History is often learned in the classroom. Or it can be learned by walking through historic neighborhoods or ghost towns, that provide a glimpse into the past of what life once was. Enter Como, Colorado. No, it’s not the ultimate ski destination or known for its summertime brew festivals, but rather it’s a quiet town that will teach you a little something if you let it.
Nestled against the Rocky Mountains with Little Baldy Mountain peeking out from behind, Como is located just off of 285 near Fairplay. This tiny town of just over 400 people barely registers on anyone’s radar, but there are many reasons to visit Como, Colorado.
History of Como, CO
Thought to have been named after Lake Como in Italy, where the miners of Como, CO were from, the town was first established with eager prospectors coming to claim gold during the 1859 Gold Rush. But exponential growth came in 1881, when the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad, chose Como as their division point.
Since its boom many years ago, the town has since quieted and exists for those who still live there and those passing through; who want a glimpse into the past. With six sites on the National Register, time stands still in this very quiet corner of the world. And yet there is still a little life left. Evident by the town’s few residents and the volunteers who come out on a weekly basis to work on restoring part of the town’s railroad, known as the Como Project.
The Como Project, supported by the South Park Rail Society, is a group of volunteers who have dedicated time and resources into restoring the old railroad that ran through town. Plus the recent purchase of Klondike Kate, an old steam engine that was rescued from the Yukon in Canada, has been fully restored and is currently operating. It was revealed in 2017 during the Boreas Pass Railroad Days, where they ran a train down the restored tracks for the first time in 80 years. Eventually, the group wishes to restore additional period-correct machines and the old boiler room for public viewing.
Intrigued? The best way to see and feel the past and the present of Como is to take their historic walking tour. Pick up a brochure about the tour in almost any nearby visitor center, or grab one from the Mountain Man Gallery at 6th St. and Broadway. Here’s what you’ll find and why you should visit Como, Colorado:
The Roundhouse in Como, CO
Coming into town, you come upon the Roundhouse, the prized jewel of Como. Built by Italian stonemasons in 1881, the Roundhouse served as the maintenance epicenter for all locomotives in Como. At its peak, it had 19 operating stalls. Trains rolled into town and were loaded onto turntables, then put into the individual stalls for maintenance. Walking inside, visitors can see the original station sign that still hangs above old rail cars covered in rust and dust. Even the old steam engine (Klondike Kate), stoic and almost heroic, occupies a part of the Roundhouse as a reminder of what once was.
Located next door to the Roundhouse is the Train Depot. Built back in 1879 by the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railway, the trail depot was the epicenter of Como for 60 years. Since then a local resident has revitalized this once dilapidated building into a museum with railway artifacts that depict the depot’s history.
Continuing on down the road is the Como Hotel. Built, in 1897 by the Denver Leadville and Gunnison Railroad, the hotel was originally called The South Park Hotel. But locals knew it as the Como Eating House. What appeared to be a neglected building was in full operation. Peek inside and you will notice the saloon-like bar at the entrance with a stained mirror and tattered floors. Conversation and laughter can still be heard here on a daily basis in the hotel’s dining hall, keeping its name as the Como Eating House.
Trecolore & Painted House
One thing you notice throughout the town is that it has real character. Every house is different. Some with a pop of color one might expect to see from space and some with decorative trim and unusual front-doors. Nothing is well kept, except for the character. One such house that is worth driving by is the Trecolore house. A chance to see this privately owned residence is one of the many reasons to visit Como, CO.
Across the way from the Como Hotel is Ioof Hall. The original building housed a Fellows’ dance hall on the second floor that has since been removed. The lower level at one point was used as an aircraft hangar. Due to its poor condition, it is best to not enter inside.
Como Catholic Church
Up the road, is the original church of the town. Built, in 1881 by Italian immigrants, the church served as a place of worship for the local community until the 1930s. It is now a private residence. The building, with its white-washed walls and magenta colored trim, is the perfect detail that adds charm and character to this town.
Como High School & Grade School
Situated to the right of the church are the buildings for the Como Grade School and the Como High School. The grade school was the hub of education after its construction in 1883. Closing in 1948, it now is run as the local community center.
The Como High School stands still since its last class graduating in 1940. Since then, the school shut down until the re-opening in the 1990s. It now rests as a replica of school life back in the 1930s with the oversized chalkboard, wood-burning stove, the original school desks, and not so new renditions of the map of the world.
Heading up Boreas Pass Road, a bit outside of the main part of town is the Como Cemetery. Numerous gravestones are scattered amongst a thick aspen grove, with views of Como from above. Some headstones date back as far as the 1830s. Signs of a hard life were evident by many children’s grave sites and short adult lifespans of 30 to 40 years. For me, I always enjoy visiting cemeteries. Cemeteries bring life to a place. They are reminders of our existence and what the future can glean from the past.
Visiting the cemetery last was the best way to end the tour of this historic town. And I would suspect that visiting this secluded spot during the fall would be quite magical with the colors of the aspens highlighting the headstones of this intimate cemetery.
There are a few additional stops along the walking tour that could be added to the above:
Gallery and Post Office
Montag Saloon and Diamond Bar
So, while it may not be the ski village at Vail or the Red Rocks amphitheater outside of Denver, there are many reasons why you should visit Como, Colorado.
If you wish to see more photos of Como, Colorado be sure to visit my gallery page.