Ute Bill Thompson
Barney McLean
Ute Bill Thompson

Grand County Colorado

History Article Library

 

Explore the History & Culture of Grand County Colorado

Welcome to the Grand County Historical Association (GCHA) stories page!

 

GCHA operates four museums located in Grand County, Colorado: the Cozens Ranch Museum, the Emily Warner Field and Aviation Museum, Heritage Park, and Pioneer Village. Visit https://grandcountyhistory.org.

 

GCHA hosts a variety of events throughout the year, from exhibit openings, author talks, history treks, kids programs, special museum events and fundraisers such as the annual Taste of History. Be sure to subscribe to our Email Newsletter to get the latest updates about what’s happening. Visit the Events page for a complete listing of scheduled events.

 

You'll find over 200 stories to explore for research and inspiration. Let us know if you have an idea or a comment on any of the articles written by over 30 volunteers. Send us a note on the contact form.

 

This website is managed by the Grand County Historical Association. For more information, contact Dede Fay at dedefay@hotmail.com.

 

Articles to Browse

Topic: Mountains

Berthoud Pass

Berthoud Pass was named for Captain Edward L. Berthoud, who completed the first survey of  this saddle in the main Divide in the spring of 1861.

Berthoud’s expedition of eight people, including Jim Bridger, crossed the Continental Divide at the 11,315 foot summit and established a relatively easy way to get into Middle Park from the east. Berthoud also served as chief engineer on the Colorado Central Railroad.

It is surprising that this famous pass had played no previous role in the history of the region. Even Jim Bridger, who knew the country well, did not learn of its existence until the survey. For reasons of their own, Indians had chosen to go over the divide at higher levels further to the north. One explanation may be that the pass is not evident from most locations on either side of the Continental Divide.

Topic: Mining

Mining

Ghost towns and broken dreams are legacies left by the early miners and prospectors of Grand County. Ever since 1879 when the first mines were staked out and claimed on Bowen Mountain near Grand Lake, “gold and silver fever” grew like an epidemic. Men blinded by greed and prospects of a better tomorrow scrambled to the Kawuneeche Valley with picks and shovels to unearth their fortunes. Women worked just as feverishly along side their men and encampments gave way to mining towns almost overnight. Land offices, eateries, and boarding houses sprouted like wild flowers.

Claim jumping became a common practice, resulting in fights and even murders. Most of these injustices would go unpunished, for no one wanted to risk losing their chance of riches. In Grand County the mother load was a false prophecy, as only small quantities of low grade gold, silver, and lead ore were found. In a few short years, Gaskill, Teller City, and Lulu City, three of the more noted settlements, suffered the same fate as the other boom towns. By 1885 the mining boom had ended in Grand County and ranching had taken it’s place as a sustaining industry.

Topic: Skiing

Barney & Margaret McLean

It was the spring of 1924 when an 8-year-old girl from Hot Springs, Ark., arrived in Hot Sulphur Springs by train to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle Hattie and Omar Qualls, homesteaders from Parshall who had recently purchased the Riverside Hotel. It wasn't the first time Margaret Wilson had been to Hot Sulphur. Her father had tuberculosis and was frequently prescribed treatment at the sanatorium on the Front Range. She was 6 years old the first time she made the train trip.

She remembered a boy and girl twin she had befriended on her first visit. When she saw the twins again on this second visit, they told her there was a boy in town who was calling her his girlfriend. His name was Lloyd “Barney” McLean. Margaret made sure to attend the opening of the new school in Hot Sulphur that spring (now the location of Pioneer Village Museum).

When Margaret first laid eyes on her future husband, she wasn't all that impressed. “I immediately knew who he was, and I thought, ‘Ugh.'” He was wearing wool knickers, leather boots, a V-neck sweater and a flat cap. “He had white hair and millions of freckles,” she recalls.

That white-haired boy from Hot Sulphur went on to become one of Grand County's earliest and most heralded Olympic skiers. He and Margaret would eventually travel the world together. They danced with Hollywood stars and shook hands with presidents. But their love story began right there, in a that little neighborhood schoolhouse. “We all had a crush on Barney until Margaret came to town, then it was all over,” one of Margaret's best friends used to say. At some point, she said, the banker's son asked her out, but she found him dull compared to Barney.

Barney was the oldest of 10 children — five boys and five girls. When the family outgrew the house his dad built a tiny shack for Barney in the backyard. Barney was barely big enough to see over the dashboard when he started driving a truck for his father's garage, which was located just up the street from the hotel. He was just 12 years old when he drove a load of dynamite over Trough Road.

There were stories of the brakes overheating on Rabbit Ears Pass and Barney riding down on the fenders in case he had to bail and hairy trips over Berthoud Pass. Margaret said she never realized how good Barney was at skiing. He worked all the time driving the truck (his dad pulled him out of school for good in 10th grade), and he would head straight to the jumping hill in Hot Sulphur after work and wouldn't come home until after dark.

“He didn't have the proper clothing,” Margaret said. “He wouldn't even be able to open the door when he got home and he would stand at the door crying until his mother let him in.” His mother would bring him in, take his boots off and put his feet in a bucket of hot water to thaw them. “For him, it was skiing for the joy of skiing,” Margaret said.

Barney raced on the weekends. Margaret rarely made it out of the restaurant to join him. It never struck her that skiing would someday become her husband's career. “He was never one to blow his own horn,” she said.

He qualified for Nationals in jumping in 1935 at age 17, and his dad gave him a quarter to make the trip. "Here was a kid from a town that nobody had ever heard of who shows up at Nationals and wins it," his only child Melissa McLean Jory said. He qualified for the 1936 Olympics but was badly hurt on a wind-blown landing that winter and missed going.

Margaret returned to Hot Sulphur almost every summer of her life after that, and by the time she was a teenager she was working for her aunt full time. “My friend Telly and I were the best waitresses in the county,” she said.

 

Hot Sulphur had four ski hills back then and Margaret recalls that in February 1936 the Rocky Mountain News sponsored an excursion train to the 25th Annual Winter Carnival in Hot Sulphur. More than 2,000 passengers arrived on three trains that weekend. (That same train later became the official ski train.
“There were no restrooms and no restaurants except for the hotel,” Margaret said. The Riverside was inundated. It was shoulder-to-shoulder people, she recalls.

There wasn't much to do for fun in Hot Sulphur back then, like now, so the young couple would drive up to Grand Lake — to the Pine Cone Inn — on summer nights to dance. It cost 10 cents per dance, and since they didn't have much money, they would have just three dances ... “Oh, Barney could dance,” ... drink a Coke and then drive home. Margaret would wait by the front window of the hotel to watch for Barney, who she knew would be going to meet the train at 11 a.m.

One time, she was out there waiting, the snow was still piled high, and Barney got so caught up looking for Margaret in the window that he nearly ran the truck off the bridge. The only thing that saved him from plummeting into the river was the dual wheel that got stuck in the steel girder.

Barney was 19 in 1937 when the couple married, not old enough for a marriage license and barely able to afford the suit he bought to get married (the first suit he ever owned) not to mention a big wedding. The couple eloped in Denver. Shortly after they married the couple started traveling the country for ski races and Barney switched from ski jumping to slalom. He was named as an alternate for the 1940 Olympic squad after skiing alpine for only two years.

But, then the war came and everybody was signing up. Barney, with his skiing experience, would have been a perfect candidate for the 10th Mountain Division, but another Hot Sulphur friend who had already joined wrote and said, “Don't join this outfit. It's a mess.” So he signed up for the Air Force instead. As luck would have it, somebody recognized his name as it came across his desk, and Barney was assigned to the Army Air Force Arctic Survival School in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where he was in charge of teaching pilots how to survive in snowy conditions should their planes go down.

Margaret came back to Hot Sulphur during the war and worked in the county courthouse. After the war, Barney earned a spot on the 1948 Olympic team. After that, he went on to work for the Groswold ski factory in Denver, losing his amateur status and disqualifying him from FIS ski racing. He was inducted into the US National Ski Hall of Fame in 1959 and the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1978.

Barney had spent his whole life on the snow. He skied all over the world, from Europe to South America. "But Hot Sulphur Springs was always home to him," his daughter said. "He was an ambassador from Hot Sulphur wherever he went."

Barney was 3 years old the first time he skied and he skied the spring before he died — at Mary Jane in 2005 — in a foot of new snow. His grandsons skied down with him, wing men on either side. His health was bad that last time he skied, and he had a hard time walking from the car to the chairlift. But as soon as he hit the top of Mary Jane Trail, everything eased, Melissa said: "He could ski better than he could walk." It was the things that made Barney McLean a world class skier that Margaret loved most: He loved speed. Bumps didn't bother him. And, when faced with a challenge he just picked a line and was gone.

Topic:

Water/Lakes/Reservoirs

Grand County is home to the headwaters of the famed Colorado River - the river that brings water to five other arid Western states.  Water is the lifeblood of semi-arid Colorado and Grand County is one of the most water-rich areas of Colorado, and yet faces a shortage due to historical water agreements, written long before population pressures and the environmental awareness of the current age.  On average, the water diversion projects in the county move a whopping 305,000 acre-feet per year from the Fraser, Colorado and Williams Fork rivers - all headwaters of the Colorado's main stem.

60 percent of the water in Grand County is diverted elsewhere and there are plans underway, mostly from Front Range communities, to divert as much as 80 percent of the county's headwaters by the year 2010.  Two of the main water utilities, Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District face a quandary: how to take the water from Grand County without further damaging the delicate environment and the region's economy, which is fueled by tourists who expect to play in the very water the Front Range wants to take.


More on water issues in Grand County

Topic: Mountains

Mountains

The mountains of Grand County may not boast any of the famous “fourteeners“ (14,000 feet and above), but Middle Park is defined by some of the most majestic ranges in the state. These include parts of the Front Range, Gore Range, Rabbit Ears Range, and the Williams Fork Mountains.  

The only range Grand County can call entirely it's own is The Never Summer Range.  It's highest point is Mount Richthofen (12,940 feet).  Other major peaks include: Mount Howard (12,810 feet), Mount Cirrus (12,797 feet), Mount Nimbus (12,706 feet), and Nokhu Crags (12,485 feet). The name Never Summer is translated from the Arapahoe name, Ni-chebe-chii, which means “the place of No Never Summer“.  The cloud names of Cirrus and Nimbus, and Stratus and Cumulus were the idea of James Grafton Rogers, a founder of the Colorado Mountain Club.  

The Never Summer Range stretches for ten miles from Cameron Pass to Bowen Mountain.  This range is darker and harder due the tremendous heat produced when the peaks were a localized center of volcanic activity.

Topic: Biographies
Winter Park Ski Shop, Joyce and George Engel

George & Joyce Engle

Winter Park Ski Shop, Joyce and George Engel

Here is the story of how Joyce and George Engel became legends in Winter Park and Fraser. In 1945, Winter Park Resort hired George Engel as their very first paid ski patroller.  Little could George have known that this job would lead him to his wife, Joyce Hanna, disembarking from a ski train, and together they would call Winter Park and the Fraser Valley their home for life. Along with Joyce and their daughters, the Engel Family would have a lasting influence not only on Winter Park Resort but on the Fraser Valley community as well.

In the year following his hiring as Winter Park’s ski patroller, George Engel took on different responsibilities at the ski area, such as plowing the parking lot and collecting rental fees in the bunkhouse.  Gordy Wren and Frank Bulkley formed Colorado Outings in 1946 and started the ski school at Winter Park.  As director of the ski school, Gordy Wren hired George Engel as a ski instructor. That same year George passed one of the first ski instructor certification exams ever held.  By 1949, the Professional Ski Instructors of America was formed and Engel held pin # 12.

Gordy Wren was busy practicing for the 1948 Olympics and consequently sold his share in Colorado Outings.  This gave George Engel the opportunity to buy into the company and he became director and eventually sole owner of the ski school. George added the Winter Park Ski Shop onto the ski school.  

George met the love of his life, Joyce Hanna in 1951 as she disembarked from the Winter Park Ski Train.  Joyce, with two BA degrees from the University of Colorado, was ready to ski and work.  After dating for three weeks, George proposed to his future bride and business partner. The Winter Park Ski School under George’s leadership, and the Winter Park Ski Shop with Joyce at the helm, became fixtures of the ski area. George and Joyce’s two daughters grew up on the slopes.

Daughters Wendy and Janet tell wonderful stories from when the family lived in an apartment above the Winter Park Ski Shop.  After Winter Park Resort bought the ski school in 1982, they demolished the shop and apartment to make way for the West Portal Station.

Along with skiing, another Engel passion was horses which led to their acquiring 40 acres along County Road 5 where they built Casa de Engel.  From their ranch, the Engels helped to establish the Winter Park Horseman’s Association and the High Country Stampede Rodeo at John Work Arena in Fraser.    Naturally, Janet Engel became a rodeo star. The Engels were also involved with the Middle Park Fair and Rodeo for decades.

As community leaders, the Engels transformed Winter Park Resort and the Fraser Valley. They helped start the Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and the Winter Park Sanitation District.  Joyce Engel was a founder of the Grand County Concert Series bringing live classical music to this rural community.  In 1968, George Engel was instrumental in bringing the National Sports Center for the Disabled to Winter Park. The family’s wide-ranging passions enrich all our lives then, now and into the future.   

 

Topic: Mountains

Mountain Names

While the origin of the names of many mountains in Grand County has been lost to history, we do know the source of many of the more notable mountains.  The name originations of some mountains of Grand County are as follows:   Adams Peak – Named for either Jay E. Adams who owned a cottage in Grand Lake or Alexander and Louise Adams, original owners of the Grand Lake Lodge.  

Mount Alice – 13,110 ft. – Named in 1911 by request of geologist Dr. William S. Cooper.  Who “Alice” was, was not explained.   Arapaho Peak – Named for the Arapaho Indian tribe who frequented Grand County during hunting season.   Arikaree Peak – Named for the Arikaree Indian tribe by James Grafton Rogers in 1955.   Baker Mountain – Named for John Baker from Indiana, a well known prospector and hunter of the 1850’s and 1860’s.  

Bills Peak – Named after an early settler in the area whose last name was not known.   Bottle Mountain – Named for the bottle shape of the mountain, three miles north of Byers Peak.   Byers Peak – 12,790 ft. – Named for William N. Byers, publisher and editor of the Rocky Mountain News and early promoter of Hot Sulphur Springs.   Mountain Cairns – 10,800 ft. – Named for James Cairns, first storekeeper at Grand Lake.   West Carter Peak and North Carter Peak– Believed to have been named for a member of the original U.S. Geological Survey team.   Cascade Mountain – Also known as Loder Mountain, popularly named for cascading stream.  

The Cleaver – Believed named by early settlers for location between two other peaks.   Coal Mountain – Named for visible coal seam.   Mount Cumulus – 12,725 ft. – Named for cloud formation resemblance.  One of three “cloud” peaks.   Diamond Mountain – Named for rumors of diamonds found there or its shape.  Located four miles East of Muddy Pass.   Mount Epworth – Believed named for a Methodist youth group founded in 1889.  Located east of Rollins Pass.  

Fairview Mountain – Named for scenic view.  Located ½ mile south of Parika Peak.   Mount Flora – Named for fields of flowers on mountain.   Mount George – 12,876 – Named for Dr. R.D. George, a geologist.  Its north spur is Lone Eagle Peak.   Green Mountain – Named for the green trees covering the mountain.   Grouse Mountain – Named for the grouse that inhabit the area.   Hallett Park – 12,713 – Named for William H. Hallett who lived from 1851 to 1947.  The mountain was named in 1887.  

Howard Mountain – Named for John Howard, a prospector.  The mountain was named in 1880.   Mount Irving Hale – Named for Brigadier General Hale who lead Colorado troops in the Philippines during the Spanish American War.  Hale was a member of the first graduating class at Denver High School and won an appointment to West Point.  Camp Hale, near Leadville, was a training site for World War II ski troops and was also named for him.

Topic:

Granby

Article contributed by Betty Jo Woods

Granby was settled in 1904 and incorporated the next year. The town was created along the railroad line being built by Denver, Northwestern & Pacific, and was a connection with the stage route to Grand Lake.

The Granby site was also chosen because of the dry ground and and good view of the surrounding mountains. The town was named in appreciation of the services of Denver attorney Granby Hillyer, who worked to lay out the town site.

Its central location makes it a natural trade center for east Grand County. Specialty truck farming, principally lettuce, became a major crop for Granby. At the peak of the market, the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City proudly advertised Granby Head Lettuce on its menus. Later, after WW II, Granby was called the “Dude Ranch Capital of the World.” Today the town offers a mix of recreational amenities and residential charm.

Sources:
R.C. Black, Island in the Rockies. Pruett Publishing Company, 1969

Topic: Railroads

Train Legends of the Moffat Road

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

The railroaders graded and bridged the trails originally made by the Indians and expanded by the trappers, prospector and stage road builders that following in rapid succession. The

Moffat Road
train track has an almost endless series of wreck stories and legends.  In one, a "green clerk" was said to have piled all the mail order catalogs on the same side of a car, causing the train to leave the tracks and roll down the mountainside into Yankee Doodle Lake.

 

In another lost train story, the No. 3 westbound was seven hours late out of Denver because of a severe winter blizzard.  It crept out of the Fraser Canyon and whistled for the Granby Crossing.  The engineer parked the train intending to wait till daylight to continue on.  In the meantime, the No. 2 eastbound, 2 days late out of Craig reached Corona without passing the No. 3. In the morning, all were amazed to find the train parked "plumb center" of Granby's main street. Later investigation showed that the No. 3 train left the train tracks just east of Granby and traveled almost a mile over frozen highway.  The next day a Chinook wind came up and melted the frozen soil, sinking the train to it's axles in mud. It required the building of 1500 feet of special track to salvage the train. However, some longtime Granby residents say the locale of this incident was the Kremmling flats.

 

Sources: Roland L. Ives, Folklore of Middle Park Colorado,Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXXIV, Nos. 211, 212, 1941; Levette J. Davidson & Forrester Blake, Rocky Mountain Tales, University of Oklahoma Press, 1947

     

 

Topic: Dude Ranches

Dude Ranches

Starting in the late 1870s, ranchers took in guests to supplement their income during hard times. Early adventure-seekers from the East made the long rail journey to the wilds of Middle Park in search of big game and unspoiled mountain scenery. With few accommodations available, travelers looked to frontier families for room and board. Ranchers soon discovered guests, or “dudes” as they came to be known, would pay to fix fences, ride horses, work cattle and sleep in tents....sometimes for an entire summer! Entertainment was eventually incorporated into the guest experience.

Located on the stage stop between Georgetown and Hot Sulphur Springs, William Z. Cozens was the first rancher in Grand County to provide room and board to travelers starting as early as 1874. The Lehman and Sheriff families also ran well-known turn of the century dude ranches. The years following World War I were the height of the dude ranch era. By the late 1950s, Granby had as many as ten guest ranches between Granby and Grand Lake with others scattered throughout the county. Today Grand County is still home to six dude ranches, which attract visitors from all over the world for their western charm, high-quality accommodations, horseback riding programs and superb fly fishing.