For decades, the little community tucked in the shadow of New York Mountain and surrounded by glorious Colorado scenery has inspired romantics.
Today, Fulford is a picturesque ghost town where families treasure solitude at their mountain cabins. But at its inception, people traveled to Fulford seeking a different type of treasure — gold. During the late 1800s, Fulford was a bustling mining camp with an assay office, hotels, saloons stores and cabins. But by the turn of the century, that dream had pretty much played out, leaving abandoned buildings as testament to miners’ disappointed visions of striking it rich. The community found a renaissance in the mid 1975 when it became a summer cabin retreat that attracted a different breed of dreamers — folks who valued the tranquility and beauty of the ghost town located a 9,840 feet. Folks like Rich Perske.
Perske is the author of a new book — and by “new” we mean still on the presses — about the history of Fulford. Titled “Boom Town to Ghost Town: The Story of Fulford,” Perske’s account painstakingly traces the roots of the Fulford gold rush and seeks to correct some of the common misconceptions about the community and its founders.
Perske, a retired Colorado Department of Transportation engineer, was stationed in Eagle from 1971-78 when he first discovered Fulford. In 1976, Rich and Jane Perske purchased four lots on the east side of Fifth Street where they built a small cabin “in the trees on the hillside with a nice view of Porphyry Mountain and had no neighbors in sight.” The Perske’s subsequently purchased a 10-acre mine property near Lime Creek Divide that sparked Rich’s interest in local mining history.
By 2013, his interest had transformed into a research project. Perske began combing through the Colorado Historic Newspaper website, library collections and public records for Fulford references. The result of all this work is his new book, which will debut May 3 when the Eagle County Historical Society and the Eagle Valley Library District host the annual Nimon Walker Award Reception. Perske is this year’s honoree, marking his work to preserve the history of Eagle County.
“My wife kind of wondered what I was up to a lot of the time,” said Perske, recalling the countless hours he spend pouring over old newspaper accounts. “Oddly enough, the best information I found about Fulford came from the Aspen and Leadville newspapers.”
History on Deadline
Journalism is sometimes referred to as “history on deadline.” But as Perske discovered during his research efforts, community newspapers often provide the most vivid and expansive details about historic times. Established in 1898, the Eagle Valley Enterprise wasn’t around during Fulford’s heyday, but the town had its own chronicle in the Fulford Signal.
The Signal was published for eight months during 1893, and its pages tell the story of hopeful expectations. The Signal reports include stories of gold strikes and community events. The paper also did its part to feed the mining fervor. Perske’s book devotes an entire chapter to “Mining Camp Chronicles.”
On July 30, the Signal ran a bold headline that trumpeted “GOLD!” The accompanying story details a big strike on West Lake Creek. On July 7, 1893, the Signal reported “Eagle is almost deserted, the men have all gone to the hills to stake their share of the gold claims.”
But in the course of his study, Perske also found the following account in the Aspen Weekly Times. “During the past two weeks statements have been sent from Fulford, Eagle County, that rich gold ore had been discovered in the lime on West Lake Creek. Glen and Fletcher are the assayers of the camp, on whose tests the reports were circulated that would have created a great stampede, if the facts had bourne out the statement. It is evident that the assayers have been deceived or imposed upon.”
Such is the story of Fulford. As Perske tells it there was, and still is, gold in the hills around the town. The trouble is no one has ever found enough of it to make the effort and expense associated with reaching it viable.
“They were optimists and a lot of them died as optimistic paupers,” said Perske of the Fulford mining pioneers. But they were industrious optimists who participated in literary societies and community dances. The newspaper faithfully reported all the town’s social activities and advertised Fulford’s businesses until heavy snows brought in an early winter. By November of 1893, Signal owner George Irwin and his family quietly shut down the operation and moved on.
“The 1893 mining season was undoubtedly the highwater mark of the Fulford boom and gold mines. At this point the written record of Fulford begins to fade,” Perske notes in “Boom Town to Ghost Town.”
Setting the record straight
Along with his effort to document what life was like during the Fulford boom, Perske had a second mission for his book — he wanted to tell the true story of Arthur Fulford, the community’s founder and namesake.
“Basically, he has been slandered for decades. For the last 50 years, just about everything that was written about him has been false,” said Perske.
With his meticulous research, Perske fleshed out a picture of Fulford that’s far different from other written accounts that present him as a reckless adventurer. Instead Perske presents a Fulford as a savvy and industrious businessman who found his fortune in the Colorado high country, partnered up with other successful businessmen to expand on his success and ultimately brought in his family to share his dream. His research reveals a truth about Fulford that is deeper and more intriguing than many of the lurid stories that have appeared in print.
One of the misconceptions about Fulford is the community was named after Art’s untimely death in an avalanche on New Year’s Eve 1891. In fact, the community was already established by that time.
“The tragedy of Art Fulford’s death has been the source of several myths and legends. Some shamelessly exploited his death, claiming that his body was never found or that he died while frantically searching for a lost treasure. These wild stories are easily disproved,” writes Perske.
Through his research, Perske instead paints the picture of a rigorous and meticulous businessman who was simply doing claim work on a time schedule when he was killed at age 34 in an avalanche on the New York Mountain Trail. After a four-day search, his body was recovered and he is buried at Red Cliff’s Evergreen Cemetery where a prominent gravestone marks his final resting place.
“I don’t think Art was reckless adventurer like his been described. Just think of this, he had a life insurance,” said Perske. At that time, the $20,000 policy left Fulford’s widow Molly a wealthy woman.
“She was virtually the most sought-after widow in the county,” said Perske.
The written record rehabilitation of Art Fulford’s reputation obviously has given Perske a great deal of satisfaction. But like anyone who has ever attempted a historical account, he still wishes he could have found out more.
“I would have loved to learn more about what happened to Molly Fulford,” he said.
As he reflects on his book-writing efforts, Perske feels great gratitude for the people who helped him compile the story. Along with his wife, Jane; daughter, Sarah; and sister, Pam; Perske singles out Kathy Heicher and the Eagle County Historical Society and Jaci Spuhler and the Eagle Valley Library District for their extensive assistance with the project.
“I really had no idea how difficult it is to write and publish a book. That best explains why I began to write The Story of Fulford,” says Perske’s book acknowledgements. He notes that he consulted a “network of local experts” in addition to his extensive newspaper and historical archives study.
In the end, Perske found a kinship with the people who established Fulford. “Even back in those days, people appreciated the scenic beauty of the place,” he said. “There were a lot of people who never really gave up on Fulford, as long as they lived.”
Today, Fulford is still passionately treasured by a wide swath of people, and Perske hopes those folks will enjoy learning the facts about the place they hold dear.
“I think people (who read his book) will find information they never knew existed,” he said.