Fair Play (later Fairplay), was given its name by prospectors in 1859 who wanted the atmosphere of their settlement to contrast with what they viewed as the greediness of the nearby mining settlement of Tarryall. According to local legend, one leader among the miners asserted that “in this camp we’ll have fair play.” The camp was located at a scenic spot near the junction of Beaver Creek and the South Platte River. Fairplay has been called “the first mining camp of any importance in the South Park area.”
In July 1861, the Tarryall newspaper reported that Fairplay had a population of one hundred. The first post office was established on 2 August 1861. During the summers, the camp was alive with miners, but in the winters the site was largely deserted as prospectors left for Denver. On March 26, 1869, Fairplay, due to the fact that its population had doubled within six months, voted to incorporate as a town to be known as “South Park City.” Among those promoting the incorporation was the oldest citizen in the town, Judge Castello, who urged the local population, in both English and French, to change the settlement’s name. The following August, the Rocky Mountain News, ignoring the change of name, reported that “Fairplay is greatly improved since last year. Numerous private dwelling houses have been erected.”
In 1871, Fairplay reported a population of 150 inhabitants. By the following year, travelers through the town noted two hotels filled with guests, booming boarding houses and restaurants, and five stores doing a lively trade. The success of Fairplay seemed assured until tragedy struck the bustling town on September 26, 1873. On that date, a fire swept through the business district, resulting in losses estimated at $100,000. One of the services the town lacked was a fire department, and there was no way to quickly obtain large amounts of water necessary to quench a fire. When the fire was finally extinguished, the inventory of losses was staggering, including the loss of nearly fifty buildings. During the year after the fire the town was rebuilt including construction of the Park County Courthouse, the Catholic Church, and the Sheldon Jackson Memorial Chapel.
Although the long-anticipated rails of the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad were extended across South Park in the summer of 1879, Fairplay was not on the main line of the railroad, having been surpassed in importance by Leadville. The railroad’s goal of tapping the Cloud City as quickly as possible and the difficult terrain involved in reaching Fairplay resulted in its being relegated to a branch line. The branch line, completed in the fall of 1881, backtracked ten miles from Garo to reach the county seat.
By the 1920s, Fairplay had become the largest town in South Park. The Fairplay Hotel was built in 1923 following a 1921 fire which destroyed the 1873 hotel building on the site. The Fairplay railroad station closed in April 1932 due to lack of business. Spurred by a revival in mining, Fairplay grew during the 1930s. The population of Fairplay in 1940 was 739, the highest population recorded by the Census Bureau for the town; 476 inhabitants were counted in the 1950 Census. As mining declined in South Park, so did Fairplay, but today remains a center of commerce and government for the region.