By Mary Peery
Edith James was the city clerk and treasurer of Nevadaville until her and her children left for Denver, in 1917. Edith left Nevadaville as a widow and never remarried. This is the conclusion of the James family’s life in Nevadaville based on interviews of two of Edith’s children, Cora and Redvers. The reminiscences come from previous interviews, of the two, conducted approximately 30 years ago. Cora does most of the remembering in this final episode. Redvers recollects visiting his youngest brother Ted at Clayton College. The story ends at the place where all the generations and friends of the James family gather annually—Bald Mountain Cemetery. Special thanks goes to Bud Orr, who grew up in Idaho Springs and is from a fourth generation hardrock mining family, for sharing his family history.
Cora’s grandfather, Thomas Henry Richards, was a skilled timber man, who constructed head frames and other wood reinforcements in the California Mine. He had a higher status than the other workers, and Cora remembers, “The California Mine was right on top of the hill. It was the deepest mine in the world at one time. At noon there would be one whistle – and they were such sharp whistles: first the Burroughs, then the Ophir, and then the California. I remember my grandfather holding me up and we watched the shaft house burn.” Cora would have been three years old, when she saw the shaft house burn down in 1899. The California mineshaft was 2,250 feet deep. “My daddy mined gold (also in the California Mine). We had a lot of valuable specimens and there was quite a bit of gold in them. I guess now you could have got something for it. But mama was big hearted and let friends help themselves. The specimens were hard to lug around. My dad worked as one of the “drifts” who laid on their backs and worked by candle light. He was paid $2.50 a day, and when he got to $2.75 a day he was rich! After he died, the pay went up to $3.25 a day. The mills were mostly in Black Hawk. There was one between Nevadaville and Central City.
We didn’t have chickens or anything like that. My uncle lived next to an old mill. The mill didn’t work anymore and was deteriorating. My uncle took the back out of the mill for the lumber, to make a cow shed and keep chickens. He always had chickens and plenty of milk, cream, and eggs. My dad could always have some. My uncle raised lettuce, radishes, peas, potatoes, turnips…things that the frost wouldn’t bother. As for fruit, unless you got it canned, you didn’t have it. Canned fruit wasn’t very good. My mother used to buy a box of dried apricots, peaches, or apples. We’d have them for sauces or pies. In the winter, she’d buy big pieces of pork or beef, and freeze them in the cellar. You couldn’t run to the store every few minutes. We would get 100 pounds of flour and 100 pounds of sugar. Charlie Johnston used to have a ranch in Clear Creek. He would raise rutabagas and potatoes. He’d come with his horse and buckboard to sell potatoes and turnips.
Cora was asked if she went to Idaho Springs often and she replied: “No not until I got older and got to dating. A couple times the fellows hired a double rig and took a couple of us girls over to Idaho Springs. We took the train and we went over the Georgetown Loop. When I got older, a girlfriend of mine moved to Idaho Springs and she wanted another girl and I to come over and spend the week with her. We walked. It was seven miles. And we walked home too. We sure had sore feet.
When I was 18 years old, the principal of the school organized a birthday party for me, and it was held at Cannon Hall. I had a date and I waited and waited. It was late, and he never was late as a rule. He finally showed up. Instead of taking me to Central where we planned on going, he went to Cannon Hall and they all surprised me. There was dancing and all kinds of stuff. That was really something. Think of someone doing that for somebody like me. I never felt like I was anything special, you know. I think everybody in town was there. Old people, young people, and even babies. That was some night, believe me.
Nevadaville Masonic Hall No. 4 used to have what was called the Cheerful Workers Class, which was composed of young girls from 16 – 18. This guy (person in charge) was interested in dramatics, so he organized plays. I had the leading part in the plays. The performances were really sincere, but I never thought of being an actress. We just did what we had to do. The people paid 25 cents each to get in and see us. We would use that money to pay some bills for the Methodist Church.
When I grew up there wasn’t anything but housework. We had to go to work as soon as we could. We didn’t have gas, just electricity and most of the mines had electricity. We paid $1.50 a month for our light bill. My sister (Edna May) did washing and things like that and she did what she could, but she wasn’t old enough. I worked for the president of the Saratoga Mine Company. I worked for them for three years and they were just lovely people. When I got married, the president’s wife helped with the wedding and gave me things for my home. I used to work for the gas and light company – Gilpin Light, Heat and Power Company, just west of Black Hawk. I’d go to work and then back home, to be with the rest of the kids at night. In Central if they wanted someone to help with the housework, they would always try and get a Cornish girl, because they were the best workers, and they’d pay more to get them.”
Redvers: “By 1916, many of the mines had stopped running. People were leaving the mining towns. Mama decided that we would move to Denver. There was a narrow gauge railroad that ran between Central City and Denver twice a day. So Mama and the family packed everything and had it taken to the Colorado and Southern Railroad in Central City on August 28, 1917, and sent to Denver. Of course, we went down by the train too, with the exception of Ted. Mama had enrolled him in Clayton College in Denver when he was eight years old. Now at least we would be a little closer to him.” Clayton College was founded in 1899 by George Clayton, who upon his death left $2 million to establish a boys’ home for boys 8-18 years old, who had lost their fathers.
Cora: “Well my youngest brother (Ted) was in Clayton College. He was out there until he was through with high school. Those boys got a good education, good clothes, good food, their own private rooms, trips, everything. And it was the way the man who left the money wanted it. We used to see Ted whenever we could scrape together $1.50 for a round trip ticket. We went on the C & S. I can still see that little old C & S coming around the corner and into the depot going toot, toot. Ted got home for two weeks in the summer and one week at Christmas. He never wanted to go back. He had all the advantages and everything, but he wanted to be with the rest of us. It almost broke my mother’s heart to put him in Clayton College. The pastor helped her get Ted in there and helped him get a good education, through high school.
Mama hired this guy to go to the station to get her furniture, (for transportation to the James family Denver home) and when he came up to the house, he said, “Where do you want me to put this junk?” Mama said, you better be careful what you say, because when that’s all assembled, that’s our home. And by the time she got it all assembled, it was pretty nice. It got so there wasn’t any work and people were walking out and leaving their furniture – just locking their door. People from Denver came up and swiped everything. When we left, there was a brass figure of a boy fishing in the living room, a platform rocker, a marble top table, and a couple of good beds left behind. Those things I remember. Somebody broke in and stole every bit of it. I’d give the world if I could have those things now.”
Cora reflections on her family’s plot in Bald Mountain Cemetery: “It’s a beautiful spot now, but so dreary in the winter. Lots of my folks are up there. My great, grandfather, my grandfather, and grandmother, brothers, sisters, mother and father, aunts and uncles and cousins. All of them are up there.” Bud Orr continues, “A James family tradition that was centered on the Bald Mountain Cemetery developed over the years. It was that of every year going to the cemetery to tend to the gravesites and do cleanups, plus have a family outing and picnic. Also when an out-of-town relative would come to Denver, a trip to the cemetery was almost guaranteed.”
“There is yet one part of Nevadaville that we can save and maintain. That is its old cemetery at the present time, a well-kept and beautiful place. A place supported and kept in condition by the descendants of those interred here. These descendants are now in the third generation. From the stones and monuments in this cemetery, one can almost read the history of the town. Let us who are here and those who are to come maintain and keep this place, so that it will not be a cemetery, but rather a monument to a place and a people.” Louis J. Carter, Yesterday Was Another Day