Leadville Street Names Change with The Times
Streets. Avenues. Boulevards. No matter what you call them, they’re the thoroughfares that get you from Point A to Point B.
Streets can also help people find your address, the place where you live. During Leadville’s pioneer days, people’s residences were recorded in city directories. There was no “my number’s in the book,” or even postal delivery. Back then, if you wanted to find someone in a busting-at-the-seams mining town, these directories where your first point of reference. Of course, it’s a far cry from today’s people finder: Google. In fact, initially there were no specific numbered addresses given to businesses or people, location was simply listed as “one door west of the barn!”
Chestnut Street was Leadville’s first main road, dividing the south and north sections of the town. In addition, it was Pine Street, not Harrison Avenue that divided the east side of town from the west. Early in 1878, there were five east – west running streets designated: Front (the first street located directly north of the original Oro City and California Gulch area), then Elm, Chestnut, State and Main. The north-south running streets were Harrison, Pine, Spruce, and Leiter.
Many folks wonder how Harrison Avenue got its name. No it wasn’t President Harrison but rather Leadville’s pioneer smelter entrepreneur Edwin Harrison. As Harrison’s wealth and influence grew, so did the buildings along the street that bore his name. It didn’t take long before the shift of power came about and Harrison Avenue dominated Leadville’s gridiron.
Of course, this change meant that the numbered addresses on the cross street had to change because the east-west dividing line had been moved. If you compare city directories from 1879 and 1880, addresses of the same business vary. But remember, none of these businesses moved, only the addresses were changed!
Eventually Leadville grew north, and then east and more streets were added. Many times city maps had streets on them with no names. Other times they were given names, often presidential, like Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln. But just as often they were known among locals by a different name, referring to some geological feature, or local character who lived on the block.
Eventually, it was deemed advisable to the town’s existence, to abandon the names of the east-west running streets in favor of numbered street names. City council took action and all east-west thoroughfares were given numbers.
For the most part, the idea worked. But the mountain folks are funny when it comes to change. Chestnut Street was “grandfathered” and has never changed. State Street was changed to 2nd Street but the old name hung on well into the middle of the 20th century, except for the block between Harrison and Pine Streets where it continues to be referred to as old State Street.
Even as Leadville and Lake County continues to grow, new streets are made and named. There are the more recent ones down off of County Road 4, where you can find Ranch Road and Alpine Cirque (a cirque in Leadville?!)
Of course, most of the West Park streets are named after 14ers. And then there’s the Gem Valley subdivision with Ruby Lane and Turquoise Street.
Over the years, old-timers have referred to Harrison Avenue as a real dividing line between the east and westsiders. Leadville children were often given strict instructions not to venture to one side or the other. One life-long resident stated: I knew that my family had made it when we moved to the west side.”
When I first arrived in Leadville – 26 years ago today – I lived on W. 8th Street. Over the years, as a renter or a roommate, I’ve lived on East 6th Street, and West 6th Street, up on 10th and down on 4th. I’ve lived in the city, and out in the county. Of course, Leadville eastsiders claim that you can’t beat the views, and I’d have to agree, because that’s where I live. . . In The ‘Ville.