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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: True Crime

Spider House Tragedy

Nestled on a quiet lane in Old Grand Lake City sits the intricately crafted home of Warren C. and Mary O’Brien Gregg, known today as the Spider House – a testament to a remarkable woodcraftsman and his tormented wife.

Warren (Watt to his friends) was a dreamer and in the 1870s he left his first wife and a young son in Wisconsin and headed for the Colorado Territory seeking his fortune in the mines of Gilpin County.  Upon returning to Wisconsin his first wife died of fever, leaving Warren a widower with a small son.  Holding tight to his dreams of the west, Warren eventually ended up in his native Indiana where he met and married 20 year-old Mary O’Brien, in 1884.   By 1888 Warren packed his new family into a prairie schooner and headed west.  Like so many other pioneer women before her, Mary bore a child along the trail, a second son whose short life would send Mary down a dark and tortured path. 

The family arrived in Middle Park late in the summer of 1888, built a small homestead on the eastern slope of the Stillwater drainage and the newborn died shortly thereafter.  Though the years would bring more children, Mary would never quite recover from the loss of her second son. They continued to scratch out a living in this harsh and isolated land, where winters were long and supplies were meager. 

Warren spent much of his time searching for game and exploring this new country. The Gregg’s moved numerous times, finally purchasing a plot of land from Old Judge Wescott on the west side of the lake.  Warren built his family an admirable house, with intricate detail and spider-like webs of wooden elements.  Despite the warmth and comfort of this new home, and the close proximity of neighbors, Mary’s depression deepened. 

Then on a sunny Sunday in 1904, while Warren was working in his woodshop and oldest son Lloyd was having Sunday dinner at Judge Westcott’s, Mary took a gun to her four remaining children and then turned the weapon on herself.  The children died instantly while Mary lingered on for four days.  The five victims of this tragedy, one girl, three boys and Mary herself are buried together in one grave in the Grand Lake Cemetery.

Warren lived in the Spider House for another 29 years. With his son Lloyd, he continued building homes and stone fireplaces.  He succumbed to heart failure in 1933.  Mary O’Brien Gregg finally found peace in the quiet grace of the little town cemetery surrounded by her children.  Almost a century later, as the tall pines whisper their mournful winter song, the Spider House still sits nestled on that quiet little lane.

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: 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:

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: Regions

Three Lakes

The Three Lakes area encompasses the north-east corner of Grand County and is so named because of the three connected lakes of Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir. 

The two reservoirs were formed as a part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which takes water from Grand Lake on the western side of the Continental Divide to the Big Thompson River on the east.  Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir. connected by a   unique pumping plant, assure that the Grand Lake water level remains consistent. Further reservoirs were added in the Three Lakes area, including the Willow Creek and Windy Gap Reservoirs.

Maggie and Jimmy Crawford

Maggie and Jimmy Crawford came to Middle Park in the summer of 1874 with their three children. They were given a piece of property and built a one room sod roofed cabin in Hot Sulphur Springs. They were probably the first family to stay the winter in Middle Park.

As they settled in for a long hard winter, Jimmy continued exploring lands to the west.  He found prime land near a spring that made a unique chugging noise.  That sound reminded him of the steamboats on the Missouri River back home.

After that winter, Maggie returned to Missouri with her family, while Jimmy built a cabin on the new filing, which would later become known as Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

By 1876, Maggie and the children were back in Colorado, and the family became founding members of that new community.
 

Topic: Places

Place Names of Grand County

Because Grand County has such a rich history, many names reflect that important heritage. Traveling East to West from town-to-town, here are a few historical tidbits to think about.  

Winter Park came into being around 1923. Several names to identify the place were used over the years, including West Portal, Hideaway Park, Vasquez, Woodstock, and even "Little Chicago" because of gambling and other activities. The City of Denver bought land in 1939. Winter Park officially opened in 1940. According to "Colorado Place Names" by George R. Eichler, with the assistance of Denver Mayor, Benjamin F. Stapleton, the town changed its name to "Winter Park" to publicize the establishment of the city's winter sports centers.

Iron Horse Resort and Zephyr Mountain Lodge reflect the importance of the railroad in the development of Grand County. Newer condominiums also reflect the heritage of the area. Sawmill Station, Teller City and more recently, Telemark, are a few examples. "Telemark is named after the traditional method of skiing," said a Telemark Townhomes representative. Red Quill townhomes, according to broker and owner Mike Ray of Century 21 Real Estate in Winter Park, are named after President Eisenhower's favorite fishing fly lure. "He found the Red Quill pattern particularly effective on St. Louis Creek while visiting and fishing with Axel Neilsen at the Byers Peak Ranch." Van Anderson Drive, according to Jan Smith, a Realtor at Century 21 of Winter Park and longtime local, is named after the first mayor of Winter Park. He developed the Hideaway Village, including the condos, Filings 1 and 2 and Hideaway Village South.  


Vasquez Road, according to well-known historian, Abbott Fay, is named after Louis Vasquez, an early fur trader. Woodspur and even Woodstock, one of the early names attributed to the town of Winter Park, referred to Billy Wood's lumber mill which furnished Rollins Pass railroad ties.

Fraser was originally spelled "Frazier" for Reuben Frazier, an early Grand County Settler. Postal authorities adopted the simpler spelling when the post office was established. Doc Susie Avenue is named for Susan Anderson, M.D. "Doc Susie," a pioneer physician who came to the area in 1907. She served the citizens of Grand County faithfully until she died in Fraser at the age of 90. Fraser's Eastom Avenue is named after George Eastom, who founded the town. The Eastom family from Ohio built an important lumber mill. Mill Avenue also reflects those early lumber days. Eisenhower Drive is named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who enjoyed visiting the area especially for fishing. Ptarmigan is a grouse with feathered feet particularly found in the cold, mountainous regions. And, for Wapiti Drive/Lane, Wapiti is an elk. Zerex Street, according to Susan Stone of the Fraser Visitor Center, is named after the antifreeze product which was tested at "the Icebox of the Nation."

Tabernash is on the homestead of 1882 pioneer Edward J. Vulgamott. By 1905, the enclave came into existence because of its location during the building of the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad. E.A. Meredith, chief engineer, named the town after the Ute Native American called Tabernash who was killed earlier by a white man named "Big Frank." Junction Ranch, built by Quincy Adams Rollins, according to noted historian Abbott Fay, was an important stop on the Idlewild Stage line which could accommodate up to 50 travelers.

Granby was founded in 1905, named after attorney Granby Hillyer, who assisted David Moffat and Frontier Land and Investment Company with the incorporation. Granby landmark, Kaibab Park was donated by the Kaibab Company. According to former local postmistress Carole Clark, during the 1940s, Broderick Wood Products Company had a large sawmill with housing for their workers where the current ball fields are now located. Selak Drive is named after the Selak family, who ran a large Granby Merchantile. Before Granby, the Selak post office and general store provided service from June 1883 to September 1893 on the nearby Selak Ranch.
Ouray Ranch, a residential community located off US. Highway 34, was the original home of the YMCA Camp Chief Ouray until the early 1980s when the YMCA sold the land and relocated to Snow Mountain Ranch outside of Granby on US Highway 40. Chief of the Ute Indians, Ouray was born in Colorado in 1820. He was noted for his friendship with the white settlers.

Grand Lake was established by hardy pioneers in 1879. Joseph L. Wescott, was the first white settler-prospector. Grand Lake was founded as a mining settlement by the Grand Lake Town & Improvement Company. As the mines played out, tourism and focus on Grand Lake, Colorado's largest natural body of water, took center stage. Cairns Avenue, according to Jane Kemp, granddaughter of James Cairns, is named for him. In 1881, he ran a general store. He extended credit for supplies to many of the miners who left town without paying him. With unpaid bills and depleted stock, Cairns then homesteaded a ranch to sell hay to freighters for their horses. He trapped bears for their shaggy skins to sell. All the while he kept his store open. A mountain peak bears his name, also.  

Columbine Lake is named after the Colorado State Flower. Kinnikinnick is a Native American term used to describe mixtures of Indian tobacco.  West Portal Road leads to the west portal of the Alva B. Adams Tunnel, which since 1947 delivers Grand County-Western Slope water to farmers on the Front Range as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Hot Sulphur Springs, established in 1860 is named for the famous hot springs in the area. (Colorado Place Names) Ute and Arapaho tribes used the hot springs for their "healing waters." Byers Avenue is named after William N. Byers, founder of the Denver Rocky Mountain News. He wanted to create a spa resort modeled after Saratoga in New York.

Moffat Avenue-Several streets in Grand County are named after David Moffat, the pioneer railroading legend, who started the Moffat tunnel and brought predictable rail service to Grand County with his "true-grit" determination.

Parshall, according to Colorado Place Names, was established in 1907 when a Mr. Dow set up a small store and circulated a petition for a post office. The name "Parshall" honored a local pioneer. Postal authorities accepted it as no other post office had that name in the entire county.

Kremmling established in 1881 according to Colorado Place Names, the town's beginning was a general merchandise store run by Kare Kremmling, (The Chamber of Commerce web site says Mr. Kremmling was named Rudolph and the town was established in 1884) located on a ranch on the north bank of the Muddy River. When Aaron and John Kinsey platted their ranch and called the site Kinsey City, Kremmling moved his store across the river to a new site which soon became known as "Kremmling."

Radium had a post office as early as 1906. Harry S. Porter, a prospector and miner, suggested the name because of the radium content in a mine he owned near the town. The community was settled by Tim Mugrage and his family.

Topic: Biographies

William Byers

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

Born in Ohio in 1831, William Byers became a surveyor in Iowa, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington during the 1850's.  He described himself later as "a mountain tramp". In 1859, he hauled a printing press to the new town of Denver, where he founded the Rocky Mountain News. He also served as postmaster of the settlement.

He was enthusiastic about the mining prospects of Colorado, and wrote endless editorials about the wealth to be found in the mountains to the West.  However, many disappointed prospectors took to referring to Byers newspaper as the "Rocky Mountain Liar".  Among his promotions was the idea that the South Platte River could be made navigable. That vision never became reality due to the size of the river. He wrote inflammatory articles against Indians which contributed to the infamous Sand Creek Massacre, a slaughter of peaceful natives by Colorado militia in 1864.

Fascinated by the co-called "boiling springs" in Middle Park, Byers managed to obtain rudimentary land titles from Indian claimants and promoters to establish the town of Hot Sulphur Springs in 1863.

Byers developed Hot Sulphur Springs into what was probably Colorado's first resort town.  He also tried to grow grapes and other commercial garden crops in Grand County, with little or no success.  He invested in sawmills and was part owner with William Cozens of the Hilry Harry & Company "Brand H" ranch.

In 1901, at the age of 70, Byers undertook the ascent of the peak which had been named for him by the official Hayden survey.  The next year he donated land for the Grand County Courthouse in Hot Sulphur Springs

William Byers died in 1903.  His fame is preserved in the names of Byers Canyon, Byers Peak and the town of Byers. He was one of the founders of the Colorado Historical Society, which owns the Byers-Evans House, a historical museum in Denver.  There is a stained glass window of his portrait in the Colorado State Capitol building.

Sources: Don and Jean Griswold, Colorado's Century of Cities, Denver CO 1958.

Thomas J. Noel, The Colorado Almanac, Portland, OR 2001

Samuel Bowles, The Switzerland of America, Springfield, MA, 1869

Robert C. Black, Island in Rockies, Boulder CO, 1968

Lulita Pritchett, Maggie By My Side, Steamboat Springs CO, 1976

Dougall MacDonald, Long's Peak: Colorado's Favorite Fourteener, Englewood CO, 2004

Carl Ubbelokdre, Maxine Benson and Duane Smith, A Colorado History, Boulder CO 1972

Alice Reich and Thomas Steel, Fraser Haps and Mishaps, Denver CO  1990 

 

Topic: Regions

Middle Park

Middle Park is one of three big parks in the Colorado Rockies and covers a large portion of Grand County. Like North Park and South Park on either side, Middle Park is a large open area of  meadows, river valleys, woodlands, surrounded by mountains. It is also the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River.

The first printed account of Middle Park was written in 1839 describing abundant antelope, deer, big horn sheep, bears, buffalo and elk. The word “parc” is of French origin and so it is logical to assume that French trappers named this location.

In 1819 the Adams-Onis Treaty partitioned Middle Park so that Fraser, Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs, had they existed, would become part of the United States; however, Kremmling would have belonged to Spain! Later, Kremmling would have been part of Texas.

While political boundaries have changed, the beauty of the park remains the same. As Middle Park is entirely surrounded by mountains, Robert C. Black, who wrote the area’s definitive history, chose to call his book, Island in the Rockies.

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.