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Ward, Colorado: A Story of Gold, Grit, Narrow Gauge, and Greenery

Ward, Colorado,  is a small, picturesque town with a rich history that traces back to its days as a bustling mining community. Situated at the Western edge of Boulder County just below the Continental Divide,  Ward has a storied past that includes notable figures including (maybe) Patricia Hearst, Patty Hurst and Hazel Schmoll, and historic sites such as the Switzerland Trail, the Columbia Hotel, and the Brainard Lake chain of three lakes leading to the Divide immediately to the West. Ward was even considered for the prestigious title of Capital of Colorado. At its peak, the population of Ward in the late 19th Century is estimated at 2000 people. Today that number is about 75 to 150 people. The peak is associated with the height of the mining boom.

Early Days and Mining Era

The history of Ward, Colorado, begins in the late 19th century, with its establishment rooted in the mining boom that swept through the Western United States. Discovered in 1860, gold was the initial draw for settlers and prospectors. The town quickly grew around the lucrative mining operations, with Ward developing into a thriving community by the late 1800s. It was known for its rich ore and became one of the prominent gold-producing areas in Colorado

Early Ward and Current Ward Colorado Look About the Same!

Patty Hurst

Patty Hurst’s association with Ward, Colorado, appears  according to some to be a mix-up with Patricia Hearst, a figure not directly connected to Ward’s history. Patricia Hearst is widely known for her kidnapping in the 1970s and subsequent involvement with the Symbionese Liberation Army, which does not have a direct link to Ward, Colorado’s historical narrative. Many believe that in fact Ms. Hearst DID hide out in Ward for some time. The story persists to this day. Patty is to have hidden out at Duck Lake. Duck Lake, among other things, is famous for its “NO TURKEYS” sign at the entrance. In any event, Patricia Hearst would have been right at home at the edge of civilization. Hazel Schmoll, one of the most historically significant founders of the town, was the owner of Duck Lake. It was said that trespassers were greeted with shotguns, not open arms. Or should I say “open arms, not open arms.”

Hazel Schmoll

Hazel Schmoll is a significant and admirable  figure in Ward’s history and in Colorado’s history. She earned fame and accomplished much for Ward and for the state as a whole. She was particularly known for her contributions to botany and conservation. While she was not originally from Ward, Hazel Schmoll made substantial contributions to the state’s understanding of its native plant life and played a crucial role in the establishment of several state parks. She earned the great accolade of being the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Chicago and later served as Colorado’s state botanist. Schmoll’s work in plant classification and conservation had a lasting impact on Colorado’s natural history and preservation efforts. She is one of the earliest people to be associated with the concept of “ecology.” She is also credited with having the Columbine declared the State Flower of Colorado. She remains a hero in the history of Ward and in the history of Colorado. Her contributions to the science of ecology and botany were and remain outstanding contributions.

Ms. Schmoll’s Aunt  and family owned the livery as well as the the still-standing Columbia Hotel. The Hotel was furnished with top-quality furniture bought from wealthy mine owners’ homes and used it to furnish the famous Columbia Hotel. Featured in Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, you can enter the hotel on one floor and leave on another floor without using stairs. The fireplace is quite famous for its construction. The fireplace is made from samples of the finest ores from Colorado mines, from all over the state.

The Switzerland Trail

The Switzerland Trail holds a special place in the history of Ward and the broader Boulder County area. Originally built in the late 19th century as a narrow-gauge railroad, the Switzerland Trail was used to transport ore from the mining towns in the Rockies, including Ward, to the plains below. Named for its scenic beauty that reminded early settlers and travelers of the Swiss Alps, the Switzerland Trail became a popular route not just for freight, but also for tourists seeking the majestic views of the Colorado Rockies. The “Chautauqua Ladies”  were known for taking the day trip up the railroad to the Depot (now Depot Restaurant). Today, what remains of the Switzerland Trail serves as a reminder of the region’s mining heritage and its transformation into a recreational haven for hiking, biking, and historical exploration. The Depot is located on what is now the Peak to Peak Highway, most famous for viewing the changing Aspen leaves in the fall.

While the Switzerland Trail was the end of the line for the railroad, carriages carried early tourists from Ward, further West towards the Divide for the views and for the flower picking. Groups of ladies from Chautauqua were known for making the trek to pick flowers and to enjoy the scenery of this area, which is truly beyond description. The narrow gauge train ended it’s run at what was and still is the Depot Restaurant. Carriages departed from the Depot further up to the Brainard Lake area, West of Ward. Today, Brainard is the site of a magnificent park area with astonishing views of the Divide.

Looking West from the top of Brainard Lake to the bottom of Long Lake, facing the Continental Divide

Ward’s Colorado’s history is a rich tapestry woven from its days as a booming mining town to its current status as a serene mountain community. Though Patty Hurst may not be a part of its historical narrative, figures like Hazel Schmoll left an indelible mark on the area’s legacy. The Switzerland Trail stands as a monument to the town’s past, bridging the gap between its mining origins and its natural beauty that continues to attract visitors and history enthusiasts to this day. It’s population may have reached 2000 to 5000 people at it’s peak. Pun intended!

Looking further West from Long Lake towards the Continental Divide.

Lenny Lensworth Frieling

Shared Knowledge is Power!

Leonard Frieling Pen Of Justice Legal Blogger
  • Senior Counsel Emeritus to the Boulder Law firm Dolan + Zimmerman LLP : (720)-610-0951
  • Former Judge
  • Photographer of the Year, AboutBoulder 2023
  • First Chair and Originator of the Colorado Bar Association’s Cannabis Law Committee, a National first.
  • Previous Chair, Boulder Criminal Defense Bar (8 years)
  • Twice chair Executive Counsel, Colorado Bar Association Criminal Law Section
  • NORML Distinguished Counsel Circle
  • Life Member, NORML Legal Committee
  • Life Member, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
  • Board Member Emeritus, Colorado NORML
  • Chair, Colorado NORML, 7 years including during the successful effort to legalize recreational pot in Colorado
  • Media work, including episodes of Fox’s Power of Attorney, well in excess of many hundreds media interviews, appearances, articles, and podcasts, including co-hosting Time For Hemp for two years.
  • Board member, Author, and Editor for Criminal Law Articles for the Colorado Lawyer, primary publication of the Colorado Bar Assoc. 7 Years, in addition to having 2 Colorado Lawyer cover photos, and numerous articles for the Colorado Lawyer monthly publication.
  • LEAP Speaker, multi-published author, University lectures Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, Denver University Law School, Univ. of New Mexico, Las Vegas NM, and many other schools at all levels.
  • http://www.Lfrieling.com
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