The Williams’ Stables: A Cornerstone of Central City History
By: Linda Jones and Erin Osovets
Once the site of Henry Teller’s log cabin, the old livery across the street from the Teller House was constructed in 1876 and purchased by Gilpin County Sheriff Dick Williams in 1880. Known today as the Williams’ Stables, it is owned by Central City Opera (CCO) and used as a recital and lecture space during the summer festival. The juxtaposition between its Western mining history and present-day theater function is evident by the years of Opera Festival billboards intermixed with chiseled wood beams, a remaining hay pulley, and hand painted signs on the façade.
Richard Broad Williams, known as Dick Williams, was born in 1847 in England, like so many of Central City’s Cornish residents. His family immigrated to Nevadaville, Colorado, in 1868, where Dick met and married Libbie Bartel. They had eleven children, only five of whom lived to adulthood. Known as “Mr. Gilpin County,” Dick was heavily involved in the area’s politics, business, and sports. He was a renowned wrestler and boxer who was said to treat his opponents to a drink at the Teller House after a fight.
“It’s difficult to overstate the importance of horses and wagons prior to the automobile.”
The owner of several businesses between Nevadaville and Central City, Dick opened the Williams’ Stables in 1891. Henry Teller had seen the need for a livery to serve the guests of the Teller House hotel, and Dick expanded the business into a stables and hauling business. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of horses and wagons prior to the automobile. Every pound of ore that moved from mine to mill, all the coal, timber, and supplies that traveled between stores and residences were transported by horse and wagon. Central City boasted five other liveries, but Williams’ was the largest and best equipped.
Beginning in 1879, Dick was elected Sheriff of Gilpin County four times, County Commissioner in 1892, and Mayor of Central City twice. He had just completed his second term as Mayor when he was tragically killed. In April 1896, Dick was working at the Stables when he heard a commotion at what is now the location of the Century Casino. In true Wild West fashion, two men had pulled a gun on Judge Arrighi and another attorney at the Justice of the Peace office. City Marshall Mike Heleher responded to the scene but was shot before he could enter. Dick Williams arrived soon after and found himself in a shootout with one of the intruders. A bullet tore through Dick’s right side and lodged itself beneath the skin of his left hip. He died four days later, on April 19, at age 48.
The funeral was the first and last ever to be held in the Opera House. Hundreds filled the seats, with even more listening to the service from outside on Eureka Street. Four of the town’s religious leaders participated in the service, and all of Central City’s businesses—even several mines—closed down for the duration of the funeral. The procession included 116 horse-drawn vehicles, 27 horseman, and numerous lodge members and firemen who walked the 2.5 miles uphill to Bald Mountain Cemetery, Dick Williams’ final resting place. For the next thirty years, Dick’s son Oscar continued to run the Williams’ Stables and followed in his father’s footsteps as Sheriff of Gilpin County from 1922 through 1946. Central City Opera purchased the Williams’ Stables from the city in 1953.
As part of a larger vision for the preservation of Colorado history, Central City Opera is focused on strategically investing in essential repairs, restorations, improvements, and the winterization of the 27 historic properties and other facilities it owns in the town of Central City. CCO began work on construction drawings in the fall of 2022, funded in part by a State Historical Fund Planning Grant, to convert the Williams’ Stables into a state-of-the-art, small performance theater to be used by the community and partner organizations year-round. By allowing more people to experience this historic asset and unique community, the Williams’ Stables will serve as a cornerstone of Central City Opera’s plan toward its centennial anniversary in 2032.
To learn more about Central City Opera’s historic preservation work, visit centralcityopera.org/history.