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The town was founded in 1859 during the Pike's Peak Gold Rush by George and David Griffith, two prospectors from Kentucky. It was named "Georgetown" in honor of the older of the two brothers. Although founded during the gold rush, the town grew rapidly following the discovery of silver on September 14, 1864, by James Huff at a site approximately 8 miles (13 km) up the canyon in the Argentine Pass area. In the following years, thousands of mines were dug in the mountains surrounding the town and the town quickly grew into a center for prospectors and mine workers in the surrounding mountains. Located in the valley floor, the town itself was not a mining camp but a center of commerce and entertainment for miners in the surrounding mountains.

Georgetown was incorporated on January 10, 1868, and a few months later it wrested the county seat from nearby Idaho Springs, which is a larger community today. The historic courthouse dates from this year. Georgetown is the only Colorado municipality that still operates under a charter from the Territory of Colorado. The building of the narrow gaugeColorado Central Railroad up the canyon from Golden in the 1870s further increased the central position of the town. Although most of the railroad was later removed, a portion remained between the town and Silver Plume and is operated today as a tourist railroad called the Georgetown Loop. The town experienced its greatest growth and prosperity during the Colorado silver boom of the 1880s when it rivaled Leadville to the west as the mining capital of Colorado. At one time, before the collapse of the silver boom in 1893, the town population exceeded 10,000, and a movement arose briefly among local citizens to move the state capital there from Denver.

The frontier gambler, Poker Alice, lived for a time in Georgetown and in several other Colorado communities where she was considered an expert player and dealer.

Following the collapse of the Silver Boom, the town population dwindled. In the 1950s the town began to experience a small renaissance as an après-ski watering hole for the thousands of skiers who passed through the town on their way down from the mountains at the ski areas near Loveland Pass and Guanella Pass. Small craft shops began to set up businesses in the once decrepit 19th century storefronts. By the late 1960s, the establishment of a museum in one of the historic hotels had made the town a popular summer tourist destination where visitors could relive the experience of walking among structures from the mining boom.

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