Buena Vista (1879, 7,954 feet), with its splendid view of the Collegiate Range to the west, lives up to its name. Pioneer prospectors, the story goes, named the peaks for their girfriends: Mt. Flossie, Mt. Fannie, Mt. Daisy Mae, Mt. Lulu, and so forth. After Buena Vista developed aspirations to respectability the peaks were renamed Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia in 1896 by I. D. Whitney, a professor of the Harvard University Mining School. Cottonwood Creek and the Arkansas River converge here, as did three railroads. Buena Vista became a raucous center for railroaders, teamsters, cowboys, and miners. The town later lost ore processing, smelting, and railroad business, as well as population and the county seat, to faster-growing Salida.
Buena Vista was laid out as a typical grid railroad town. Unlike most mining towns, which did not “waste” land on parks, Buena Vista created McPhelemy Park, on West Main Street at U.S. 24, a tree-shaded retreat along Cottonwood Creek. Another attraction is the Old Midland Railroad Scenic Route, an abandoned standard-gauge rail grade with spectacular views and stonework, as well as four short, in-line tunnels blasted through solid rock.
Today, agriculture, the state reformatory, and tourists sustain Buena Vista. The well-kept downtown boasts Italianate masonry buildings with elaborate metal cornices. The Buena Vista Hotel (1879), 301 East Main Street, supposedly built by seventy people in one day as the Railroad Hospital and Black Hills Club Room, has been restored as Buena Vista Square. Other Main Street landmarks include the Webb Hotel (1885), 414 East Main, with its cast iron–columned storefront, now a bed and breakfast inn. Palace Manor, as “Cockeyed Liz” Marshall called her bordello, is an Italianate double two doors west of the courthouse. The barrel-vaulted, 600-seat Orpheum Opera House (1910), 411 East Main Street, with a cast stone facade and an exterior in need of restoration, was originally a livery stable, converted most recently to a bank. The so-called Wedge Building (1883), 111 East Main Street, is a two-story brick flatiron building with decorative brick frieze and cornice. Built as a dry goods store, it still has the oversized corner canopy added when it was a gas station before recent conversion to offices.
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