Morley, the Town That Was
Part I
by Kristen Spinning

Most ranch owners think of it as our little ghost town with its crumbling foundations and picturesque church. Quaint, quiet, cattle grazing among the ruins. Gone are the tragedies, the hardships, the daily drudgery of hard manual labor. Silent are the giggles of children at the school yard, the clatter of pins scattered in a strike at the bowling alley. Faded are the voices singing in unison at the church on the hill. The Past is washed away and sanitized by seasons of rain and snow. Gone too are most of the memories of Morley.

Though we all like to think of Morley as “ours”, please remember that it is private property and due the same respect we have for any other Ranch owner’s property.

When the mine finally closed in 1958, the people scattered. Some remained in the area; others traveled to the far reaches of the world. Many by now have passed away.

I had the pleasure of meeting one former resident, and his stories of his childhood there in the 1930s brought the town back to life for me. As we rambled through his memories, my mind built houses on those foundations and populated the streets with a cast of characters. So I would like to share with you the spirit that makes Morley more than a collection of weed entangled, cut-stone foundations.

Matthew Krumpotik was born in Morley in 1925 and was baptized in the church at the age of 3. His father worked as a miner, hand digging and loading ore carts. Matt describes his father

According to the Colorado Census office:   The 1930 census listed Morley as a precinct, not a town, and a population of 917 residents.

as “a drunk who was barely bright enough to come in out of the rain.” Despite contracting black lung disease, his father lived into his nineties. Matt was the youngest of three children. His sister worked as a near-slave for families in “Silk Stockings.” His brother was conscripted to the mines at the age of 17. Matt spent his boyhood roaming the nearby hills, hiking up Gallinas Canyon, peddling newspapers and delivering moonshine. In our conversations he chuckled from one fond memory to the next. I got the sense that, although it was a period of poverty and hardship and a lifestyle he vowed to escape, it was a childhood he remembers happily.

“Oh, God, it was quite a town. You know, in other words nobody had anything. A lot of people didn’t have clothes enough so that they could go out of the house,” Matt began, shaking his head slowly. “I remember we used to get two pair of overalls and that was to get us through the school year. When we got home from school we would take the good ones off and put the old ones on with the patches and all. You didn’t wear the torn things like kids do today. No, they were all patches, and the patches were neatly sewn on. If one side got a patch the other side got one exactly like it so you wouldn’t look so bad.”

Its hard to picture the Morley of the past. Nearly half of the town was buried under I-25. Fisher’s Peak Parkway re-contoured the road through town. I showed Matt pictures of ruins to identify, but with some landmarks gone it was a difficult process. We ambled on a virtual walk through the town, often detoured by an anecdote of some amusing resident. With some sketches he made, and vivid descriptions, the town was pieced back together. Morley in 1929 (69KB)

As we started our tour using the slag pile for reference and heading down the road, to the right were the ruins of the DC electrical generator station. Because of the extremely high methane levels in the mines, DC power was a safer choice for the lights and ventilation. Also to the right was the change house where workers would change their clothes and get their tag off the board. Each man was assigned a tag number, and this system kept track of who was in the mine. The ruin that is somewhat a "Y" shape was probably the ventilation building, pumping stagnant, explosive gas-laden air out of the tunnels and pumping fresh air in. The small shaft with iron grating over it that we can see on the hillside was never a mine entrance. At some point the slag pile caught fire and was burning underground. In an attempt to contain it and prevent it from burning into the mines, a separate shaft was dug with tunnels encircling the fire. Water was pumped into this network of tunnels, keeping the fire from spreading.

Off to the left, where today’s road curves right toward the church, stood the YMCA. It was a two story structure with a two-lane bowling alley on the first floor and a boccie court on the side. Matt added, “I used to set pins for a nickel a line there.” Sunday school classes were held at the Y, too. Only about ten families in town were not Catholic, so the church was a big part of community life. The road in and out of town proceeded through what is now the locked gate and over the tracks and creek. There were houses along there, too. Matt gestured to his sketch and said, “Down here lived Piggy Joe. He was a really big fat man who raised corn. I remember he had two little girls that were just as round as he.”

On the other side of the tracks was the area of town referred to as “Mexico City.” Morley was racially segregated with all the ethnic groups pretty much living in their own sections. (At the time, mine management throughout the region capitalized on ethnic and language differences as a way to keep the people disjointed and to prevent unionization). Also on that side of the tracks, but more towards the north, was the mule barn. Because of the methane, the mine was never mechanized. The ore carts were hauled out on rails by mule teams. Old Man Simpson ran the mule barn. When a mule died, it was carted up a side drainage from the mine to be disposed of, hence giving it the name Dead Mule Canyon (now proudly part of the Cannon's Lot, G4).

As the road passes the church, we see foundations on the hillside. This area was known as “Silk Stockings,” or the part of town where managers lived. Just past that was Capitol Hill, the foreman’s residence. The long foundation that is perpendicular to the road was the mercantile. Matt recalled of the store, “The store manager, Mr. Hudson, he was also the butcher. He’d always put his thumb on the scale when he sold you meat. I’d always tell him to take his thumb off the scale and, oh, he’d get so mad at me. I’d be sent to get a pound and a half or so. It was 15 or 20 cents a pound in those days. But he’d always try to get a little more out of you.”

A little past the store, and set back about a block from the present road, was the grade school. The school had ball fields and a basketball court. The kids went to grade school in Morley, but were bussed to Trinidad for high school. A few more homes spread out in the valley beyond the school, defining the edge of town. Matt paused from sketching the layout of the school and said, “Mr. Mott was this old fellow who lived alone here at the end of town. He’d been a slave, freed by the Civil War. I remember him saying "You get as old as me and all you can do is sit and read the paper and just wonder. Nowadays I live for my one shot a day." Mr. Mott was over 100 when he died.”

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Click below to view addition pictures taken in 1929: