The town of Empire lies within the Union Mining District. This district was first organized in the spring of 1860 by several prospectors from the Spanish Bar District just west of Idaho Springs. These early miners were George Merrill, Joseph Musser, George L. Nicholls, and D.C. Skinner. Dr. Bard, for whom Bard Creek is named, drove the first wagon into the camp in 1860. In August 1860, Edgar Freeman and H.C. Cowles arrived in the camp from Central City and found a small amount of wire gold on Eureka Mountain. Gold was more predominant than silver in the Empire area. The town was first named Empire City, and by September 1860, citizen committees were appointed to draft laws, define boundaries, and name mountains and streams. An influx of prospectors especially from Central City increased the population of the new camp.
The second cabin erected was the courthouse, sheriff's office, recorder's office, and town hall. All offices remained in existence until superseded by the territorial organization of 1861.
Empire's season of prosperity was from 1861 to 1865. The discovery of rich silver lodes near Georgetown in late 1864 attracted the miners to that area. A road called Union Pass ran over the mountain to Georgetown some four miles away. This road can be traversed on foot today but is no longer capable of vehicle travel. By 1865 the workings on mines were getting into the pyrite ores, requiring different treatment, and this wave of prosperity was culminated and the development of the mines took on a steady but slower progress.
The Peck House, built in 1860 by Frank Peck and his wife Emma Hull Peck, became widely known for its hospitality. The Guanella ranch and Glen Arbor Lodge at the west end of Empire are still owned by descendants of early settlers.
Empire lies at the foot of Berthoud Pass and has always been the gateway to the West Slope ranches. Although the town has never been large, it has been a very pleasant place to live in Clear Creek County.
Empire has had four Town Halls. The current Town Hall, a white and green two story building with a bell tower, was built in 1898. This Town Hall was designed for businesses on the first floor with town offices and a large meeting room on the second floor.
The first Empire Town Hall/Court House was located between the current Town of Empire and North Empire. The second was just east and north of the bridge on Bard Creek Road. This brick and wood building collapsed when too many Masons were donning their finery on the second floor in anticipation of a funeral on the first.
The location of the third is unknown, but it may have been the Town Hall that burned down. The Town Hall at that time was being used as a school classroom and Miss Clara Nash, the school teacher, stuck a rag in a drafty hole by the chimney and it caught fire!
The Original Hard Rock, on the first floor on the current Town Hall, was started in 1934 and provided a café and sleeping dormitory for miners. The sleeping room was where the gift shop is now.
Enjoy a beautiful walk through history
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