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by Nancy Christofferson
GARDNER — On the topic of forgotten post offices, who can tell us about Houck? Anyone? Anyone?
The Houck post office opened Feb. 13, 1883. It was discontinued less than four months later, on May 31.
This would be a very short article if the post office had not changed personalities. In time, it would also change locations.
Houck became Birmingham. It is believed the settlement received this name from local settlers who had immigrated to the area from Birmingham, England. These included the Turner brothers, H.H., Heber and Christopher E. (the selfsame C.E. Turner who published and edited the La Veta Advertiser for 40 years), and William H. Freeland who was a friend and possibly a relative of the Turners.
Birmingham started out as an iron and gold camp. As Robert Percy Owens remembered in his book, Huerfano Valley As I Knew It, copyrighted in 1975, the location of Birmingham was about five miles north of Gardner. “Birmingham,” according to Owens, “had been one of those gold rush towns probably mostly tents which had boasted 400 people but soon was deserted however in my memory there were a few posts standing showing where a town had been.”
A book by Leanne C. Boyd and H. Glenn Carson reads “Birmingham—(Not on map) Small settlement listed on 1887 map. No location given.” Lester and Helen Kregar noted it was “located in 1894 on the west bank of Turkey Creek, to the northwest of Badito Cone.” Crofutt’s Grip-Sack Guide of Colorado, 1885, noted the camp was situated on Williams Creek eight miles north from Gardner, “from which there is a special mail service”.
According to accounts of the time, printed in the Huerfano Herald weekly newspaper, Birmingham was started as an iron mine by miners from Silver Cliff. The first mention of it was in May 1881, as the “mines of Chamera Creek.” The paper noted in November 1882 the population was about 500, and the camp was on Williams Creek “about 10 miles north of Gardner.” On the other hand, the same newspaper reported the camp “on Cottonwood Creek 10 miles north of Gardner”.
A month later, the Herald reported some 800-1200 men were mining on Williams Creek along a “ten by three mile strip.” Already there were a restaurant, saloon and gambling halls. Perhaps to add some validity or respectability to the camp, the paper added that J.L. and Cate Patterson were there. The Pattersons, from Georgia, were among the gold seekers who had found success in the foothills west of Denver, and their party built the first cabin in Aurora (which they called Auraria).
So Birmingham was already misplaced before it even got a good start. Things never got any better for the little community. By January 1883, the Herald noted “about a half dozen slab shanties” remained at Houckville, and the boom was over.
Houck had failed, but the Birmingham post office opened in June 1883 with James Garrahan postmaster. “Where located deponent knoweth not”, said the Herald. Then the deponent learned further information about said post office, to wit, “at the iron mines near the site of the famous town of Houckville which flourished during the Williams Creek excitement.” Like that clears things up!
C.E. Turner later claimed to be the postmaster of Birmingham in those early days. The post office was discontinued in 1894, and in 1895 the brothers Turner were entrenched in La Veta. Heber Turner was an assayer, and dabbled in real estate, while C.E. may have taught school for a while before launching his newspaper. W.H. Freeland spent many years serving as deputy to various county officers and occasionally ran for those offices himself, with C.E. always recommending him in his newspaper. Freeland in the 1885 census was actually living with the Heber Turner family and listed his occupation as “dealer in horses.” Heber himself was a miner, his brother H.H. a builder, and a sister kept house. C.E. is not included in the census, or at least, not in Huerfano County.
The post office may have closed, but not everyone had given up on Birmingham and its gold. In 1898 a rumor spread that a stamp mill would be built there to “treat the white sand for gold – some have been getting silver.” The mill was the brainchild of the White Ash Gold Mining Company, incorporated in March 1898 by “foreign capitalists” who had an office in Gardner. Later the paper said the foreign capitalists were from Ohio. The smelter may never have materialized, but in 1899 a cyanide mill was prepared to test the sands and ore of the area. Then the region fell back into obscurity.
Once again in August 1938 there “were rumors that gold had been discovered in the Birmingham mining district north of Gardner. County Clerk Damacio Vigil revealed today 10 placer locations certificates had been filed for claims”.
The Birmingham school was in District #23, and it too moved around. Sometimes it appeared on Williams Creek, sometimes on Turkey Creek. Sometimes it was called the Williams Creek School, though the real Williams Creek School was in District #18 (and off and on, both Turkey Creek and Maes Creek were in #18 as well). Sometimes the Birmingham school was called the Willburn District school because it was on the Aaron O. Willburn ranch property. Also, several of the Willburn women taught there, and the Willburns often served as members of the school board (as did W.H. Freeland). One Willburn, Frances Magnino, recalled the school being not on Williams Creek but up a hill from it and near a cemetery. Another Willburn, Ethel Benson, placed Birmingham School on Williams Creek about three miles south of the Williams Creek School. Ah well.
The district was organized in the 1880s and was called Birmingham. It was a large and largely populated district, having more than 70 students through the 1890s and well into the 1900s. By 1906 it was the Birmingham-Turkey Creek district and by 1927 the Birmingham name had been dropped entirely. By that time, the Turkey Creek school was on Turkey Creek, and was probably a different site and building altogether. In 1933 District #23 had become known as Maes Creek. In 1939 it was again Turkey Creek and in 1942, Birmingham-Turkey Creek. In 1953 it was Birmingham-Maes Creek when Lula Valdez was teacher and in 1954, Maes Creek-Birmingham with Mrs. Valdez as well as Ernestine Archuleta, indicating there were still two school houses. By whichever name, the rural school was one of the last to survive into the time of school reorganization and consolidation after 1959.
The poor post office underwent a final, and humiliating, metamorphosis. In 1912 it was opened with the new name of Clover, and it was closed in 1922. It was located in the same general area as Houck and Birmingham. The Clover name may have been suggested to lure stock raisers to a green and fertile area, but by the time the Huerfano County Assessor’s office got through with it, it had turned into Glover.