toll gate saloon black hawk 1897 pd

In this week’s “Interiors” post I decided to get away from ostentatious bedrooms and focus on something a little more earthy. My quest for a good pub interior (previous examples from this series here and here) led me to this historic photo of a real-life saloon in the Old West. This is identified as the Toll Gate Saloon, located in the small town of Black Hawk, Colorado. Though it’s not visible in this resolution of the photo, somebody (perhaps from the Library of Congress) has dated this photo to 1897 due to a calendar on the back wall. That date is also consistent with the style of clothes of the men seen here. I usually try to avoid human figures in these Interiors posts, but in this case it helps tell us about the kind of space this was and what it must have been like to be in this place…which frankly looks a little rough, at least by today’s standards.

This probably wasn’t the seediest saloon in Black Hawk at the time, though. The décor, especially the wallpaper and the woodwork, suggests some money has gone into the place. The hunting trophies on the back wall are an interesting touch. Also notice the hardware under the bar. In addition to the standard rail, which worked well with the slightly hooked heels of men’s shoes at the time, there’s a spittoon, though not a fancy one. In some of the larger saloons of the era–not this one, obviously–the fronts of some bars were tiled and there was a recessed tile trough running just under the bar. This was so the patrons could urinate without leaving the bar. The building that is now Jake’s Famous Crawfish restaurant in Portland, Oregon, built in 1892, has this feature though of course it hasn’t been used for that purpose in decades.

Black Hawk was your classic Wild West mining boom town. Gold was discovered near here in 1859, resulting in a minor gold rush. After the gold declined the railroad connected Black Hawk to various other parts east and west, and the town also had a smelting business. In the 1890s its population was between 1000 and 1200, and it’s been declining ever since. Today only 118 people call Black Hawk home. Its main economic activity is now gambling casinos–surprisingly, Black Hawk, Colorado has more casinos than Atlantic City. Though some historic buildings from the Old West period have survived in Black Hawk, I don’t think the Toll Gate is one of them.

This photo is in the public domain.