Ghost towns, like Leadville, Colorado, fascinate me. Technically speaking Leadville is not a ghost town — around 2,500 hardy souls still live there. According to legend, but not borne out by the U.S. Census, the town once had a population of more than 40,000. South Walton could learn from Leadville’s demise.
Leadville’s glory days were tied to silver and the federal government’s intervention in propping up silver prices. The Sherman Silver Act mandated higher silver prices, so mining operations ran wild. When Congress repealed the act, all the silver was gone as well, and the town’s economy collapsed. South Walton beaches are our natural resource, and if we aren’t careful, we could squander it. People might decide to vacation somewhere else if they can’t go to the beach.
Leadville also provides a personal financial planning story. Like many Americans, Horace Tabor got gold fever when he heard about riches in the West. He and wife Augusta made it as far as Leadville. Augusta, being more practical, set up a store to supply miners groceries and other necessities. The Tabor’s business flourished except Horace often offered miners supplies, a grubstake, in exchange for one-third of any ore their claim generated. Frequently miners struck out, much to Augusta’s dismay.
One day Horace’s grubstake paid out. Overnight the Tabors were millionaires in 1878 dollars. Three weeks later another partner hit paydirt again, Horace left the grocery business. With his fortune Horace began buying claims and existing mines, arousing his wife’s ire. When Tabor figured out how to drain water from The Matchless Mine, he discovered Leadville ’s richest vein of silver.
Wealthy beyond his wildest dreams, Horace enjoyed himself. He liked the good life and was generous with his money. The Tabor Opera House is still a grand structure in Leadville, but his marriage suffered. One night on the town, Horace met and quickly fell for a younger woman named Elizabeth Doe. A divorce soon followed, and the couple quickly married in an ostentatious ceremony in Washington, D.C.
In those days Colorado divorce laws prevented Augusta from any of Horace’s wealth, but he did give her two houses. She took in boarders on half of it and taught women how to sew in the other side. She prospered, and on a trip to California, she met an inventor named Singer who had a sewing machine. She invested in the company and became a millionaire in her own right.
Horace though got a double whammy from the repeal of the Sherman Silver Act and his mines playing out. Years of high living burned up his fortune — he and wife No. 2 died penniless. Spend less than you make because things that are pleasing you can hurt you somehow.
You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit livingstonfinancial.net or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.