Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Central City auctions off a 6.8 acre piece of history today

Head for the hills if you want to own a real piece of history -- or just see history in the taking. At 1 p.m. today, a 6.8 acre piece of property in Central City will be auctioned off, complete with five historic brick and stone buildings.

Those brick-and-stone structures include the mining town's early jail, the original freight depot for the Colorado & Southern Railway, and the onetime home of the Register Call, the oldest newspaper in Colorado once the Rocky Mountain News died.

The property comes from the estate of the late William Russell, former Central City mayor, who lived through more than nine decades of history in the town: from the depressed era when the mines played out to the resurrection of the Central City Opera House in the '30s to the town's days as a salt-water-taffy tourist trap to the introduction of "limited stakes gaming" in 1991. From one boom to another. From one kind of gold to another.

And gaming should explain much of the interest in this parcel: It's in the zone where gambling is allowed, and although the constitutional amendment that Coloradans passed back in 1990 that allows limited stakes gaming in three mountain towns technically only allows it in historic structures, you only have to drive a mile down the hill to Black Hawk to see how liberally that law has been interpreted. .

The auction is being conducted by Williams & Williams, the same outfit that auctioned off Buford, Wyoming, the town with its own zip code and a population of exactly one when it sold for $900,000 in April.

The auction company likes the story of Central City -- it was once known as the "Richest Square Mile on Earth" -- even if it's a little vague on actual history. Asked when the buildings date from, a spokesperson replied, "the 1800s." But we can narrow that down a little further, since Central City didn't exist at all until 1858, when gold was found in what became known as Gregory Gulch.

The buildings on Spring Street can be toured starting at 11 a.m. today; the auction begins precisely at 1 p.m. And if it goes as quickly as Buford, it will be over in just a few minutes.

Bidding will open at $250,000, and there's been interest from around the globe. Bidders can bid on-site or live over But if you miss out on getting this piece of history, Williams & Williams will be auctioning off the historic town of Garryowen, Montana -- where the Battle of the Little Bighorn began -- on August 15.

Central City is full of stories. Read about a fascinating one in "Negro Hill: Official name of spot near Central City finally changed to honor Aunt Clara Brown."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun