Located a few miles outside of America’s highest incorporated municipality, Alma, you’ll find a lake that’s full of sunken secrets. During the mining boom of Colorado in the mid-to-late 1800s, a visitor to this spot would have seen a sight quite different than Montgomery Reservoir’s glassy blue surface – they would have seen a bustling town. Once home to more than 1,000 residents, complete with 150 cabins, hotels, sawmills, and a dance hall often said to be the largest in the area, a decision was made to flood the structures in the 1890s, burying the scene with the exception of one mill.
Founded in 1861 beneath the shadows of 14,295-foot Mount Lincoln, the town of Montgomery was built to house an influx of miners in search of gold and ore. As more miners came to town, Montgomery continued to grow. Eventually, the surrounding valley housed a whopping total of five (possibly six depending on who you ask) mills, including the Magnolia Mill – the only structure still visible today.
Unfortunately, local mining slowed in the 1890s and residents started to leave, similar to what would eventually happen in much of Colorado’s mining country. On the brink of becoming a ghost town, land owners likely hoped something could be done to save their losses on a depreciating investment. A decision to sell was made. But why was this town filled with water?
The City of Colorado Springs purchased the site near the turn of the century and decided that as the gold in the area had dried up, the space was better fit to be a reservoir. A dam was made to help hold snowmelt, eventually hiding the town from sight in near entirety.
As previously mentioned, the only building of Montgomery that still stands is the Magnolia Mill, but even this building isn’t the original structure. The first mill actually burnt down and was eventually rebuilt in 1930. It’s since fallen into decay and is closed to the public. While you can’t enter the Magnolia Mill, it’s still a very impressive building, complete with a large conveyor belt system.
While the ghost town might be hidden, this area is still a great place to visit. Surrounded by massive peaks and close to the summit of Hoosier Pass – which is on the Continental Divide – visitors today can soak in amazing views, imagining what the scene must have been like for early settlers. It’s even worth a visit in the winter, as this reservoir is known for its particularly blue ice following a freeze. If you plan on visiting, be warned that this destination is located at 10,800 feet, meaning that altitude and weather can pose additional risks. It’s remote nature also makes following “Leave No Trace” principles crucial.
Though the town of Montgomery might be hidden from view, its legacy continues to live on in both Montgomery Reservoir and Mount Lincoln. Why Mount Lincoln? Residents of Montgomery were actually responsible for its naming, which they selected to honor President Lincoln – the incumbent president during a portion of the town’s most prosperous time. Believe it or not, this naming of a peak had a ripple effect, also resulting in the naming of nearby Mount Democrat – selected by people who felt Lincoln’s Republican nature shouldn’t be represented without opposition.
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