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« On the Road: Creston, Wyoming | Main | On the Road: Denver, Colorado »

On the Road: Central City, Colorado

Click on the Thumbnail for MapNote: Originally posted on Blogger on August 3, 2006

Unfolding the Map

Littourati, I will not post as much this next week as I am heading for California for a friend's wedding and some time with the family. However, a good tour guide should whet appetites for what's coming. So, I have plotted Sal's course to Sacramento in advance. Oh, the places you'll go! Just click on the image!

Book Quote

"Central City is an old mining town that was once called the Richest Square Mile in the World, where a veritable shelf of silver had been found by the old buzzards who roamed the hills. They grew wealthy overnight and had a beautiful little opera house built in the midst of their shacks on the steep slope. Lillian Russell had come there, and opera stars from Europe. Then Central City became a ghost town, till the energetic Chamber of Commerce types of the new West decided to revive the place. They polished up the opera house, and every summer stars from the Metropolitan came out and performed. It was a big vacation for everybody. Tourists came from everywhere, even Hollywood stars."

On the Road, Chapter 9

Central City, Colorado

I've never been to Central City, but it seems to have experienced at least twice this century what my hometown has experienced in the last ten years. When Sal goes there in 1947, it seems to be in the midst of an upswing in its fortunes based on tourism and its famous opera house. However, this evidently doesn't last long, and Central City today is still searching for its reason to exist after the historic gold mines closed down and the more recent constructed gold mines, casinos, have not performed very well.

My hometown, Fort Bragg, California, is the midst of such a wrenching upheaval. A few years ago, the main employer in the town, Georgia Pacific, shut its doors for the last time. The previous few years before that, workers at the mill, as they were being regularly downsized, either took retirements or began to try to find something else as a livelihood. When the gates shut, only a couple hundred people still remained at a huge complex that once employed thousands.

Without its main employer, and with a fishing industry that had gone into the tank years before, Fort Bragg is trying to redefine its image. Following the lead of its neighbor to the south, Mendocino, some are trying to turn Fort Bragg into a destination for lovers of arts, crafts and food. Others want to develop the mill property which sits vacant and idle, separating the main bulk of Fort Bragg from the coastline. A few ideas that have been floated around are a community college, a large meeting center, stores, shops, name it. However, it has been difficult to follow through on any of these things, and Georgia Pacific still owns the land so it all depends on who GP wants to sell it to.

In that way, I can relate to Central City as I read about it today. Like Fort Bragg's history as a lumber town, Central City had a glorious history as an old West gold mining town, with all the stories and legends that go with it. In Sal's time, it is trying tourism to resurrect itself in the shadow of its more successful neighbor, Black Hawk, just as my town is trying to attract more tourists today by partly following Mendocino's lead. At present, Central City is apparently dealing with the failure of the casinos to revive it and is again trying to decide what it wants to be.

Central City probably looks a lot like Jack saw it before he sent Sal there in the novel, but there are things that are associated with modern America that would seem strangely out of place to a person from that time. I've had this experience myself in my home town. The company store, where I bought my first pair of steel-toed boots when I went to work at the lumber mill for the summer, has become a little mall, with boutique stores and a spa. I was relating to my wife, on a visit to the spa, how the store used to work, and it stocked everything a mill worker could want. To pay, you handed money to a cashier, who then clipped the money to a line and "zipped" it upstairs, where another worker would make the change and then "zip" it back down. In the back of the company store, where the spa is now, were all the heavy things you needed for work in the mill or in the woods. And there I was, probably 20 years later, sitting in a tub of water with jasmine fragrance in a set of rooms carved out of the back rooms of the store. I'm sure that if you had asked me, or any of the people who worked at the lumber mill in times past, if they could envision such a scene in that place, they would have looked at you like you were out of your mind.

But of course, back then we didn't envision that the mill would ever close. Central City, during it's heyday, probably thought the gold would never stop flowing. And Jack managed to catch Central City in its second wind, hoping that it had found the answer to recovering its glory days.

If you want to know more about Central City

Central City, Colorado History and Facts
Central City Opera
City-Data: Central City
Legends of America: Central City
Wikipedia: Central City

Next up: Creston, Wyoming

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