History of Crested Butte
Crested Butte, CO - Then & Now
Ute Indians Flourish
The beautiful East River Valley, where today’s Crested Butte rests, was once the summer home to the nomadic Ute Indians. The Utes, residing in the rugged mountains surrounding Crested Butte are thought to have lived some 1000 years in the western sections of the Colorado Rockies.
Growth of Crested Butte
In the late 1860’s, Silver was found in the mountains around present day Crested Butte. As the news spread of getting rich quick, eager miners flocked to nearby Gunnison and Crested Butte. In the 1860’s and 1870’s coal and silver mines began to open in the surrounding area and many little mining towns formed. However, when silver mining hit on hard times in the 1893 crash, many of these surrounding town sites, such as Irwin, failed. Crested Butte was in a better position to survive because it served as a supply town to the surrounding area and was fortunate enough to possess high grade coal mines.
Crested Butte was officially established as a town in 1880. While English, American, and Northern European settlers arrived first, by 1900, Croatian, Italian, and Slavic miners made up the overwhelming majority of Crested Butte’s labor force. In 1952, the majority of mines closed due to higher transportation costs and lower consumption of coal. The railroad left and along with it, a large portion of the community moved to Denver and Pueblo.
Ranching in Crested Butte
The other industry that supported Crested Butte was ranching. As cattle ranching etched its way into Crested Butte's unique history, the cowboy-infused community took on a new appeal.
Crested Butte Mountain Is Born
In 1961 two men from Kansas (Dick Eflin and Fred Rice) came to Crested Butte to scout the area for a ski mountain. Their operation began a new era of economic growth for the Gunnison Valley. Many of Crested Butte’s original “old-timers” were now employed by the ski area after a decade of sparse jobs and hard times.
Crested Butte Today
We are all fortunate to be able to stroll down Elk Avenue in Crested Butte and witness the town as it was in the early years of its rich western heritage. Nowadays, Crested Butte offers a graceful combination of heritage & sophistication. Victorian style architecture makes up the majority of housing & buildings dotted throughout the town of Crested Butte. This Victorian flare gives Crested Butte its current day character and the distinction from the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a 2008 Dozen Distinctive Destination. Dwellings generally reflect simple design, small scale, and limited ornamentation. An interesting variety of secondary buildings remains intact along many of the alleys. Since the major coal mines shut down in 1952, Crested Butte has become a tourist center for sightseers in the summer and skiers in the winter.