Many Boulderites know Nederland best as the quirky little mountain town they drive through on their way to a day of skiing at Eldora. About sixteen miles west of Boulder on Boulder Canyon Drive, Nederland and its history are actually a series of contradictions that make it extremely unique.
From drastic population booms and declines to being historically defined by industries as stalwart as steel and as vibrant and eclectic as music, Nederland is a place that, for all of its on-the-surface remoteness, is very interconnected to Boulder’s history. Whether you frequent Nederland on the regular or only pass through on your way to a day of skiing or Nordic at Eldora or the Indian Peaks wilderness area, the start of the winter season is a perfect time to get acquainted with this colorful mountain town.
Nestled in a valley created by glaciers thousands of years ago, Nederland was historically an attractive place to settle, with its bountiful water and wildlife. From Native Americans using the land to hunters and trappers looking for beaver pelts in the early 1800s to the first homesteaders who made their way there in the mid-1800s, Nederland was a bountiful and desirable place to be.
Nederland’s most consistent industry throughout its history has been mining. In 1871, the Caribou silver mine was brought to Nederland just as Canyon Drive, connecting the town to Boulder, was completed. The Caribou Mine was then sold to the Mining Company Nederland from Holland in 1873. In the decades that followed, Nederland would experience a shift from silver mining to the mining of tungsten (used to manufacture steel), a town population that ebbed and flowed drastically in direct response to the success of the mining business, and spikes and falls in tourism, highs and lows that would bring it from the brink of dwindling to a ghost town to being heavily populated and back again many times.
Nederland has also been a town of many names throughout its existence. Having been called Dayton, Brownsville, and even Middle Boulder at one point, when the town was officially incorporated in 1874, residents settled on Nederland as a reference to “the Netherlands,” meaning “low lands.” While this might seem ironic, with Nederland’s elevation reaching over 8,000 feet, this was a relative “low land” to the miners who dominated the town’s population, who were frequently at the mines in nearby Caribou, which reached 10,000 feet in elevation.
Nederland is also defined by its colorful and vibrant music scene that it’s fostered since the 1960s and 1970s. The counterculture hippie scene of the 1960s very much thrived in Nederland, and these residents brought a new energy, attitude, and music scene to town. At the famous Caribou Recording Studios, Nederland hosted a huge range of legendary musical names, including Elton John, Neil Young, America, The Eagles, Earth, Wind & Fire, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, and The Beach Boys. This musical energy, even after the recording studio burnt down in the 1980s, never left the area, and it’s a place ripe with bluegrass pickers and creative musical minds into today.
Live music is still a large part of Nederland’s identity. At The Very Nice Brewing Company, live music is a staple, as is creative craft beers that pay homage to the suggestions of their loyal following. The Very Nice Brewing Company often concocts “Crazy Local” Brews, where they utilize the contributions, sometimes literally, of their patrons to incorporate interesting and fresh ingredients into their beer. They also have charity beers, portions of proceeds from which go to local organizations, businesses, and families in need, supporting the local community.
Perhaps the most unique thing Nederland is known for today is their Frozen Dead Guy Days festival held annually, which often garners national and international attention. Marking the end of winter, the festival commemorates Bredo Morstol, a Norwegian man who was cryogenically frozen (yes, Austin Powers-style) upon his death in 1989, and still “resides” frozen in a Tuff Shed in the hills near Nederland. The festival is a wacky collection of frozen frivolity and features coffin races, frozen tee shirt contests, polar plunging activities, and bountiful live music. Next year’s festival is from March 10th – 12th so, if you’re feeling adventurous and are ready to get your weird on, head up to Nederland for some frozen fun.
So the next time you’re approaching Nederland, instead of just passing through, take a moment to think about the history and identity of the town and how it became the quirky place it is today.
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