History of Cañon City
Much of Cañon City’s downtown was built between 1899 and 1910. It was during that time that the gold and silver barons infused the city with their newfound wealth from the nearby mining “camps” of Leadville and Cripple Creek. While these towns were still booming, many of Colorado’s high country mining towns had peaked and were suffering the disastrous effects of the Silver Panic of 1893, after which US currency was no longer based on silver. In its place, gold became king. Gilded by its discovery, especially in nearby Cripple Creek, Cañon City quickly prospered.
The riches flowed downhill, and Cañon City was an ideal repository. Served by three railroads—Denver & Rio Grande (connecting to Leadville via the Royal Gorge), the Santa Fe, and The Florence and Cripple Creek, Cañon was a natural transition point and a gateway to interstate commerce.
Geographically, it was a pleasant place to build and to live. The Arkansas River valley provided plenty of food and natural resources. The lower elevation and location away from the windswept great plains meant a temperate climate—a fact the Indians had long appreciated. And, unlike its industrial neighbors, Denver and Pueblo, Cañon sported clear skies.
The gold barons became land barons as well, and dumped their wealth into real estate. A prime lot could be had for less than $1,000! Impressive brick buildings soon lined a bustling Main Street. Ornate homes proliferated. Business and service providers followed, and they, too, quickly prospered.
Cañon City still prospers today, although the gold mines are mostly gone, and the railroad, now the Royal Gorge Route, carries visitors instead of miners and mining supplies. Those seeking authentic west experiences now hike the trails, mountain bike the scenic parks like Red Rock and Temple Canyon, climb The Banks, whitewater raft the Arkansas River and zipline over or around the Royal Gorge.
Cañon City's downtown area is listed on the National Historical Register for its abundance of turn-of-the-century architecture. A number of restaurants and galleries are located in the downtown area as well as museums and tea rooms.