The Squeaky Wheel
By Bart Dawkins
Publisher’s Note: This column is being reprinted per request of the family of the late Bart Dawkins, who used to be the City Attorney for Central City and also wrote a column for the Weekly Register-Call. We thought our readers might enjoy a little historical insight to Central City and Gilpin County as well, Aaron Storms.
I came to Central City in the summer of 1958 to keep W.F. VanWinkle on the board of directors of the Central City Development Company. He was about to be kicked off the board, but I was able to get him elected as President of the Company instead. He replaced George Ramstetter who was then the President of the company, as well as being the Mayor of Central City. Within a few days after our corporate matters were resolved, George asked me if I would like to be the City Attorney for the City. When asking him how much it paid, he replied, “It pays $35 for attending the monthly meeting of the City Council.” I accepted the job and thus began my 16 years as City Attorney and a 41 year association with Gilpin County. I guess I was fascinated with the prospect of representing a mining camp down on its luck. If memory serves me correctly, Central City adopted a budget for 1959 of $35,000. After that there was never a dull moment. My partners at the time couldn’t understand why I took the job and said, “You’ll never make any money in that town.” However, thanks to my other clients, I made a living and practiced law out of my Denver office. In those days, we had one District Judge, Christian D. Stoner. He was a circuit judge and sat in Castle Rock, Littleton, Georgetown, Brighton, and Golden, so I followed him from courthouse to courthouse. The courthouse in Central City had a very tall ceiling in those days, and the acoustics were terrible. You needed to have a good voice and to be able to project it to be heard. The County Judge was A. Stirling Gilbert, a nearly deaf attorney assisted by a hearing aid. Whenever he turned off his hearing aid, you knew it was time to quit talking as he had made up his mind.
Jury trials in Central City were always interesting to say the least. I made a widespread acquaintance with people in the County, and every jury always had a majority of people who knew me and I them. The trick in selecting a jury was to figure out which jurors liked me, and which ones didn’t. My last jury trial was held on June 6, 1991 in Central City. I represented the “Grubstake Grahams” in a defense of a slip and fall lawsuit stemming from an accident taking place on the front step of their Grubstake Restaurant & Bar on Eureka Street at the head of Main Street. The jury was only out about 15 minutes, and returned with a verdict in favor of the Grahams, finding them not liable for the plaintiff’s fall and injury claim.
One of my most interesting opponents in trials held in Central City was Elias J. Candell, a Lakewood attorney. I think we had a pending lawsuit every year for at least 20 years. His client was the Gilpin Investment Company, a wholly owned corporation by one shareholder, Elias Candell. My principal client against the Gilpin Investment Co. was William C. Russell, Jr. There were other clients I represented when they were sued by Candell, so there was never a dull moment. I could write a book just about those cases brought against Mr. Candell, but I won’t bore you with those.
Beginning in the summer of 1958, one client of mine was Kurt O. Linn, a surveyor. He had just purchased 21 patented mineral properties essentially following the meander line of North Clear Creek from Hwy 119 upstream just above Silver Creek in Apex Valley. Kurt said, “If you want to buy a lot to build a cabin on, go up there and pick out a site and I will survey it next summer and you can buy it for $1,000, payable $25 down and $25 per month with interest at 6% until paid. My wife, Mona, and I went up just above Silver Creek and chose a beautiful site in a glen facing Black Hawk Mountain downstream. The following fall we build a three-room, 400 square foot cabin with a bath, tiny kitchen, large living room, and one bedroom. We had “running water,” which actually entailed running down to the creek with a bucket and running back up to the cabin. We had no well for the first seven years, and no electricity for the first four years. We used a Coleman lantern for light, and a space heater fueled by LP gas. We spent every weekend there from late March through December each year. After we started staying up at the cabin, the nightmares from the war I had been suffering from for 13 years finally stopped. Apex Valley gave me great peace of mind and calmed my chronic anxiety.
On July 2, 1991, I retired after practicing law for 41 years. Mona passed away on June 17, 1998 at the house on upper Apex Valley. We had added a house to the cabin in 1973-74, and she lived there for the rest of her life. This last September 18, I sold the house at 794 Aped Road. It was a passive solar home which I lived in for 20 years after it was built and finished. Now I have no more connection with Gilpin County except a lot of wonderful memories and a lot of wonderful people I met along the way. Time never dragged on my hands in Gilpin County – it was always a challenge.