Loyalty long-lived in old mining town | VailDaily.com

Loyalty long-lived in old mining town

Preston Utley/Vail DailyCarmen Esparsen, pulls weeds from her garden Monday in Minturn. Esparsen has lived in Minturn for nearly 40 years.

MINTURN Smokey Matheson, 75, lives in a house on Boulder Street next door to where he was raised. He worked in Eagle Mine near the Gilman mine more than 10 years and Climax mine between Copper Mountain and Leadville for 23 years. My work was here, you know, said Matheson, Minturn resident for all of his 75 years. Matheson and others like Minturn for the sense of togetherness and familiarity the small town evokes and for the memories. They lament some changes and embrace others, but all have adapted and say they still enjoy life in Minturn.

In a town with deep roots in the laboring class, many of Minturns long-time residents are sons and daughters of railroaders, miners and some worked those jobs themselves. Minturns oldest families settled at the confluence of Gore Creek and the Eagle River in the late 1800s, according to minturn.org. Some created homesteads and farmed the land, others mined silver in the mountains high above town. With the arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in 1887, Minturn became a crossroads for transportation and industry. By the turn of the century, a growing population of mining and railroad workers and their families raised the demands for business and services in town. Minturn was incorporated on Nov.15, 1904.Carmen Esparsen has lived in Minturn for about 40 years and she raised four kids here as a single mother. A lot of people say, Why dont you leave? Esparsen said. I say, I cant, this is my home. This is where I grew up.

Mathesons father serviced steam engines at the old train station, called the roundhouse, that was located where the Turntable Restaurant and Motel is now, he said. His mother was a homemaker who raised Matheson and his two brothers and a sister in Minturn now hes retired and he and his son are the only ones left here. Matheson spent a great deal of his childhood on his great uncles farm where the Vail Golf Club and Ford Park is now, feeding horses, cows and chickens. Later, he worked mostly as an electrician in the mines. I enjoyed my work in the mines, Matheson said. A lot of people said, How can you do that? But it was a good living for me.Michael Gallagher was born and raised in Denver. Gallagher fought in Vietnam and after he came back, Minturn hired him as its chief of police in 1973. He has lived here since.Raising his children in Minturn is Gallaghers favorite memory. In so many more ways than just its beauty, this town has been paradise, he said. Joyce Bellm recalls when firefighters wives like her sold cakes and pies and held bingo games to raise money for Minturns volunteer fire department.It wasnt just a fire department, it was camaraderie, Bellm said. It was part of the town it was part of our lives. That department disbanded and the Eagle River Fire Protection District now has a station in Minturn.Bellm has lived in Minturn almost all of her 76 years. Bellm described her kin as a railroad family. I just love Minturn, thats all, Bellm said. I was always happy here.Bill Burnett has lived in Minturn almost all of his 86 years, except when he fought the Japanese in the South Pacific Ocean during World War II. Burnett recalled when his parents used to sled down a steep, snowy hillside near Gilman, now an abandoned mining town. They wouldnt let him go, so Burnett would sled down Battle Mountain instead.I dont know whether our folks worried about us or not, said Burnett, now a Minturn town councilman. Im sure they did, but the kids were more independent than they are today. Burnett still likes life in Minturn.You dont have the hurry up and hurry up like you do in Vail with so much construction going on, Burnett said.

Minturns oldest residents have seen several major changes, including the arrival of Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts, the closing of the Gilman mine, and the abandonment of the towns rail lines.

Miners went on strike in 1955 and five years later, the mine shut down, Burnett said.Construction of Vail began in 1962. Thats why Vail didnt have any trouble there because nobody had jobs, Burnett said. Students attended high school where the town offices are now and younger students attended school at the old town hall, Bellm said. It didnt matter whether a student was a freshmen or senior, everybody ran together, Bellm said. It used to be small houses and men went to work to provide for their families and the women stayed home, Bellm said. Minturns oldest may see yet another big change if the Ginn Development Co.s project is approved. Esparsen thinks that the extra traffic would keep her waiting in her driveway longer than she already does, she said. She used to be able to count the cars, Esparsen said. Now she never opens her windows that face Highway 24 because of the fumes, she said. Ginn would add an average of 1,315 more vehicles per day passing through Minturn each day by 2023, according to a Ginn study. Even without the development, expect an average of 1,615 more cars per day, the study says. Gallagher thinks Ginn will do it right, he said. Minturn has changed slower than other towns in the valley mostly to its advantage but the town should take the next step in its growth, he said. Change isnt bad its the only way we grow, Gallagher said.

After the war, Burnetts father bought him a house in Minturn for $400, Burnett said. He paid $16 for property taxes now he pays $2,500. The taxes are just going up terrible, Burnett said.Minturns seniors acknowledge that fewer like them will live in Minturn in the future. Unfortunately, our biggest export is our children because they cant afford to live here, Gallagher said. Its tough to settle in valley, not just Minturn, Matheson said. Its pretty hard for a young couple moving into the Eagle Valley, Matheson said. And it is the Eagle Valley, as far as Im concerned, its not the Vail Valley.Living in Minturn is worth it, Bellm said.Either you pay extra money or you go somewhere, to the city or something, she said.Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.

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