(Note from Hughes Moir):  The following account of the history of Nederland is from Nederland: A Community Analysis published by the University of Colorado in 1991 (pp 15-18).  The history appears to be based largely upon Isabel Becker’s Nederland: A Trip to Cloudland (Scott Becker Ltd., 1989) as well as information from residents/”informants” who provided information used throughout the study.


The history of the Nederland area is rich with Indian, mining and frontier lore.  The themes of boom/bust economy, the independence of the people, and the effect of the environment are woven throughout the stories about the area.

Isabel Becker, in her 1989 book, Nederland A Visit (sic) to Cloudland, describes early Nederland as a cluster of small cabins known as Dayton.  It later became Brownsville in honor of Nathan Brown, the first homesteader, who built an inn in the 1850’s which became a celebrated resting place for hunters and prospectors passing through the area.

There is evidence that the first inhabitants of Nederland were the Arapahoe Indians who held regular tribal council gatherings in the area.  One informant said “There are signs and artifacts from Indians around here. It’s the place where they6 used to cross the divide.”  Early residents found fire rings and burial sites, but today’s souvenir hunters would be lucky to find an arrowhead or two.

In addition to the artifacts, there are numerous stories.  One legend relates the tale of Sam Conger, the first white man in the area, and an Indian maiden.  It is said that Conger courted the maiden, the daughter of the chief, without honorable intentions.  His interest was not in the young woman, but in the beautiful silver jewelry she wore.  He persuaded her to reveal the source of the silver, but when the chief found out that she divulged the source, he punished his daughter and banished Conger from the area, making him promise never to return or to reveal the location of the mine.  Years later, when the chief had died, Conger returned to the area, located the source of the silver, and founded the Caribou mine.  The establishment of the Caribou mine marked the birth of traditions that influence Nederland today.

The silver boom of 1872, brought an influx of people to the town of Caribou and influenced the growth of the area.  Caribou became a boom town, but its stability was influenced by the weather, frequent fires and the transient nature of the population.  According to Becker, the town only lasted for 35 years.  Today the site of Caribou is an empty meadow.

Nederland, however, was more fortunate.  In 1871, Abel Breed, the owner of the Caribou Mine, relocated his reducing mill to the banks of Middle Boulder Creek, promoting the growth of a permanent town site at Nederland, or Middle Boulder as it was then known.  This initiated the establishment of other businesses related to the mining enterprise and support services for inhabitants of the area.

The new businesses and growing population necessitated better access to the area.  The Boulder Canyon Road began as a wagon road in 1871.  It was twenty-two miles long and built at a cost of $30,000.  This primitive path was steep and hazardous and included 36 bridges over the creek.  Travel on this roadway was time consuming and dangerous, but also provided a source of recreation for the inhabitants of Boulder.  According to Becker, The Tallyho Coach, a twelve-seated horse-drawn wagon, carried sightseers up and down the canyon road, initiating the tourist industry in the area.  The road brought services, supplies, and new residents to the town.  The advent of the automobile and the increased traffic which followed necessitated improvements.  The road as it is known today took ten years and $2.38 million to build.

In 1872, a school was established.  The first class had an enrollment of 35 students.  The school remained open, even through the lean years after the silver bust.  By 1916 it was a six room school and in 1921 it offered all four years of high school.

The Caribou Mine’s success drew international attention.  In 1873, the Mining Company, Nederland of Holland, bought the mine and the mill for $3 million.  In 1875 Middle Boulder became incorporated and was known thereafter as Nederland, meaning “low lands” in Dutch.

The significance of mining to the areas economy was reflected in the boom or bust periods of growth that occurred with the changing supply and demand of ores.  In 1883-4 the price of silver dropped and the mine and mill closed.  According to Becker, the population had dwindled to seven families by 1889.

Once again, the treasures of the earth rescued the depressed economy.  As the news of the discovery of gold in Eldora spread, the population of the town expanded again.  The Caribou Mine was converted to refine gold and reopened.  This brought an influx of people, businesses, and prosperity to the town.  But the gold boom did not last long and once more the existence of the town was threatened.

The 1900s brought economic recovery in the form of “that damned black iron” which had been discarded by local miners for years.  Sam Conger who was perceived as an exploiter of women, Indians and natural resources and who had initiated the silver boom of 1872, discovered that this ore was tungsten, a substance used in the hardening of steel.  The mill reopened to process the tungsten, bringing renewed hope to the area.  The need for tungsten continued to influence the prosperity of Nederland during the war efforts of World War I.

In 1907 Barker Dam was constructed on a ranch site previously owned by Hannah Barker.  This structure provided the source of water needed to power the generators for the Central Colorado Power Company Hydroelectric Plant which supplied electricity for the city of Boulder and beyond.  Barker Reservoir remains one of Nederland’s most outstanding resources, as well as a source of controversy.

The period between World War I and World War II marked another decline for the town.  One resident reported that “property here was very, very cheap and people from back East bought places to use during the summer months.”

World War II initiated the most recent mining boom for the area, however it was short lived.  After the war, Nederland’s reputation as a “bedroom community” emerged.  This was due to the ease of communing between Nederland and the Boulder/Denver Metro area.

The Eldorado Ski area, established in 1962, improved the winter economy, providing an influx of tourists and new jobs for residents.  The winter economy of the town of Nederland continues to be influenced by6 the population of the ski industry.

The beauty of the area, the privacy afforded to residents, the romance of the isolation, and the return-to-nature movement of the 60’s have all drawn new people to the area.  Perhaps the most famous were the “hippies.”  While local legend and newspaper accounts regale us with tales of the infamous “hippie invasion” of the ‘70’s, a more significant trend has been the increase of middle class families to the area a permanent residents.  This group influenced improvements in the school system, an increase in city services, and development of additional recreational facilities and annexation of land for new housing.

Nederland’s historical struggle to exist continues.  It is no longer played out in the boom or bust cycles of mining, nor does survival seem as threatened by the elements of nature as it once was.  These factors remain, but the struggle today is depicted politically in the growth/ no growth debate and the conflict between the need to change and the urge to preserve the areas past identity.