Population growth in the mountain areas around Boulder began to boom when new gold camps drew thousands of people into the area. Although Lyons never had gold mines, by the 1860s, many discouraged miners were leaving the mountains to settle into farming along creeks like the St. Vrain. The area near present-day Lyons had good flat bottom land, plenty of water, and a pleasant climate. In 1880, Mr. E.S. Lyon from Connecticut settled the area to improve his health. His 160 acres contained durable salmon-red sandstone, which was much in demand for building at the time. He returned east to sell shares and two years later, the new quarry town was platted, but not properly recorded at the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder's Office. Lyon and two partners, Hiram Sawyer and Griff Evans, formed two companies that year - the Evans Townsite Company and the Lyon Rock and Lime Quarry Company. Within three years of its founding, Lyons had a narrow gauge railroad, extended by the Denver, Utah and Pacific Railroad to haul out sandstone.
The scale of quarrying expanded that same year (1885), when Mr. Lyon’s interests were bought out by an English company, which then sold to Hugh Murphy of Omaha. The Union Pacific was persuaded to extend a standard gauge to Lyons and stone was then shipped to Omaha, as well as to Denver. Buildings have been identified throughout the Midwest made of the distinctive Lyons sandstone. During this period, about 1,000 tons per day were quarried in Lyons, most of it by hand or using simple machinery. Hand cutting, called “plug and feathering,” gave an nice “bulging” look to the finished rock which may still be seen in older buildings in Town. The main spur of the railroad extended into what is now Meadow Park; another spur went north up Second Avenue to the main quarries. Other quarries run by the University of Colorado were later developed on the southwest end of Town. A second townsite for quarrying, called Noland, was located on the saddle at the top of Stone Canyon. A railroad spur went up the canyon to Noland and Beach Hill, north of Lyons, to haul out sandstone and bring in water which was stored in huge cisterns, still visible at the site.
Lyons officially became a town in 1881, after Thomas G. Putnam bought and resurveyed the town in 1885. Although he was a surveyor, his failure to properly establish section corner monuments left a great deal of confusion over rights-of-way and property lines leaving problems that persist today. As cement began to replace stone as a building material in the early part of the century, employment opportunities in the Town were reduced. The population fell to half its boom size, but because Lyons had never experienced the huge growth of mining towns, like Gold Hill or Jamestown, its subsequent depopulation left the town largely unchanged.
And so it stayed until growth in Boulder County in the 1960s brought new residents, particularly commuters to employment opportunities in Longmont and Boulder. Today some quarrying continues, although the railroad spurs have been removed. Nonetheless, Lyons’ quarrying past remains a source of pride for residents and the impact of quarrying can be seen in most buildings and art in Town. It is also integrated into the Town’s infrastructure and signage. Lyons is still a quiet town between the mountains on the west and the rolling farmlands to the east.
was established by the Lyons Historical Society in 1980, and on April 29, 1980 the district was officially designated as a National Historic District by the Colorado Historical Society and the United States Department of the Interior. The District is comprised of 15 sandstone buildings in the Lyons area, all of which were built between 1880 and 1917. Tour maps and historical information are available at the Lyons Redstone Museum, the Lyons Visitor Center, and throughout town at various businesses.
4th Avenue & High Street
Open: June - September
Sunday: 12:30pm - 4:30pm