Museum Feature: Western Heritage Museum
High on the hill above the city of Cripple Creek, Colorado is the Western Heritage Museum, a must-see not only for those interested in local history but also for nature lovers. Opened in 2007, this treasure of the Rockies houses some unique items that capture the history and imagination of a unique part of the Rocky Mountain West.
The museum features many interesting mining relics, such as tools, ore samples, maps, and personal articles which help us gain some insight into what life was like in the late nineteenth century when Cripple Creek went from mining camp to boom town. Some of these things were even found inside abandoned mines.
Near the entrance is a display of a “vug,” or ore deposit pocket. Imagine a geode, but as big as a room—that’s what miners found when they discovered the Cresson Vug, in the second-largest ore producing mine in Cripple Creek. The Cresson Mine produced over $49,000,000 in its lifetime. And that was in the early 1900’s! The Cresson Project still mines ore today.
Another interesting display is a glass case near the center of the main area containing personal articles of people who lived in Cripple Creek or Victor at the height of their populations. Each set features items owned by a “lady of the evening,” a miner, and a gambler.
Kids love this museum because it is so accessible for them. The displays are low and easy to read, and each exhibit features something interactive for kids to do, from putting together a puzzle to comparing famous buildings to the depth of some of the mines (some of the mines were deeper than the Eiffel Tower is tall). Visitors can read real newspapers published at the turn of the century (at one time Cripple Creek published eight different newspapers at the same time), and learn about local historical figures like Bob Womack, Winfield Scott Stratton, and Horace Bennett. Kids get to see what it was like growing up in a gold camp.
Upstairs features the wildlife of the area, with displays of native plants and animals indigenous to the region as well as a nod to the ancient life of dinosaurs which once roamed Colorado. A panoramic view of the western range of the Rockies can best be appreciated from this level, although a map near the giant picture windows labels the prominent peaks so people can identify them. Mount Pisgah is beautiful looking northwest, and to the southwest the Independence mine crowns the top of Battle Mountain.
The real secret to this museum is the working model train system in the basement. The mines are all represented as they were during the boom times, and it’s much easier to picture where the depots were and where the ore was transported. Reading about the history of Cripple Creek is fun, but this model really brings the history to life. Across from the train is a covered wagon, representative of typical wagons who answered the call of “Pikes Peak or Bust.”
Cripple Creek has several museums, but I think the Western Heritage Museum outshines them all. The view from its home above the city of Cripple Creek is breathtaking. Since admission is free, it’s an even better reason to stop by. And you just might learn that the little town on the back side of Pikes Peak offers so much more than slot machines.