Buena Vista History
“We call it Bewnie!”
How do you say Buena Vista, Colorado? Buena Vista is properly pronounced “BEW-na Vista”.
The town’s name has been pronounced “BEW-na Vista” instead of the Spanish “BWAY-na Vista” ever since it was founded. Its nickname is “BEW-nie.” It all came about at a meeting in 1879, when residents and property owners in the area at the convergence of Cottonwood Creek and the Arkansas River held a meeting to create a formal community. They had been told that would help attract a railroad line (eventually it attracted three). Two names were proposed by attendees: Collegiate Peaks, after the mountains in the area, and Buena Vista, which means “beautiful view” in Spanish, certainly an appropriate description.
Alsina Dearheimer, the resident and property owner who suggested the name Buena Vista, certainly knew how the Spanish words were pronounced, her first husband having been a language and music professor. But she insisted that the pronunciation for the town name be Americanized into “BEW-na,” borrowing the first syllable of the English word beautiful. Her suggestion carried the day. An interesting anomaly was born, and Dearheimer became known as the Mother of BEW-na Vista. To this day long time residents carry on the tradition and say “Bewna Vista”. If it is hard for visitors to swallow, it is suggested they just say “BEWNIE” or BV.
History of the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce
When the little mountain town of Buena Vista, Colorado, was a brawling, burgeoning, dusty mining center with freight wagons pouring through enroute to the silver boom town of Leadville and the fabulous gold fields of St. Elmo; while a heavy traffic of creaking wagons brought rich ores to the local smelters, the town consisted mostly of hastily constructed tents and shanties. And do not forget the 68 places where a man could get a drink! The Chamber of Commerce has been fortunate to occupy two of the historic buildings in Town that were built during that era.
The Wedge Building on East Main
New Home to the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce
This Wedge building was built in 1883 an is believed to be the first building built in Buena Vista. In the 1890s, the building housed Anna Calder’s Milliner’s Shop. Later the building housed a gas station with the pumps under the corner canopy. The ‘Wedge’ hardware and sporting goods store was here from the 1950s to the 1960s. (excerpted from ‘Historic Chaffee County’, 2010).
After being the home of law offices for several decades, the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce will now have their offices in this historic East Main Street building. The Chamber is excited to settle into their new home and we invite people to stop by to learn more about local business members or to get information on relocating to the area.
Buena Vista’s Park Chapel
Former Home of the Buena Vista Welcome Center & Chamber of Commerce
The year was 1879 and Buena Vista’s first church was built. Then nearly 90 years later, after continuous use, the little church was about to be abandoned in favor of a new, “modern” assembly hall. The little church was to be demolished. As no-one wanted the job for its salvage value, and several tentative efforts by historically minded individuals to have the church moved had failed, the fire department volunteered to use it for practice and burn it neatly to the ground. Although cries of dismay went up from many quarters, nobody came up with money or an effective plan to save the building.
For three years it sat there, fallen plaster littering the hardwood floor, its quaint pine pews all in disarray, ancient white paint flaking off with every breeze. Then, in August of 1972, a small committee determined to restore the “Little Chapel in the Park” to usefulness as a community center for art and history, club meetings, and perhaps weddings — simply because it was THERE. With publication of this aim, support had rallied. Donations of cash, labor, and good discounts on building materials made the project a possibility. Installation of water, heating, and electricity, and the painting and repair of walls made it a reality.
The Little Park Chapel still sits along Highway 24 for many to admire and cherish the history of the Town. Although the Welcome Center and Chamber are no longer housed there, we know it will once again be reimagined into a wonderful space that serves our community.
“Ghost Town” of St. Elmo
St. Elmo, originally named Forest City due to heavy pine growth, was settled by miners prospecting in the surrounding area of the Chalk Creek Mining District. In 1875 the discovery of the Mary Murphy Silver mine solidified the town’s future as a supply town. By 1880, there was sufficient interest and population in the area for the town’s incorporation as Forest City. The name was later changed, by request of the US Postal Service, to St. Elmo after the main character in a novel by Augusta Evans.
The town in the 1880s was a hub of activity serving the interests of the many miners employed in the District as well as supplying equipment and goods to the many mining operations. Early in the decade it was known as a “Saturday Night” town where laborers recreated in the town’s saloons.
The town also became a major transportation center with goods destined for Tin Cup, Ashcroft and the Gunnison Valley by way of the many toll roads originating in the townsite. St. Elmo’s prominence was further established with the completion of the Denver, South Park, & Pacific Railroad’s line through the Alpine Tunnel by way of St. Elmo on its way to Gunnison country. Although remote today, St. Elmo was a major stopping point for train excursionists and major distribution area for the South Park Line. Luxuries such as tailor-made suits from Chicago and New York, blue point oysters, and fresh fruit from around the country were readily available in the town.
The town’s economy and population fluctuated with the price of minerals. Until the silver crash the town and surrounding area was home to 2,000 people. With a lull in mining many residents left to pursue other mining camps. The re-capitalization of the Mary Murphy and increased mining activity in the District stabilized the population at 500. After WWI the demand for silver decreased and St. Elmo again began to lose many of its residents. By 1950 St. Elmo had two full time residents who kept vigil over the community. When they were removed in 1958, St. Elmo truly became a Ghost Town.
Today St. Elmo is a community with many summer residents and several year round residents. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Sites since 1979 and is known as the best example of 19th century mining architecture in the United States.