Arid Adversity Of Prairie Life Has Yet To Erase Keota, Colorado
Resource-rich Colorado has a long history of mining and exploration that's left many ghost towns across the state. What most often comes to mind are old "silver boom" towns abandoned in the mountains.
Far from the peaks of the Rockies, out on the northeastern prairie is a tiny spec on the map, a piece of history once known as the "Arcadia of the West": Keota, Colorado.
Tucked into the southwest corner of the Pawnee National Grassland, you'll first see its silver water tower as you approach on Weld County Road 390. Founded in 1888, it was a stop along the now-defunct Chicago, Burlington & Quincy rail line. Today there are sidewalks, street signs and several structures still standing — although some have become inundated with tumbleweeds.
Peggy Ford Waldo with the Greeley History Museum said after a short boom in the late 1880s, the town hit a rough patch.
"By 1890, we begin to go into drought. People are left high and dry out there with no irrigation options," she said.
A depression followed and many citizens left. A second revival coupled with a wet weather cycle happened in 1909. During its second population boom around World War I, the town had several churches, a small opera house, a school and a fire department. The hardships of living on the arid prairie finally leave the town disincorporated in 1991.
Today the land is still privately owned and there’s at least one family that lives on the outskirts of town, making “ghost town” seem like a term that’s not fitting.
Walk along the town’s dusty main road and you see three structures. The largest is the town’s former church, with wooden siding that’s starting to fall off.
Head to the corner of Roanoke and Tioga avenues—street signs that are still standing—you see a yellow two-story home with a porch filled with mounds of scratchy tumbleweeds. It’s the former home of Auriel Sandstead, who grew up in the home in the 1920s and 1930s and later moved away. But she used it as a hub for quilting get-togethers later in life.
“There was tremendous amount of activity with quilters coming from around the entire region here to go through this house,” said Ford Waldo.
Next door is a crumbling brick building with boarded windows. It’s the former general store run by town booster, and Sandsted’s uncle, Clyde Stanley.
Like many people who live in small towns, Stanley had many jobs. He ran the town store, the post office. He was a U.S. Land Commissioner for many years.
He also ran the town’s newspaper between 1911 and 1922.
In 1922, Stanley quit the newspaper business. But he continued running his general store and turned his printing press toward local jobs—like printing forms for local postmasters.
Alisa Zahller, senior curator for artifacts at the History Colorado Center, said it’s the entrepreneurial spirit in stories like Stanley's that led to the creation of the massive Keota exhibit at the Denver museum. It recreates life in 1920s Keota, replete with a train depot, outhouse, general store and Model T.
"There's a number of people who really don't care for the term ghost town."
"Keota really was a story that we were interested in because of the people, because of the environment," said Zahller.
One important part of the exhibit includes video clips from a recent Keota town reunion of former residents.
"There's a number of people who really don't care for the term ghost town," said Zahller. "By calling it a ghost town it takes away from a community that lives in spirit."