Creede: Inside Colorado’s ‘LAST Great Place’

Bill Dooley and his seven classmates had to memorize a poem in high school.

“It’s day all day in the day-time,” goes the famous line. “And there is no night in Creede.”

That was written by Cy Warman, who arrived at Colorado’s silver boom town in 1892, when indeed it seemed the sun would always shine on “a land where men make millions,” as he described Creede in the poem.

Now only stories are told of those days. Dooley shares them from behind the museum counter with all the fervor of his history-proud teachers from the ’50s and ’60s.

Here’s one about Andy Dooley, the first man of the family to work the mines:

“He got real hungry after work. So he’d start hollering, making all sorts of noises, so his wife would hear him and know it was time to start fixing supper.

“Now the lady here who does the ghost tours says that if you ever hear strange noises from up in the canyon, that’s just hungry Andy Dooley.”

And here’s some insight on Creede’s slogan, “The LAST Great Place.”

“Ah, there was an old newspaper ad,” Dooley tells me. “ ‘The Last Great Place to Drink and Fight.’ ”

“The LAST Great Place.” So reads the town’s welcome sign in this inconspicuous place between towering granite walls, somewhere between the better-known San Juan Mountains to the west and San Luis Valley to the east.

“The LAST Great Place.” What makes Creede that?

To outsiders and most insiders, the explanation prominently depicts the Creede Repertory Theatre. “One of the 10 best places to see the lights off Broadway,” proclaims USA Today. “A theater oasis” is how the late Murray Ross described it to its executive director, John DiAntonio, who considered the founder of Colorado Springs’ TheatreWorks a mentor.

“We’re just kind of out there in the corner. Is it real?” DiAntonio says. “And you get here, and it’s even more than you thought it would be.”

Every summer, dreaming artists from around the country come to Creede to live together in an old bordello and run the rotating shows credited for fueling the town’s economy since 1966, as the mines were collapsing. The youngsters are embraced by the 500 or so year-round residents and by the thousands of seasonal residents — a great, warming feeling that is hard to come by in New York City or Los Angeles.

From the gift shops and boutiques, to the outfitters and galleries, Main Street merchants are most grateful. But there is much more to “The LAST Great Place” than this surprising vibrancy shining through the rural premises, the lumberyard and trailer park nearby.

What makes Creede “The LAST Great Place?” I ask Delano Velasquez.

“The seclusion, the quietness,” he says.

His family has been in the area for five generations, and though he’s tried city life, he always came home to the range, where the deer and the antelope play, along with elk and moose. Around Creede, you see more of those in winter than people, Velasquez says.

Someone else in town said Cy Warman wrote “Home on the Range,” which is incorrect. Though here it’s easy to imagine the inspiration of the old western tune. “Home, home on the range / Where the deer and the antelope play / Where seldom is heard a discouraging word / And the sky is not cloudy all day …”

What makes Creede “The LAST Great Place?”

“We live and let live,” Mayor Jeff Larson tells me between flipping burgers and $2 hot dogs at his restaurant, the Best Little Dog House. “We don’t try to get in other people’s business. Maybe some of the new people want to, but yeah.”

The seldom discouraging word is that some of the new people, the rising number of part-time residents, want services the town simply can’t afford, says Larson, such as street paving. The mountain still stores plenty of silver, but the market isn’t what it was when Nicholas Creede first struck. So companies aren’t interested in operating, and until some industry or thriving enterprise takes root in Creede and money comes back, there shall be no paving.

Besides, that would alter the town’s character. That’s important to locals, the character. It’s why hardly anything changed inside Tomkins Hardware and Lumber when Velasquez came in 2011 to manage Main Street’s oldest business since 1892. The wood floors are the same, and the counters and safe of the former bank still consume one side, the tattered ledgers still on the shelf.

“The movies wanted to buy them for props,” Velasquez says. “We said, ‘Nah, this is Creede’s history. You can make your own props.’ ”

The historic Creede Hotel across the street recently has fallen to Rhonda Brown, whose big smile hides any concern of the seasonal reasons that threatened the hotel’s closure. She couldn’t let that happen, she says, while insisting on making me lunch.

The people, the kindness — that’s what brought Larson back to his hometown after traveling some. “You always get told to go make money somewhere,” he says over his grill. “Sometimes money isn’t worth the grief you go through to make it.”

In Creede, people grow up, leave and tend to come back, Krisen Buchanan tells me. She did after 15 years in Los Angeles.

“Two-and-a-half years ago, my husband was on life support,” she says. “The town held benefit dinners and raised money for most of our medical bills, and that’s just one of the many stories around here. We all pull together when something happens. You don’t find that in many places anymore.”

So it was told in a poem from long ago: “While the world is filled with sorrow / And hearts must break and bleed / It’s day all day in the day-time / And there is no night in Creede.”