Leadville, Colorado (elevation 10,152 ft) is a genuine, raffish old mining town, sprouting up in the Rockies during the great gold and silver boom that drew scads of hearty fortune seekers westward in the 1880s.
And much to the surprise of this recent visitor, this highest incorporated city in North America is also home to The Delaware Hotel, which holds a central, commanding location on Leadville’s main street, Harrison Avenue.
The Delaware Hotel was built by the Callaway Brothers – William F., George F., and John W., Denver merchants who had relocated their businesses and families to Leadville from Denver. The brothers Callaway originally hailed from Delaware and apparently were so imbued with love and pride for the First State that they commenced to build a monument in its honor, a task aided by the Delaware architect George King.
The hotel was a centerpiece of what was called “The Delaware Block,” a row of stores and offices that defined the heart of Harrison Avenue and Leadville itself.
Eventually, John Callaway alone stayed on in Leadville to run The Delaware, and locals recall him as a “delightful man who wore Benjamin Franklin glasses, a derby hat, and a vest with his suit.” One wonders about the Callaway boys’ long journey across the mid-century American plains to Denver, and then through the mountains to lofty Leadville – What was it like? Why did they do it?
It is said that American originals such as Doc Holiday, Butch Cassidy, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” Harry Houdini and John Phillips Souza graced the Delaware’s parlor during their turns through Leadville. Today the Delaware’s décor is a mélange of old west and modern high chintz, with taxidermed bear, buffalo and antelope heads gracing the walls, and touristy knick knacks adorning glass display cases.
On this particularly dark and damp Colorado summer day, you could imagine those characters of old taking refuge in the lobby bar, ordering a stiff whiskey or two and wondering about the tiny namesake state some eighteen hundred miles away.