By Christine Bradley
As the Georgetown Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District celebrates its Golden Jubilee 50th year, it is interesting to note how it all began. The following article by Clear Creek County Archivist and NHL Historian Christine Bradley recounts the events that led up to that fateful day in November of 1966.
Historic Georgetown, Inc.
Home of the Hamill House Museum and Alpine Hose #2 Museum
In a press release dated November 13, 1966, Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall announced the designation of fifty seven National Historic Landmarks , taking the national total to 746. Number eight was the “Georgetown-Silver Plume Historic District, Clear Creek County, Colorado.” The document noted that the site “consisting of Georgetown, Silver Plume and the Loop Gorge between them, is probably the most scenic and historic of all the Colorado mining districts. Both Georgetown and Silver Plume, which are active communities, contain many buildings erected in the 1860s and 1870s, when the area was a major source of gold and silver. The famous aerial railroad that connected the two is gone, but the State, which owns much of the valley, including the railroad grade and a number of mine tunnels, is interested in developing the area as a State historical park.” The designation had been recommended by the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments at their meeting October 3-5 of that year, under the auspices of the Historic Sites Act of 1935.
The 1935 Act came amid a flurry of New Deal legislation, which gave the National Park Service a mandate to produce an inventory of historic sites on a national level. Needless to say, the project was overwhelming. Things ground to a halt during World War II, but interest (and a limited amount of funding) came back to life in the 1950s.
In June of 1955, National Park Service Historian Ray H. Mattison of the Region Two Offices (Omaha, Nebraska) visited the area to review its history and take photographs of some of the remaining sites. In December of 1958 Mattison prepared a survey form listing Georgetown as a site under the theme “Westward Expansion, 1830 to 1898 (Mining Frontier of the Trans-Mississippi West)”. In November 1958 the Colorado Historical Society wrote to the trustees of the Boettcher Foundation with an outline for a planned State Historical Mining Museum, which referenced the potential donation of 80 acres of mining claims in the vicinity of the Loop Valley. Denver attorney Stanley Wallbank donated 40 claims in June of 1959, giving the Colorado Historical Society a vested interest in the area.
The Colorado Historical Society began to plan for the development of the area, working with state, local and federal agencies to solve issues related to land ownership and protection from the future development of Interstate 70. In May of 1966 William Marshall, Director of the Colorado Historical Society and Merrill J. Mattes, Historian with the National Park Service, met in Georgetown to review the site and its possible designation as a landmark district. The NPS San Francisco Service Center quickly compiled a “Special Site Report,” which was completed in July of 1966. Director Marshall indicated that he thought the chances of designation were good.
In today’s world, there are three levels of historic designation: State Register, National Register (sites and districts) and National Historic Landmark Site or District. National Historic Landmarks represent outstanding aspects of American history and culture and possess exceptional value in illustrating the history of the United States. The approximately 2500 historic places that bear this the highest designation bestowed on properties outside National Park Service ownership, are recognized as nationally significant buildings and sites important to telling the story of the nation and worthy of preservation.
The recommended approval of the Advisory Council in early October 1966 came just before the passage of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, making it one of the last approvals under the 1935 law. The Preservation Act was passed on October 15, 1966, and the Secretary of the Interior’s designation was released on November 13, 1966, making these 57 new sites among the first (if not the first) under the new act of Congress. The residents of the Georgetown Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District are proud to be celebrating 50 years as a landmark district.