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There Really is a South Park in Colorado

Yes, there really is a South Park.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of the television series “South Park,” used Fairplay, Colorado as the visual basis for the town South Park in their animated series.

In Fairplay, there is a walkable museum called South Park City.  You literally step back in time in this South Park.  My friend Melissa, her Bernese Mountain Dog Beau (yes, it’s dog friendly!), and I stopped in for what we thought would be a quick visit.  It was so interesting dipping in and out of the homes and different buildings that we were there for several hours.


Let me give you a little background on the area first.  South Park wasn’t really a town.  It was the valley basin surrounded by 14,000′ peaks in central Colorado.  Hunters and trappers traversing the Rocky Mountains in the 1840s were the first to use the term South Park.  Successful gold strikes, including in South Park, set off the Colorado Gold Rush in 1859.  From 1860 to 1863, there was $1.5 million in gold extraction in Park County alone.  The town of Fair Play in Park County was established in 1859 at the junction of Beaver Creek and the South Platte River.  It was a supply center for nearby mining camps.  In 1869, Fair Play was rechristened South Park City.  Then in 1874, it was changed back to Fairplay (one word), which its still called today.  As the mining industry faded, ranching, fishing, and outdoor tourism kept Fairplay afloat when other mining towns turned into ghost towns.  Fairplay is known as the Trout Fishing Capitol of Colorado.  In 2009, the region South Park and the area around Fairplay was designated as a National Heritage Area for the distinctive landscape of pristine valleys and soaring mountain peaks along with one of the largest stands of bristlecone pines in the United States, historic structures, and recreational resources.

On the edge of Fairplay is South Park City.  In the late 1950s, old mining and ghost towns of Park County were in danger of being dismantled or destroyed.  A group of citizens led by Leon H. Snyder, an attorney from Colorado Springs, and Everett Blair, the unofficial historian of South Park, recreated an 1800s gold mining town including seven original buildings in South Park City.  In the summer of 1957, six historic mining structures were moved into Colorado’s newest mining town.  In 1958, more buildings were moved in from the high gulches of the Mosquito Range and from mining towns such as Alma, Leavick, Buckskin Joe, and Montgomery.  Roughly 40,000 items were donated from the families of Park County to furnish the buildings.  In 1959, exactly 100 years from the first gold find in Colorado, South Park City opened to the public.  Today, as you stroll through the buildings, you get to see period furnishings and equipment and truly feel like you’ve been transported back to South Park’s early days.

We started in the Dyer Memorial Chapel.  It’s a log cabin that was once a hotel in Montgomery, a mining ghost town about 13 miles south of Breckenridge now submerged in present day Montgomery Reservoir (a few old buildings were saved before reservoir was built in the 1950s).  In 1867, Reverand John L. Dyer and Reverand W.F. Warren reassembled the former hotel log by log and converted it to a Methodist church.

We pasted the smokehouse, South Park Brewery and went into the Summer Saloon.

On Front Street, you can go in and out of over 40 buildings.  The Pioneer House is still in its original site.  It was built by the Summer family in the 1800s.

Next door is the Summer Saloon.  Made of red sandstone, it’s the most impressive building on Front Street.  The courthouse is a log building built in 1862 when it was the county seat of Buckskin Joe.

Across the street is the dentist office.  The dental equipment is estimated to be more than 100 years old.  It was used by a Dr. McKenna in Breckenridge.  Next I went in the Garo Cabin which was the wash house.  It has 100 years of ironing in it.

Since it was a mining town, I headed next to the replica of the Alma Queen Mine.  From the Head House you get a great view of several building that are part of the mining process.  The mining mill is filled with machinery used in gold mining operations in the late 1800s.

The Transportation Shed and South Park City Depot was one of my favorite areas, probably because you can get on a train.  The Depot was originally the Buffalo Springs School built around 1900.  The narrow gauge Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad started running in 1879 and the line was used until 1937.  In addition to the engine there’s an ore car, box car, cattle car and caboose from the Rio Grande Railroad.

The homestead is interested too.  It was moved from the ghost town of Leavick in 1959.

The Star Livery Stable is believed to be the oldest established livery in the original town of Fairplay and was move to South Park City in the 1`950s.  There’s a Stage Bar.  The Hoffman Brothers Blacksmith Shop was moved from the ghost town of Leavick.

The one-room school was built in 1879 and was used until the mid-1930s.  The desks were all handmade and some are the oldest desks in Park County.  The South Park Sentinel is a typical newspaper office found in mining towns.  It has a Washington Hand Press inside.  The building was the first one moved to South Park City.

Every mining town had a general store.  They were the supermarkets of the Wild West carrying everything from miners goods to shoes and clothes to food.  The general store usually served as a mining town’s post office too.  This building was the one only now moved intact to South Park City.  It was reconstructed log by log from the remains of a false-front building in the ghost town of Dudley near Alma.

The South Park City Drug Store was originally a pioneer feed store in the nearby town of Alma.  Inside there’s a complete line of 1880s medicines and elixirs. Except for the soda fountain, it’s set up similar to the 1880 J.A. Merriam Drugstore originally established in Westcliffe.

Rachel’s Place is South Park’s saloon and gambling parlor.  It was originally known as Rache’s Place in Alma and moved to South Park City in 1958.  It has a false front to make it seem more fancy than it really is.

Last stop is the Company Store.  That’s where you exit and return back to the 21st century.  Fall is a great time of year to visit South Park in Fairplay, Colorado.

Jennifer Broome enjoys exploring Colorado’s mining and pioneer past.  One of her favorite scenic fall drives is over Boreas Pass from Breckenridge to Como, then to Fairplay and through Alma on Hoosier Pass back into Breckenridge.  Check out blogs Fall Gold Mine in Aspen Alley and Leaf Peeping in Breckenridge and Frisco for more places to see great fall colors.

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