Ethnography of an Imminent Ghost Town

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Ethnography of an Imminent Ghost Town
Lambert, Nichole
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Denver, CO
Metropolitan State University of Denver
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Conference Papers ( sobekcm )


Collected for Auraria Institutional Repository by the Self-Submittal tool. Submitted by Matthew Mariner.
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Faculty mentor: Rebecca Forgash
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Major: Anthropology

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Auraria Institutional Repository
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Auraria Library
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Ethnography of an Imminent Ghost Town Nichole Lambert


This research examines identity and sense of place among residents of the mining town of Russell Gulch, Colorado in relation to ongoing initiatives involving historic and heritage preservation and restoration. The town has widely been labeled a ghost to wn, despite continued inhabitance. Currently, archaeological work is being conducted to research, record, and evaluate historic buildings in Russell Gulch. Ther e a re also plans for developing future archaeological surveys to determine if there is potential for historic district designation. Many co mmunity members have been enthusiastic about contributing to the collection of historical data and aiding in the archaeological surve y w ork, but these community initiatives have also exposed certain divisions within the community. This research utilizes ethnographic methods to document perceptions of community history and identity, the criteria residents us e to determine community membership and decision making, and some of the potentially divisive issues faced by communities like Russel l Gulch, which are struggling to preserve their past while creating an economically and socially viable present and future. Project Overview


Presentation Outline Historical Background Russell Gulch Today Ethnographic Research Findings so Far Challenges Future of This Project


Richest Square Mile In The William Greeneberry Russell


William Greeneberry Russell was a miner originally from Georgia who had previously established a sawmill camp in Elbert County, Colorado called Russellville (now Elizabeth). He then continued north west and founded the town of Auraria, named after a successful gold mine in Georgia, in 1858, along the banks of the Cherry Creek River and South Platte River. Soon afterwards, Russell traveled further west in better search of gold. He was successful and Russell Gulch of Gilpin County, Colorado was established as a mining town in 1859, after the discovery of gold in the area . Prospectors who were a part of the Colorado Gold Rush flocked to the area and utilized a wide variety of mining methods to extract ore. Gold production was reported to average $35,000 per year in the decade A unique practice in this area was that both women and children over the age of 10 were given similar mining rights as men; they could hold mining claims and vote (Marshall 1920). Immigrants were essential to the growth of Russell Gulch, and many of the original miners who came to the Gilpin County area were of English, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, and Prussian descent. Some Chinese immigrants also joined Russell Gulch as the railroad was established nearby during the 1870s (Slaughter 2017). People emigrated from other places as The Gregory District was first organized on May 16, 1859 and had a population of sixteen men. By June 1 of the same year, the population rose to approximately 1,000 (Cushman 1876). After the mines were widely exhausted during the late 1800s, many residents left. A railroad track, possibly the Gilpin Tramway, runs from the left foreground into Russell Gulch, Colorado. Several mine shafthouses dot the hillside in the background. Photographed in 1910. Image taken from


1860. Some claim that this was the first cabin built in Russell Gulch . Children sitting on the steps . Date unknown . Water wagon near Russell Gulch, circa 1910 Barnabe & Ress Images taken from and a private collection.


Gilpin Tramway is in the foreground with the old schoolhouse in the far background. Date unknown. Topeka Mine at top of hill. Date unknown. Mining in Russell Gulch. Date unknown. Images taken from and


(Top right) Approximate location of ethnic settlement patterns in Russell Gulch based on extant properties and census records. Blue oval denotes Welsh and Cornish residents; purple oval denotes Cornish residents; and red oval denotes Tyrolean residents (after 1900).There were smaller enclaves of German Austrians, and for a brief period, Chinese miners. Source: 1910 map filed with town incorporation papers (Slaughter 2017). (Middle right) Population Data for 1859 & 1860 are from contemporaneous estimates. 1870 census data included Russell Gulch in unincorporated Gilpin County; 1890 census records are not available (Slaughter 2017). Population for Russell Gulch is estimated to have been from about 50 100 residents for the past few decades. (Bottom right) A map that shows the Gilpin Tram route in Russell Gulch as well as some of the mines that the tram serviced there. (Slaughter 2017).


Russell Gulch Today A handful of homes are still Hundreds of old mines now lay abandoned Remnants of an old home (either a boarding house or Private residence)


Today a handful of residents remain, and the town has widely been labeled a ghost town, despite its continued inhabitance. Th ese residents are working with a team of archaeologists who are researching, recording, and evaluating historic buildings in Russell Gulch as w ell as developing plans ts. Furthermore, housing developers market Russell Gulch with the promise of small town mountain living with the convenience of Denver less than away. New residents and tourists patronize the local pottery shop and disc golf business, which hosts frequent events.


Local Business Local businesses consists of a pottery shop, disc golf course, and a horseback riding company.


This Ethnographic Project


Why this is Important lt environment and to contribute to goals of environmental, economic, and social sustainability... (and to aid in) evolving preservation policy to bet ter respond to changing Avrami 2016). By addressing the heritage of Russell Gulch residents in the past we are preserving age ment, and preservation The value of heritage preservation is often measured in economic terms (Lambert 2018). However, heritage preservation also pr ovi des societal erv ation of Russell Gulch is vital to maintain the cultural values and historical legacy which comes from this area with a focus on the explanations of th ose involved (Yarrow 2019). The proposed project has the goals of assessing the local politics of Russell Gulch, aiding current and future researc h b eing conducted in this area through the sharing of data and knowledge, and bringing awareness and acceptance to the cultural value of preserving the he ritage of Russell Gulch.


Objectives residents of Russell Gulch and if residents embrace or reject this label To discern if/what measures are being taken by the community to avoid To evaluate how economic development, tourism, and other related trends differently position residents and cause them to think differently about heritage preservation


Methodology Participant observation is being conducted to gain entrance into the community and understand the scope of historic and heritage preservation activities residents are involved in, the social dynamics among residents, and perceptions of life in Russell Gulch. S ubjects included are adults with a primary or secondary residence in Russell Gulch. Unstructured and semi structured interviews are being conducted with local residents and archaeologists who have participated in historic preservation to learn about preservation activities, attitudes towards such activities, and the life histories of residents. Informal interviews are occurring during participant observation. Formal semi structured interviews are being scheduled virtually for times convenient for participants. Semi structured interviews are being audio recorded with permission. Interviews last from 30 60 minutes. Photography is being used with consent, to capture settings for historical comparisons, and to contribute to the preservation of the community. Any photos which contain human subjects will be altered so that individuals are unidentifiable. Archival research is being conducted in libraries, from online sources, and through networks to understand the various stages of Russell Gulch history.


Changes due to COVID 19 The project received IRB approval in February 2020. Soon after research began, the world was hit with the COVID 19 pandemic and a Stay at Home order was issued by the Governor of Colorado. Changes were made to project methods in community of Russell Gulch safe. In recent weeks, interviews have been conducted over the phone rather than face to face. Fortunately, I was able to engage in some participant observation with the community, create bonds with some wonderful locals, and do some investigation of the area before the pandemic hit.


Findings so Far


Participant Observation I participated in a historic walk through with The Gilpin County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission. Commission members were eager to discuss current ongoing historic preservation measures being implemented around Gilpin County, plans fo r future historic preservation measures, and familiarize themselves with the Russell Gulch area which is undergoing various preservation initiatives.


Interviews The following questions are asked during interviews: How long have you/your family lived in Russell Gulch? What brought you here? What was this town like when you first came? / What was the town like growing up here? How has the town changed since you moved here? / How has the town changed since you were growing up? Who used to live here? How do you feel about the changes? Russell Gulch often gets marketed as a ghost town. How do you feel about that? Are there any changes you would like to see occur in Russell Gulch? What are they? What are the most important issues that you think need to be addressed? Why? What legacies do you think are connected with Russell Gulch? Why are they important? Why do you choose to still live in Russell Gulch? How do you envision Russell Gulch in the future? Interviews have been conducted with 2 participants so far and an additional 8 10 interviews are planned.


residents embrace or reject this ideal? Social media is the strongest form of marketing for the businesses in Russell Gulch, which utilize and embrace the imagery of Russell Gulch as a ghost town to help draw customers. Other common terms that are used to market Russell Gulch on Gulch as an exciting frontier to be explored. Some residents voiced their belief that Russell Gulch already is truly a ghost town, but that they welcome the curious people who come through looking to explore the area. Emerging Themes Images from


Current Housing Developments Housing developers are also utilizing imagery of the in order to market new homes on old mining plots. This has proven highly successful. However, the community lacks many services such as trash and snow removal and running water. Residents must travel to Idaho Springs or Golden to access a grocery store, library, post office, school, and recreation center. Those who have resided in Russell Gulch have adapted over the years. New residents though are interested in establishing these services locally for easier access. th Images taken from


Housing developers utilize dozens of historic photos of the area to help sell homes. Photos taken from and


What measures are being taken by the community to avoid becoming a In addition to the businesses and new residential buildings, archaeological surveys and excavations are being conducted to protect old mines around Russell Gulch. Archaeologists are evaluating the mines with the intent that any National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Register eligibility is evaluated in terms of the integrity of the resource, and its association with significant persons, events, or patterns in history or prehistory, its engineering, artistic, or architectural values, or its information potential 2017). Summary information for archaeological sites recorded for the Russell Gulch Historic Resources Survey, Phase II (Slaughter 2017)


The Future of this In addition to interviews already conducted, I plan to conduct approximately 8 10 additional interviews in the future once the stay at home order is lifted. I am also planning more participant observation, including aiding in local cemetery maintenance and attending local charity and fundraising events. Archival research is ongoing.


Bibliography Avrami , Erica. "Making Historic Preservation Sustainable." Journal of the American Planning Association , vol. 82, no. 2, 2016, pp104 112., doi:10.1080/01944363.2015.1126196. Cushman, Samuel, and J. P. Waterman. The Gold Mines of Gilpin County, Colorado. Historical, Descriptive and Statistical . Central City: Register steam printing House, 1876. Lambert, S., Antomarchi , C., Johnson, K., Stevenson, J., Debulpaep , M., & Katrakazis , T. (2018). Preventive Conservation on Demand: Developing Tools and Learning Resources for the Next Generation of Collections Professionals. Studies in Conservation , 63 (sup1), 156 163. doi : 10.1080/00393630.2018.1476961 Slaughter, Michelle, and Deon Wolfenbarger . "Russell Gulch Historic Resources Survey: Phase 1 & Archaeology Survey Plan." Gilpin County Historic Preservation Commission, Central City, CO, 2017 Yarrow, Thomas. "How Conservation Matters: Ethnographic Explorations of Historic Building Renovation." Journal of Material Culture, vol 24, no. 1, pp. 3 21., doi:10.1177/1359183518769111.


I would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for the The residents of Russell Gulch The Historical Preservation Commission of Gilpin County Michelle Slaughter Rebecca Forgash MSU Denver IRB MSU Denver Undergraduate Research Conference