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Four local ghost towns revealed

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
summit daily news

Roger Thweatt, who worked as a professor of psychology at Northern Arizona University for 26 years, always told his wife he should have majored in history, because it was his first love, academically speaking.

Now, after retiring and living in Breckenridge for 20 years, Thweatt has found a way to indulge his love of history; he just published “Ghost Town Sites Along Boreas Pass.” The book describes four abandoned mining towns along the pass: Argentine, Farnham, Farnham Spur and Dwyer.

Thweatt and his wife have been hiking and four-wheel driving around the High Country ghost towns for decades, but it wasn’t until a couple from Dallas asked Thweatt if he had written a book about local mining history that Thweatt began to think about compiling a text. The couple had been impressed by his knowledge when he was leading a tour for the Summit Historical Society. Thweatt decided they were onto something; after all, more than a thousand people go up Boreas Pass every summer and fall, and no one really knows much about the dissolved towns.

So last summer he began investigating the ghost towns, looking for clues, such as building footprints, broken glass and tin cans. He used an 1885 railroad map as a reference for locating three of the four towns.

“I had been up there dozens of times in the past 20 years, and I never saw ruins; I wondered where they could be,” he said. “And holy smokes, when I became sensitive to what I was looking for, (I discovered) building footprints are all over.”

Through his book, Thweatt shows readers how he deduced what he did from remnants found in the forest.

For example, he writes that the town of Argentine housed the most diverse people, including miners, railroad workers and businessmen, but its mine wasn’t very productive, as evidenced by the limited dump and the lack of valuable ore scattered around the portal or dump.

Maps that Thweatt includes display locations of where buildings – up to 18 of them – once stood, and beautiful illustrations by local Lisa Rivard help bring history to life.

For example, Rivard depicts a two-story, 16-room summer home in Farnham, which benefited from the trend of people believing cold mountain air helped respiratory health. She also recreates a two-story aerial tram in Farnham Spur that carried ore down from Mt. Baldy.

Thweatt used written accounts, found objects and a method called dowsing to accumulate information about the towns. The latter is a controversial technique, but it’s been used to find water, as well as answer yes and no questions, since the 16th century. For example, he used dowsing to learn about two soiled doves who lived in a cabin above a mine in Argentine, but he points out that the story has not been confirmed, though it is consistent with other mining town characteristics.

“My interest was not writing something for the historian,” he said. “It was for the locals and visitors … (who) don’t know anything about mining and what to look for in ghost towns.”

And, indeed, his book is a fascinating introduction of the towns, and mining artifacts in general.


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