Many people are attracted to the lure of the Wild West and the towns where people set up shop to make or spend their fortunes. The open plains, promise of a future, and gold and silver brought easterners west. For many, their futures were realized; for many others, their dreams were dashed.
What is a Ghost Town?
Most historians reference a ghost town as any historical town that continues to have evidence of its previous glory. This general definition takes many forms; all businesses closed or towns comprised of ruins of buildings. Many “boom” towns fall into this category; for example those towns that rose up around mines, but which have long since closed. Some towns are categorized as ghost towns because the original purpose of the town no longer exits; but they continue to have residents.
In Colorado, ghost towns predominately became abandoned due to mines closing, mills closing when the mines closed, stage stops no longer needed when the railroad came through, and railroad stops no longer needed when routes changed.
The Haunted Town of St. Elmo
Gold and silver brought many people to the little town of Forest City which was later chanCredit: photo by Rolf Blauertged to St. Elmo when the post office objected because there were too many towns with the same name. The settlement started out with high moral character, but quickly went the way of most boom towns, reaching a population of 2000 that was mostly single males.
By 1881 St. Elmo had become a station on the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad line and had several merchandise stores, three hotels, five restaurants, two sawmills, and a weekly newspaper. A cattleman, Anton Stark and his family took up residence in the town and Anton became a section boss at one of the local mines. His wife, Anna ran a general store and the Home Comfort Hotel.
The Starks had three children, Tony, Roy and Annabelle who worked in the hotel and the store. The Starks were part of the elite of St. Elmo and the children were rarely allowed to leave the home and forbidden to attend social acitivies. In 1890, a fire destroyed the business section of the little town and it was never entirely rebuilt.
By the 1920’s the nearby mines had closed as had the Alpine Tunnel which was the main entry into St. Elmo. The railroad tracks were removed; yet the Stark family remained. They bought property at tax sales determined to keep the town alive with tourism. In the early 1930’s Roy Stark and his mother Anna passed away leaving Tony and Annabelle as the only residents in St. Elmo.
Tony and Annabelle continued to run the hotel and general store; however, it is told there was no indoor plumbing and the two siblings rarely bathed or changed clothes and allowed the trash to pile up in the old hotel. The general store was full of outdated tins of goods. The Starks were sent to a mental institution but a friend was able to secure their release.
Though Tony and Annabelle Stark died shortly thereafter; there are sCredit: photo by Rolf Blauerttories about a very attractive woman standing in the window of the hotel staring out on the town below. Part-time residents believe the legend of Annabelle Stark lives on in the ghost that continues to protect her property.
Today St. Elmo has several structures that have been preserved and are privately owned. It is considered one of the best preserved ghost towns in Colorado.
Ethical Code When Visiting Ghost Towns
Though exploring some of the ghost towns in Colorado requires a four-wheel drive vehicle, many others, including St. Elmo are accessible by two-wheel. For those traveling to ghost towns there is a code of ethics. This code states:
I will not:
- Destroy, damage, or deface any buildings or other structures.
- Disturb any structures that are locked or appear to be occupied.
- Remove anything from the site other than obvious trash such as candy wrappers, soft drink cans, etc.
- Enter a site that is posted as “No Trespassing” without permission.
- Take in a metal detector without the permission of the owner.
- Observe all rules and regulations be they local, state, or national.
- Camp and make fires only in designated safe locations.
- Leave the land and vegetation as it is.
- Fill all holes or excavations.
- Remove and properly dispose of any trash I find, and will not litter.
- Respect the rights and property of landowners, leave gates as found, and obey all posted signs.
- Appreciate and protect this nation’s ghost towns and the heritage they represent.
- Always conduct myself in a manner that is courteous and polite, and always show consideration for others.
St. Elmo, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, is reached by highway 285; about a three hour drive from Denver. Of course, when visiting St. Elmo, keep an eye out for Annabelle. She just may be watching from the second story window in the old hotel.
Legendsofamerica.com (accessed April 16, 2010)
The copyright of the article “Ghost Town of the Old West Haunted by Early Settler” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.