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The Tabor Opera House was built in 1879 by Horace Austin Warner Tabor, one of Colorado's most well known mining magnates. It was one of the most costly and most substantially-built structures in Colorado history. The construction materials used to build the Tabor Opera House were not available in Leadville, so HAW Tabor ordered that they be brought up by wagons... a tedious task. Nevertheless, the Tabor was completed in only 100 days from the date of ground-breaking which was a record time.

The massive 3-story opera house was constructed of stone, brick and iron, and trimmed with Portland cement. It's solid brick walls stand 16 inches thick! The color scheme used was red, gold, white and sky-blue, with the blending beauty of everything fully revealed by 72 jets of brightly burning gas lights. This substantial construction has weathered the test of time, and stands today as a proud monument to Colorado history.


    One cold winter day in 1955, two gentlemen asked to be admitted to the Tabor Opera House, they had come to gain inspiration to write an opera about the Tabors. Douglas Moore and John Latouche... stepped onto the stage, they became so enchanted that they hardly noticed the cold. The two men paused to observe the priceless, hand-painted scenery as they walked to center stage, and then halted. Standing there, they looked out over the immense space. The empty red velvet seats and the Tabor Box held their attention for a long time. Presently, the men's conversation came to an abrupt end, and I was intensely aware of the great silence that suddenly came over the building. The silence was eerie. If ever there were ghosts of the past in the Tabor Opera House I could believe that they were there at that moment! Undoubtedly, they had stepped back into memory, reliving the entire incredible Tabor story. Suddenly, the silence was broken by a loud voice. "I've got it; I've got it!" exclaimed one of the men. Back to reality now, they both walked across the stage several more times before they told me that they felt they had just received the inspiration they came for, and they gratefully thanked me, shook my hand and departed. I didn't know it then, but I had just witnessed the birth of that esteemed theater production, "The Ballad Of Baby Doe." -Evelyn Livingston Furman


Horace Austin Warner Tabor was born in Vermont in 1830 to poor parents of English ancestry. In 1857, he married Augusta Pierce, daughter of his employer in Maine. Together, they moved to Kansas to try their hand at farming, then later through Denver to Leadville, Colorado. Horace eventually settled in the Leadville area, running a grocery store and becoming the town's first mayor and second postmaster.

Later, Horace invested in silver mining ventures, including the Matchless Mine, that would make him a multi-millionaire. At the height of his wealth, Horace Tabor was estimated to be worth 10 million dollars, and word of his successes and extravagance rapidly spread throughout the United States.

In 1880, Horace met a young woman by the name of Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt Doe, and the two began a secret relationship. Later that year, Horace left his wife Augusta and sought a divorce. Soon, he and Elizabeth "Baby Doe" were married. However, complications arose when they discovered that his divorce from Augusta had never been legalized. A year later, after a bitter settlement battle, Horace and Augusta were officially divorced, and Augusta moved to California with a generous portion of the Tabor fortune.

Despite his financial success, hardship would eventually find Horace and Baby Doe Tabor. Soon after the repeal of the Sherman Silver Act, the price of silver fell so dramatically, that Tabor lost his fortune, dying in 1899 as poor as the day he was born.


Since HAW Tabor's time, the opera house has hosted many notable talents. Among the most notable have been Houdini, John Philip Sousa, Oscar Wilde, and Anna Held. To preserve this valuable piece of Colorado history restoration projects  are ongoing.  Check out our Restoration Tab for more information




Experience the History First Hand! 

In keeping with the vision to revive the opera house as a community hub, local high school drama students will serve as interpreters for summer tours 

with scripts in the voices of Leadville historical characters written by Colorado historical fiction author Donna Baier Stein.


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