|Mary and Lafayette Miller (left)
Perhaps the history of any city can be traced to the history of its land and what the land can offer the people. In Colorado’s history, gold plays a major role in how the land was settled. And in the early days of Lafayette, Colorado, coal was the town’s most valuable resource.
The first coal was mined on the farm land of Mary Miller, who came to Colorado with her husband Lafayette in 1863 and bought land acquired through the Homestead Act, a U.S. federal law established in 1861 that gave applicants freehold title of undeveloped federal land west of the Mississippi River. Mary and Lafayette traveled across the U.S. from Iowa in an ox-team train of fifty wagons.
Lafayette Miller died in 1878, and Mary Miller platted 150 acres of land for the town of Lafayette, which she named for her husband. Widowed with six small children, she managed a farm she had begun with him.
|Mary Miller (1842-1921)
The farm was described in 1886 by the Boulder County Herald as one of the best conducted large farms in Boulder County: “The farm contains 1,280 acres, all under fence, about half of which is under plow and first class meadow, the balance in pasture. Large crops of oats, corn, and wheat are raised and great stacks of upland hay are plentiful in the field. Horses and cattle, of which there are about 100 or more head, are permitted to roam over the field during the winter and are in fine condition as the large enclosure affords ample feed for all with scarcely any care. Hogs by the score may be seen around the field near the barn. They all show signs of well-filled corn cribs.”
Coal was discovered on the property in 1884. Within six months, the town boomed and had two general stores, a livery stable and several boarding houses. By 1889, Lafayette had five working coal mines and a population of 400.
Output from the mines totaled 300 tons per day, amounting to 10,000 tons a month. Several mines developed in the area were Ludlow, Columbine, Simpson, Black Diamond, Hecla, Mitchell and Strathmore. Miller retained mineral rights and received royalties from many of the mines.
In 1900, Mary Miller founded the Lafayette Bank, was elected president and became the only woman bank president in the U.S. That same year a fire swept both sides of Main St. destroying most the business district and many residences.
|Mary Miller house in Lafayette
The city was rebuilt, and by 1914 had two banks, four hotels, three restaurants, a picture show, bakery, candy store, local newspaper, two poolrooms and a pickle factory. Lafayette had brick works and a power station that provided electricity to Boulder, Louisville, Longmont and Fort Collins.
Through the 1930s, the lives of the Lafayette mining families were controlled by Rocky Mountain Fuel Co. The miners and their families earned credit to purchase dry goods, groceries, hardware, clothing and appliances from the company-owned store.
Credit was given to miners and their families during the summer months, when the mines were not in operation or the miner was incapacitated by injury or illness. The miner had to repay their loans during the winter months. Miners suffered poor working condition, low wages, injuries, serious illness and death.
Strikes at the Ludlow Mine in 1914 and at the Columbine Mine in 1927 resulted in the deaths of unarmed miners. In the Ludlow strike, 19 people died during an attack by the Colorado National Guard on a tent colony of 1,200 striking miners. At Columbine, six strikers were gunned down by police and guards working for the mine.
Below is an excerpt from a poem by Dixie J. Myers about her father:
|In Ludlow, Colorado, in 1914, 19 people died
during an attack by the Colorado National Guard
on a tent colony of 1,200 striking miners.
The Coal Miner’s Daughter
Lovingly dedicated to my father, Richard H. Brown who spent twenty years in and around Lafayette, Colorado in the black catacombs of the mines.
It was in nineteen hundred and twenty-five
when my father at sixteen and was to spend his young life
Under the ground, black as night,
with poisonous gases and minimal light
He labored and sweated, as his father had done,
to load the coal before the setting of the sun,
Just to owe his pay to the company lords,
|Ludlow tent colony
for the supplies that were needed from the company store.
In 1913 he was only four
but the legend of Ludlow was so much more
Than history or hearsay, but painfully real
as he fought the owners through union appeal.
Daddy worked in the mine for twenty long years
but only God and he felt the unshed tears
For the loss of friends who were foolish to trust
and lost their lives in the sooty crust
Of unsafe mines with tunnels unstable,
that claimed their lives with a deadly label.
In 1927, Josephine Roche, the daughter of Rocky Mountain Fuel Co. founder John Roche, inherited her father’s holdings in the company. By 1929, she had a majority interest in the company and enacted pro-labor policies. She invited the United Mine Workers of America to return to Colorado and unionize the mines. Life improved for miners in Lafayette.
As natural gas began replacing coal for fuel, miners began cutting production and finally closed. The Black Diamond mine was the last Lafayette mine to close in 1956. Many Lafayette miners worked at the Eagle mine in Erie, Colorado, until it closed in 1979.
Residential growth in Lafayette increased as the neighboring towns of Boulder and Denver grew. The population rose from 8,591 people in 1979 to 24,453 in 2010.
Today, the town’s major employers are Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center, Wal-Mart, Boulder Valley School District, Universal Forest Products, Northrup Grumman, Rocky Mountain Instruments, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Epsilon/Abacus. The average household income is $65,824, and the median house range is $288,000.
The old town district of the city is still its commercial center. Each year, the town has a peach festival, a wine festival, Lafayette Days and the Quaker Oatmeal Festival 5k walk/run. The strikes and turmoil of the city’s violent past are little more than a memory among the tree-shaded neighborhoods and newer residential development of what was once a Colorado frontier town.
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