hotel while their three children worked the businesses that were said to have been the cleanest in town. In short, the Starks became the reason why the town survived for as long as it did. But, just 32 years later signs of collapse were imminent.

Main-Street-St.-Elmo-COIt’s decline in 1910 coincided with the failure of numerous area mines as miners moved away in search of new gold strikes. In 1922 the railroad stopped running, effectively ending any chance of survival as “the rest of St. Elmo’s population rode the last train out of town.” By 1930, the town’s population had dwindled down to only seven, and its remaining residents maintained their existence by running the general store and renting cabins to tourists. But, the town continued to deteriorate. By 1934, the only residents remaining were two of Anton Stark’s children, Annabelle and Tony, who lived without indoor plumbing and electricity and continued to neglect the town’s infrastructure. The town formally died on September 30, 1952 when the post office closed.

Tony and Annabelle were shipped off to a mental institution, but after a few weeks, authorities were convinced that they were no harm to anyone and they were released. Tony died shortly thereafter and in 1958 Annabelle was sent to a nursing home before she passed away in 1960.

There have been many ghost encounters over the years and all of them have claimed to be about Annabelle Stark. She spent the majority of her life there, and is said to still keep a ghostly watch over the town. Shortly after Annabelle’s death, children were playing in a room of the hotel when all the doors suddenly slammed shut and the temperature dropped 20 degrees. Years later, another young woman in her twenties charged herself with the task of cleaning up and repairing the hotel, and had her own ghostly encounter. After done cleaning for the day, she would put away her tools only to find them in the middle of the floor when she returned the next day. Another story is of a skier who reported seeing an attractive woman in a white dress in the second story window of the hotel. The woman was focused on something in the distance and when the skier followed her gaze, she saw a group of snowmobilers riding through the streets. Since snowmobiling was illegal in St. Elmo, the skier informed the snowmobilers of the fact and the group quickly apologized and rode away. When the skier looked back at the hotel, the ghostly figure nodded to her, turned away and vanished.

St.-Elmo-Post-OfficeWhether you believe in ghost stories or not, you can ask the part-time residents about the legend of Annabelle’s ghost and how she continues to protect her town from trespassers and vandals. The town still has numerous preserved, privately owned structures, including a general store, a church, a schoolhouse, and other cabins and business structures. In 2002, you can bet that the ghost of Annabelle Stark was not happy with a fire that destroyed six of the buildings, including the Jail, Town Hall and her family’s dwellings. You might want to go see for yourself!

If you do make the trip to St. Elmo, it is most likely to experience one of the most preserved ghost towns in Colorado. It might also be to catch a glimpse of Annabelle Stark. But, there are also a number of four-wheel drive trails to tackle, ATV rentals from the St. Elmo General Store, cabin rentals, camping spots, fishing, and rock hounding for quartz and aquamarine. Whatever your choice, just try not to upset old Annabelle Stark!