Brief by Central Staff
Local Lore – April 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine
Granite, which sits along the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Leadville, no longer has a post office. But residents there can still get mail at Granite addresses — street addresses, though, rather than post-office boxes.
Earlier this year, the general store changed hands, and the new owner didn’t want to handle the mail, according to Lynn Kent, Salida postmaster. The Postal Service has put up “neighborhood delivery boxes,” so it won’t be to-the-door home delivery, she said.
But there will still be local delivery. “We had a similar situation in Ohio City a couple of years ago,” Kent observed, “and did the same thing there, going from a small contract post office to the boxes.”
For our part, we consider the daily trip to the post office box an integral part of small-town life, since it offers a chance to socialize and catch up on local gossip. Thus, we think communities are poorer for the absence.
Granite is one of the oldest towns hereabouts, dating back to the gold rush of 1859 and the discovery of rich placer deposits on nearby Cache Creek. After Colorado became a territory in 1861, Granite was in Lake County, which was much bigger in those days, extending south into the San Luis Valley and west to the Utah line. Granite became the Lake County seat in 1867 after Oro City (near present Leadville) and Dayton (near present Twin Lakes) had faded.
An 1869 visitor wrote that Granite was growing rapidly, boasting “a substantial two-story building [the courthouse]. The next is a large frame building — Mr. Croft’s grocery store. Then comes the Hotel, which is a large one and a credit to the place. Passing along there is the Post Office, and many neat and substantial residences.”
But such progress did not result in law and order. In 1875, Judge Elias Dyer (son of the famous Methodist preacher John L. Dyer) was shot dead in his courtroom in Granite. It was part of the “Lake County War,” which involved vigilantes in a dispute that may have started over an irrigation ditch.
After Colorado became a state in 1876, numerous new counties were formed, including Gunnison and Custer, both in 1877. And because Leadville was booming with silver in those days, it made sense to move the Lake County seat closer to the new city. For one thing, mining claims needed to be registered with the county clerk, and travel was difficult in that era before extensive rail lines and roads were established. So in 1879 the state legislature split Lake County in half, but did it in a confusing way.
The southern part (today’s Chaffee) became Lake, and the county seat remained at Granite. Thus no election was required to change the site of the county seat. The northern part became a new county named Carbonate. With a new county, the legislature could assign its seat, and Leadville got the courthouse. Then a few days later, the legislature changed the county names: Carbonate became Lake, and Lake became Chaffee.
In 1881, Lake County was reduced in size once again when Pitkin County was established. But by then Granite was no longer the Chaffee County seat.
Granite served as Chaffee’s seat until an election in 1880, when Buena Vista won the honor with 1,128 votes (out of a total population of about 1,200 when women couldn’t vote). For obvious reasons, Granite’s residents declared the election fraudulent, and refused to surrender the county records.
But during one fateful night, some Buena Vistans visited Granite, loaded the county records onto a railroad flatcar, and coasted them to Buena Vista, which remained the county seat until a 1928 election moved the government to Salida. Whereupon the Buena Vistans cried fraud (even though the numbers were, at least, plausible).
And that’s why Buena Vista has an impressive courthouse (now a museum and gallery) and Granite sits in the lonely northern reaches of Chaffee County. Although Granite no longer has a post office and is a pretty quiet place these days, it certainly has a lively history.