Gothic: From Ghost Town to Field Station
The excitement began in May 1879 when brothers John and David Jennings discovered a rich silver lode at nearby Sylvanite Basin. Hundreds of eager prospectors rushed to the area, seeking their own quick riches. By August 'Gothic City' was officially organized. Along its streets quickly appeared numerous log and frame residences, two hotels, three restaurants, several saloons, two general stores, a school, law and medical offices, a bank, two saw mills, other merchants' buildings, and a post office. Yet, as revealed in Gothic's newspaper, The Gothic Miner, the feverish venture effectively lasted for little more than two years because it became evident that too few diggings yielded ore rich enough for processing. Gothic became such a well-known boisterous mining town that in 1880 Ex-President Ulysses S. Grant came for a personal visit.
Gothic's decline started in the summer of 1881 and, although the town government lived on for a time, it was virtually abandoned by 1890. From then until 1928 few people remained. The notable exception was the colorful Garwood Hall Judd --'The Man Who Stayed'-- who until his death in 1930 was the wily self-appointed Gothic caretaker. Seeing chance for Gothic's revival, Judd played a key role in aiding Dr. John C. Johnson, RMBL founder, in obtaining personal title to part of the abandoned townsite.
Dr. Johnson, then Professor of Biology and Dean at Western State College (WSC) in Gunnison, first saw Gothic in July 1919. From then through 1927 he regularly took college biology students on overnight field trips to Gothic. During those years he became convinced not only that a high-altitude field station was needed, but also that Gothic, with its abundant diverse biota and spectacular location, would be the ideal site.
Since Colorado's political climate at the time barred WSC from providing support, Dr. Johnson went ahead on his own. By 1928 he had persuaded Dr. A. O. Weese and Dr. Aute Richards of the University of Oklahoma, and Dr. L. A. Adams of the University of Illinois, to join him and his wife, Vera, in forming RMBL, an independent Colorado Corporation. He assumed all initial financial responsibility and turned over his Gothic properties to the promising new institution that later acquired additional land. RMBL's first session began in June 1928.
The dilapidated Gothic Hotel and several other ancient buildings remaining from the silver-mining days were repaired and used in RMBL's earliest years until new residences, classrooms, laboratories, and service buildings could be constructed. Three buildings from the 1880s, including the old Gothic Town Hall (now the Gothic Store), and two from about 1910, have been preserved.
During the following years Dr. Johnson, Director of RMBL for its first thirty years, built its instructional and research programs while improving its physical facilities. Students and prominent biologists from all over the United States and other countries come to Gothic to study and gather research data concerning the biota within the area's unique ecosystems. Now more than 80 years later RMBL has become a renowned high-altitude field station dedicated to excellence in biological education and research.
by Dr. John C. Johnson, Jr., RMBL Archivist, 2002