Population spiked in the 1870s when silver was discovered at Rosita. Rosita was quickly overtaken by Silver Cliff where silver production in 1878 rivaled Leadville, Colorado's largest silver producer. In 1880, Silver Cliff was the third largest city in the state prompting its citizens to demand the state capital be placed there.
Like many Colorado boomtowns, silver mining in Silver Cliff did not last. When the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad arrived in the valley in 1881, it bypassed Silver Cliff and built a terminus in Westcliffe where Dr. William A. Bell, vice president of the D&RG developed the town site on his ranch.
Lush grass and hungry miners lured ranchers to the valley as early as 1869 when Edwin Beckwith brought cattle up from Texas along the Goodnight Trail with Charlie Goodnight himself. Edwin was later joined by his brother Elton and together they built the Beckwith Ranch, which still stands near Westcliffe. The Beckwith Ranch is undergoing restoration and will soon be open to the public.
Also in 1869, a group of Englishmen arrived and settled near Ula. Known locally as the "English Settlement", the group included the Kennicotts whose cabin still stands on Highway 69 north of Westcliffe. Ula was also one of the few full service Stage Stops in its day.
In 1870, the German Colonization Society, led by idealist Carl Wulsten, established the town of Colfax near Westcliffe in the hopes of winning a federal land grant. When this did not happen, many German settlers remained as workers and shop owners in Westcliffe.
Many historic buildings in Westcliffe and Silver Cliff today evoke stories of early pioneer settlement in the Wet Mountain Valley. The Hope Lutheran Church began in a log cabin in 1872 making it one of the oldest Lutheran congregations in Colorado. The Hard Times Hotel was built by miner William Wolffe in 1887 and the Westcliffe School has been restored to the way it looked in 1891 the year it was built. It is open to the public on an intermittent basis. Westcliffe also features the All Aboard Westcliffe Railroad Museum and Interpretative Center. The Jones Theater, which houses the Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts, was once known as the 'Klutz Salon' in its heyday.
Attractions in Silver Cliff include the historic Town Hall and Fire Station Museum, the Silver Cliff Mining Museum and the ghost town of Rosita. There are also over ten Centennial Ranches in the valley, many of which are still in operation. Both Westcliffe and Silver Cliff are located on the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway.
FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL
1) Silver Cliff cemetery famous for its mysterious floating lights first seen around 1890 and investigated by National Geographic in 1963.
2) Over 10 Centennial Ranches OTHER PLACES TO VISIT
1) One room schoolhouse tour of Custer County
2) The original Silver Cliff Town Hall and Fire Station Museum
3) Westcliffe Walking Tour highlights historic buildings in town including the Old Bank, 1888 Jail, Feed Store and Westcliffe School
4) Beckwith Ranch, 1877 Victorian mansion, barn and outbuildings
5) All Aboard Westcliffe Railroad Museum BEST TIMES TO VISIT
July 19 – 20: County Fair and Westcliffe Stampede Rodeo
August 29 - 31: Wet Mountain Western Days Music and Art Festival
Year Round Fun – 'Anytime is the season and the reason to visit Custer County'
Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway