Colorado, even now, retains some of its frontier feel, which is not surprising, as some natives hold down roots that go back several generations to the early miners and ranchers. Every corner of the state boasts a rich history, as well as many tumbled-down reminders of those who came before us and helped make this great state what it is.
In her new book, “Historic Tales from Park County: Parked in the Past,” author Laura Van Dusen shines a light on one Colorado county with a particularly diverse history. Some areas in Colorado have become synonymous with specific characteristics and customs, be they mining, ranching, tourism, etc. Park County, though, can claim all those traits, making it ground zero for much of Colorado’s fascinating history, with many of the state’s best-known historical figures calling it home — at least temporarily.
Park County’s most popular modern town is Fairplay, which was once just one of many bustling seats of power and commerce scattered throughout the vast and breathtaking valley of South Park. Many are now just ghost towns or shadows of what they once were, but Fairplay is home to South Park City, the open-air museum that brings the vibrant past to life, with many original buildings and artifacts. It even boasts a massive steam engine that seems poised to barrel right down Front Street.
The 19th century was the zenith of Park County’s bustling past, with its expansive cattle ranches, its high-yielding gold and silver mines and even a teeming ice business on one of the local lakes. Some figures from the past became wealthy from dabbling in both mining and ranching, while others became experts in one field, putting a stamp on the landscape that remains to this day. Many old mine tunnels dot the hillsides around Alma and Fairplay, and decrepit homesteads tilt listlessly after the decades of harsh winters and the blinding summer suns.
Van Dusen lays out a clear time line of Park County’s history, with many photos to illustrate the nearly 100 years covered. She deftly guides the reader through the landscape, touching on many well-known historical figures, such as Silverheels, the Tabors and Father Dyer. Present, too, are many lesser-known individuals, who passed quietly through history, often leaving a name on a prairie town, in a land register, in law books, on a Civil War battlefield or on gravestones.
Whether the reader is a tourist simply passing on Highway 285 through Fairplay to more exotic locations or a resident of a neighboring county, Van Dusen’s book provides a glimpse into the past and present of the sweeping panorama of the wide open valley of Park County.