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The adventures of Fred Dolley

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From the Gilpin Historical Society

By David Forsyth, PhD

In 1909 the Gilpin Observer referred to Russell Gulch resident Fred W. Dolley as a “gentleman of varied experience” and “one of the most versatile fellows in this section.” By then he had already been a roller-skating rink owner, farmer, miner, and railroad builder after having been in the county only a few years.

Fred Dolley was born in Port Allegany, Pennsylvania on December 28, 1873. While young he went to sea as a stowaway and he traveled the world considerably. He claimed to understand several languages as a result of his travels. He then went to work as a salesman for a stationery business in New York, traveling throughout the country selling its products. When his health failed him after several years of hard work, the company sent him to Colorado to recuperate and he decided to stay.

Dolley arrived in Central City in 1906 or 1907 and immediately opened a roller-skating rink in Armory Hall (the Belvidere Theatere). He operated that rink until moving to the new Turner Hall in Central City in 1910. He left the rink in late 1910 to become a professional roller-skater.

According to the Observer, in March of 1911 his appearance at the Auditorium in Omaha, Nebraska, gave him “considerable fame and fortune.” He won the first $50 prize for skating in Nebraska history and the championship in fancy and trick skating. After winning the championship he gave regular demonstrations at Omaha on Thursday and Saturday evenings in addition to regular demonstrations in Council Bluffs and Sioux City, Iowa, but he told the newspapers that he planned to return to Colorado as there was no place like it.

While still operating the skating rink in Central City, Dolley did some placer mining near Russell Gulch, where he was living at the time in an area he called Dolleyville, which consisted of two houses and his mining operating. The Observer said that he met with varied success in his mining ventures, but also reported that he “knew just where to look for gold by instinct.” At the time, Dolley was also at work on a new mining device that he said would do the work of two men.

The device was only vaguely described in the October 28, 1909 issue of the Observer, which said that ore was placed on a screen for washing, and used a counter-flow of water to wash the ore and wash away the debris. All the operator had to do was feed in the ore and the machine handled the rest. Dolley also built a small railroad on the property that paralleled the Colorado and Southern tracks to haul ore.

Dolley told the newspaper that, like P.T. Barnum, he was a firm believer in publicity and that a new enterprise he was working on would reward him handsomely, but whether that was his mining device or something else was left unsaid. Dolley also farmed his property at Russell Gulch, planting potatoes, rutabagas, and carrots. The potatoes turned out to be a bust, but the other three crops produced enough that he was able to sell the excess after keeping what he would use.

Dolley was also a firm believer in spiritualism and a magician. A reporter from the Observer watched him perform several sleight of hand tricks at his house in Russell Gulch in addition to making a cane stand up on its own and lean one way or another in answer to questions asked of it.

After returning to Colorado following his brief career as a professional roller-skater, Dolley opened a pool hall in Tolland and also hauled wood in and around the Town of Baltimore, located near Tolland west of Rollinsville. Dolley was well-known for hosting dances at his pool hall and at some of the hotels in Tolland, leading the Observer to call him one of Tolland’s most prominent citizens in 1912. In the summers, Dolley provided burros for tourists to ride at Tolland and was also a skilled fisherman, catching 79 fish in one day in 1911. His skill as a fisherman led someone in the county to state that he “catches fish with a net and makes a living selling same.” Dolley angrily denied the charges, writing he never fished with a net and had no need to sell fish to make a living.

Dolley built a summer home, which he named Aspenwilde, in Boulder Park in 1911. He installed a large fountain at the house and also built a fishing pond on the property. By 1920, Dolley was working as the caretaker at the Silver Lake Municipal Reservoir in Boulder County. On August 13, 1920, he married Amy Blum in Boulder. The marriage was troubled, with Amy Dolley apparently suffering from mental problems. When she arrived in Colorado from St. Louis for the wedding, she disappeared for three days, and after the wedding she was sent to a sanitarium in Denver, which she escaped from. Dolley found her in St. Louis and brought her back to Colorado, but she disappeared from their house on October 28, 1920. Her husband and friends searched for several days without success, and her frozen body was found on a trail near Silver Lake in mid-December 1920.

Among Dolley’s business ventures in Boulder were a curio shop and tourist lodge in Allenspark, which he opened in 1928, and a fur farm, the Stanley Hill Fox Farm, which was located near the lodge and store. Fred Dolley married his second wife, Mary Paul, on May 9, 1931, in Boulder. Mary Dolley died in Boulder on June 24, 1935, and Fred died November 22 that same year. They are both buried in Green Mountain Cemetery in Boulder.

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