For many travelers heading west on U.S. 24 up Ute Pass from Colorado Springs, the unincorporated town of Crystola is nothing more than a blip on a map. The Crystola Roadhouse which sits on the south side of the road is probably the town’s most famous landmark.
But more than 100 years ago Crystola was a haven for the occult, con men, and those seeking their fame and fortune in nearby hills. Psychics and spiritualists were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What the settlers of Crystola lacked in development, expertise and financial backing, they more than made up for in visions, wizardry, chicanery and optimism.
Crystola came into prominence when Henry Clay Childs, Speaker of the House of Representatives from Illinois, headed for Colorado in 1872 with his wife, Catherine, on the advice of a seer. He settled in the valley known as Trout Park.
There had been other settlers in the area prior to the Childs’ arrival, such as the Benedicts, Sharrocks, Scotts and Talcotts. Childs built a frame house and raised cattle and sheep, as well as operated a small lumber and milling business close to home. The Childs often referred to the area as their “crystal ball.” They entertained visiting mediums in their home and conducted séances with friends and neighbors.
It was at one of those séances that the revelation of gold in the area was proclaimed. “Ores and Metals,” in its June 1900 publication, credited Mr. Childs with discovering gold in Cripple Creek as early as 1878. If he had discovered gold there — and he didn’t mind you — then why did he not mine it? Instead, he chose to build a laboratory near his Crystola home and began the study of metallurgy and mineralogy.
Then came along visiting medium Professor Kimball. Kimball claimed he could witch gold. He prompted Childs and other spiritual brothers to form the Brotherhood Gold Mining and Milling Company in 1897. Thus began one of the outstanding stock selling schemes (a Ponzi Scheme if you will) in Colorado’s rich mining history. More money was invested in the Crystola area — with no return — than anywhere in the region.
One early brochure reported: “In some cases the prospector is saved the trouble of locating a mine by an accommodating wizard who, instead of locating the future bonanza for himself, will locate it for anybody who will put up a sufficiency in cash in advance.” Among those who fell for the scheme were the Green Mountain Falls Town Company and Woodland Park. Even Victor, which was at the heart of Gold Camp, has investors eager to strike it rich in Crystola. But alas, no clairvoyant could summon up the richness of gold ore.
In 1899, the town of Crystola was formed and laid out in the canyon. A gold processing mill was built, as well as the Hotel Abbot. Workers and psychics overflowed the hotel. Soon, a railroad station, grocery store, newspaper office and post office were built. Gold fever was the fuel for the fire.
However, when the search for gold didn’t pan out, the town soon became almost deserted. It is quite amazing that the mystics failed to foresee this downward event.
By 1910, Mr. Childs was a widower as well as a constant companion of Duffy’s Malt Whiskey. Upon his death, he willed 2,000 acres of his land to form a school of spiritualism.
Reverend Hiram Vroom, a psycho-scientist and head of the Liberal Congregation of Denver and Correspondence School of Rational Religion in Portland, Ore., attempted to carry out Mr. Child’s wishes. He undertook the establishment of a psychic research school at Crystola under the name of the Crystola Cooperative Association. The last spiritualists reportedly left the area in the 1930s.