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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: 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: Towns

Fraser

The origin of Fraser was in 1905 and it was incorporated in 1953. It was formerly known as Eastom, for George Eastom, who laid out the town site in 1871. The spelling of Fraser was originally Frazier, after Reuben Frazier. The town came into being because it was the site of a large sawmill and was a railroad terminus for the lumbering operation.

While Fraser was generally considered to be an isolated mountain outpost, at one point there was enough cultural interest to support a local opera house.  Fraser was the location of a weather station for several years and during that time it was not uncommon for the winter temperatures to be 45 to 50 degrees below zero; one Fraserite remembers a morning when it was 60 degrees BELOW zero. Thus the town earned the nickname “Icebox of the Nation.” After a legal battle, that offical title went to a town in Minnesota.

A transcontinental motor route dubbed the Midland Trail came through Grand County and by 1913 a Ford sales agency was located outside of Fraser on the 4 Bar 4 Ranch. Avid fly fisherman President Eisenhower was a frequent visitor between 1948 and 1955.

Ninety Four Winters So Far

January, 1911.  Five years ago they were teenagers in Torsby, Sweden, oblivious to the sweeping changes that history and hope would bring to their lives.   Now they’re in a mountain valley halfway around the world from their Scandinavian homeland, marveling at the tiny bundle of flesh and spirit who has just joined their family. It’s the coldest week of the year in one of the coldest spots in America, but there’s a fire crackling in the woodstove, and their hearts are warm with love for each other and their firstborn child.   For the next few days, a parade of fellow Swedes stop by to pay their respects to the newest resident of the town of Fraser: Elsie Josephine Goranson.  

February, 1918.  It’s barely dawn, and a blizzard is howling across the valley, piling snow against the sturdy wooden house.  George Goranson puts on his boots and woolen overcoat and trudges towards the barn.  There are cows to milk and horses to feed.  There are no days off.  Meanwhile, in the house, 7-year old Elsie stokes the perpetual fire in the cook stove, while her mother grinds the beans for a second pot of strong coffee.  Later they will make sour cream cookies.   Her younger brother Hill is sick in bed with influenza.  He will survive.  Many others will not.   

March, 1925.  The logging camps are humming, the Moffat Tunnel is under construction, and the valley is brimming with workers and their hard earned pay.  Fraser merchants and boarding houses are doing a brisk business, as are the local bootleggers.  Elsie is waiting tables at the “Victory Café”, named for its proximity to the new coast-to-coast “Victory Highway” that passes through town, and each morning she serves breakfast to the nice looking (if scantily clad) girls from the corner house of ill repute.  Soon the local vigilante committee will force these ladies of the night to leave town, but for now it’s business as usual, and Fraser is hopping.   In fact, “Russell’s Riot Squad” is playing at a dance tonight at the Thomas Hotel.  

April, 1927.  Sleigh bells jangle as a team of horses pulls four young couples down valley to a dance in Tabernash, the most happening town in the county.  The roundhouse is there, as are the wages of engineers and brakemen who guide the trains over Rollins Pass.  There is even a movie house, where Elsie saw her first moving picture, “Jackie Coogan”. As the sleigh glides across the moonlit snow, Elsie feels a mix of excitement and nervousness.  This is her first date with Chuck Clayton, a hardworking man from Oklahoma. Chuck is handsome as he steals glances through the cold night air, but her Dad doesn’t approve of his drinking and gambling.  Other dates will follow: motor trips in a Model A Roadster to Garden of the Gods, picnics in Rocky Mountain National Park, and plenty of dancing.  “I’ll never marry you,” she tells him everyday.  “Yes you will,” he insists.  

May, 1933.  One child underfoot and another in the belly, and Elsie Clayton is tired.  Chuck bought a house for 20 dollars and used the lumber to build a hamburger stand (soon café and bar) right along the newly paved Highway 40, the main route from Denver to San Francisco.  For the next 38 years, their lives will be a blur of ham and eggs, New Year’s Eve parties, and a long medley of songs on the jukebox.  The school bus will stop there, as will the “Steamboat Stagecoach” bus line, and three generations of folks looking for a home cooked meal or glass of beer.  There will be marathon cribbage games, war stories, and “Friday Night Fights” watched live on the first television in town.  Despite the booze and boxing, Clayton’s Café and Bar will be known as a family establishment, especially compared to the “Fraser Bar”, a.k.a. the “Bloody Bucket”, where a love triangle will one day lead to murder.  

June, 1945.  It’s 4:30 a.m.  Elsie tiptoes downstairs and into the café.  She brews coffee, warms up the grill, then sits and enjoys a rare moment of relaxation before her workday begins.  In the distance, a steam locomotive blows its whistle as it chugs towards town.  Before her life is over, nearly a half million trains will pass through Fraser, an endless stream of rumbling horsepower that conjures up different images as the years pass by: trains bringing home soldiers from the Great War; trains loading up ranchers’ fattened cattle in the fall; trains delivering newspapers and mail; trains colliding head on in the Fraser flats; a train’s whistle frantically blowing to alert sleeping townspeople to a midnight fire; streamlined diesel trains ushering in a new era, and countless coal trains, hauling the carbon wealth of Western Colorado to the factories and power plants of far off cities.  

July, 1950.  Summer’s here, and all are invited to the town picnic down by the Fraser River.  Aging Swedish bachelors will be there, sipping steel cans of Coors and swapping stories of crosscut saws and the rowdy “Lapland” logging camps up St. Louis Creek.  Young men will dance with young women.  Young men will start fistfights with other young men.  Navajo railroad workers will perform a rain dance. Children will play Audie Murphy in the riverside willows and drink Coca Cola from thick glass bottles.  Meanwhile, the deluxe brick barbecue will sizzle as Elsie spreads mayonnaise on buns and Chuck flips burgers and jokes with friends.      

August, 1953.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower is coming to town to fish and relax.  “We come Ike” banners wave in the breeze as the motorcade turns off Highway 40 and onto the dusty gravel of Main Street.  Cheers erupt and flashbulbs pop as a smiling Ike emerges from his limo and waves to the crowd of 300.  It is the biggest day in Fraser history, but Elsie sees none of it, for even as her husband, the Mayor of Fraser, is welcoming the leader of the free world to town, she’s in the cafe tending to the crush of reporters and tourists who’ve come to see an American hero.   Tomorrow, after the excitement dies down, she’ll personally deliver two of her homemade pies to the President, who will rave about the perfect crust.   

September, 1971.  Retired.  Chuck and Elsie sit on the porch of their new home on the edge of town, watching cows graze just beyond the fence, and taking in the unobstructed view of Byers Peak.  Labor Day has come and gone, and now town is peaceful, the highway quiet.  Freed from the busy schedule she’s kept for decades, Elsie will soon embark on a reading frenzy and will begin to keep a modest journal of the days’ events:  A Grandchild born, an illness in the family, an exceptionally cold morning.  Chuck busies himself planting trees, tending a garden, and mowing his spacious lawn.  Tomorrow they will pack a picnic lunch and drive the Denver Water Board roads in search of raspberry bushes.   

October, 1978.  Today is Chuck and Elsie’s 50th wedding anniversary.  It’s a perfect day, sunny and warm, Indian summer if there ever was such a thing.  The mountains shimmer beneath a blanket of fresh snow.  Hay meadows glow golden beneath the cloudless sky.  Family and friends gather in the yard for photos before heading to the Crooked Creek Saloon, formerly Clayton’s Cafe and Bar, for a long afternoon of celebration and reminiscing.   

November, 1999.  After 71 years of marriage, Chuck has passed on, and Elsie is suddenly alone.  She sits at her dining room table, peering out the frost fringed window at the town she was born in, the town she has lived in her whole life.  The ridge she once sledded down is covered with condominiums.  The willowed wetland where her brother trapped muskrats has become a large parking lot.  Her father’s horse pasture is now a shopping center.  Everything has changed, yet memories remain, taking on a life of their own.  Horses still pull wagonloads of hay up the highway.  Loggers come in from the woods every Saturday night for revelry and roulette.  A young couple poses for a photo in front of their new cafe.  A sharp axe splits a chunk of pine.  Life goes on.   

December, 2004.  Christmas Eve.  There is plenty of food, including the homemade potato sausage that’s been served at every family Christmas for centuries, and plenty of gifts stacked beneath the brightly lit tree.  Elsie sits at the head of the table, quietly marveling at this clan she has wrought.  Her surviving children are here, as are her grandchildren, some of who have grandchildren of their own.  Five generations of family pour gravy on potatoes and crack jokes.  As she looks at their faces, she remembers her own parents, her grandparents, and her husband.  Everyone is here.   In a few minutes, in a ritual as old as Elsie can remember, her great-great grandkids will hand out presents, and the house will resound with laughter.  

Winner of  the “One Grand Essay” contest 2005

Topic: Grand County

Grand County

Grand County was established in 1874 by the Territory of Colorado, thus becoming a county two years before Colorado became a state. It was named for the Grand River, the name by which the Colorado River was known at that time. The headwaters of the today’s Colorado River are in Grand County. The county was formed from a portion of Summit County but acquired its current boundaries in 1877, when part of the Grand County was used to create Routt County. The county seat is Hot Sulphur Springs. The area of 1,854 square miles consists of meadows, river valleys and mountains.

Topic: Regions

The Troublesome

Tradition holds that an army party led by one Lt. Col Johns gave the name of Troublesome to what had sometimes been called Oties Creek.  The Army was plotting a road in 1865 and had to go north to the forks of the East and West Troublesome in order to cross it, because of the soft soil, thereby being a “troublesome” creek.  Some historians claim that mountain man “Colorado Charley” Utter had built a cabin on the creek in 1861, which became a popular stopping place for early hunters and trappers in the region.  Another report credits John S. Jones of Empire with a cabin near the mouth of the Blue River, a few miles away, that same year.

Among the earliest settlers on the Troublesome were Barney Day, Henry King and Martin “Dock” McQueary, who had a cabin there in 1871.  In 1878, a post office was established at the King home. 

By the end of the century, many ranches had been established at on Troublesome Creek.  Farthest upstream was the remote George Hendricks ranch, difficult to reach year round and totally cut off from the rest of the world during winter snow.  Mrs. Hendricks had a large library and gave her children a sound education prior to their high school years in Kremmling. 

Among the most prominent ranches were those of George and Forrest Wheatly.  Probably the largest ranch (3000 acres) was that of the family of Con Ritschard, lying just north of current day U.S. Highway 40 east of Troublesome Creek.

Life was hard for the settlers in the area.  Like much of Grand County, the soil was frozen as deep as eight feet in the winter.  One memoir noted that when there was a death in the winter, the corpse was placed in the roof of a cabin, well swathed, until the spring thaw allowed for permanent burial.

There was a six year school (second to seventh grade) and a post office established at Pearmont about half way up the Troublesome, in the 1920s.  This area was named for local settler Gus Pearson.

Ranching was not the only pursuit along the Troublesome Creek.  Settler Roy Polhamos grew lettuce and shipped it through the Granby Cooperative to Denver.  He also had a potato contract with one of the Denver grocers.  Other growers contributed to the 125 refrigerated train carloads of lettuce that were shipped from Granby in 1924.  By 1929, 34 farmed from Granby to Troublesome netted $46,000, a highly respectable profit in those days.

Topic: Biographies

Nathaniel "Nathan" Shore

Nathaniel "Nathan" Shore was born in Cottonwood Harbor Canada in 1856. When he was about 16 years old he had visited and then worked as a freighter hauling groceries to different towns in western Colorado. He saved enough money to purchase his own wagons and 2 yoke of oxen for each wagon to continue freighting.

Nathan became famous as a man who carried his Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. Nathan returned to visit his family and met Sarah Jones in Springfield Missouri. They were married in 1885. Their trip to Colorado and the Williams Fork was undertaken with Sarah driving a team of horses pulling a covered wagon and Nathan herding their few cows.

The cows helped start a homestead ranch east of the Williams Fork river. In 1907 they sold the homestead ranch to the Curtis Family. They had purchased the Anders Anderson ranch close to Williams Peak and the Joseph Jackson ranch on Bull Run Creek.

They lived on the Anderson place until the forest fire that burned along the Williams Fork Mountains. Nathan told Sarah to hitch the horses to the hay rack, load the furniture that it would carry, take all the children and move to the Jackson place while he helped fight the fire. Nathan's team of horses were stolen so he broke 3 heifers and a steer to work in the yoke.

He still did a lot of freighting to make a living for his family. He freighted to Hot Sulphur Springs and also from Georgetown. He returned home to the ranch about once a week. He sold butter, that Sarah had made and hung down in the well to keep cold, in the mining town of Breckenridge.

Nathan Shore died June, 1928 when his pickup stalled on a railroad crossing in Utah. He was trying to find the trouble under the hood and didn't hear the train as it whistled and whistled. He was headed for a trip to Hawaii.

Ute Legend of Canyons

Major John Wesley Powell was in the first party to make a recorded climb of Pikes Peak in 1868.  Later, he would lead the first expedition of the Green and Colorado (Grand) Rivers. He was very interested in the Indian tribes that he encountered and later became head of the new U.S. Bureau of Ethnology.  He recorded this legend as told by the Utes on his first visit to the Colorado mountains, during his Pikes Peak climb.

A chief of the Utes mourned the death of his beloved wife, and his grief was so deep, that no one could console him.  Then the Great Spirit, Ta-Vwoats, appeared to him and promised to take him southwest to where he could see where his wife had gone, if he would promise to grieve no more.

Ta-Vwoats rolled a magical ball before him and it crushed mountains, earth and rocks, making a trail to the land of the afterlife.  Following the ball was a rolling globe of fire which the Great Spirit and the chief followed.  At last they were in the happy land where all was blessed with plenty and joy.  This was where the chief's wife had gone and he was glad to see it.

When they returned, Ta-Vwoats told the chief that he must never travel that trail again during life and warned all the people against it.  Knowing that those who had lost their loved ones would be tempted to make the journey, Ta-Vwoats rolled a river into the canyons so that no one could enter.

Topic: Towns

Granby

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.

Topic: Biographies
Barney McLean

Skiing Legends Horace Button and Barney McLean

Barney McLean

Horace Button was 10 years old when he saw the ski jump competition at the 1911 First Annual Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Carnival.  A railway man noticed that Horace was spellbound.  The man asked Horace what he wanted to be when he grew up, to which Horace replied, “I want to be a ski jumper like Carl Howelsen.” The seed had been sown, and Howelsen taught Horace the skills of skiing.

Horace Button became an All-American Skier.  Winning awards over nationally recognized competitive ski racers.  The basic knowledge he learned from Howelsen was passed on which in turn sent Jim Harsh of Grand Lake, to be on the 1932 United States Olympic Nordic Combined team.  The Olympics were held at Lake Placid, New York. 

Barney McLean of Hot Sulphur Springs, became a champion following in the "ski boots" of Mr. Button. Horace would be waiting at the ski hill every afternoon, when school hours were over and he and Barney would schuss the mountain together.  Barney was a 9-time national champion, and a 3-time Olympian.  In 1948 he was Captain of the men’s alpine ski team that competed at St. Moritz, Switzerland. 

Horace Button continued to advise ski techniques to students of East and West Grand School Districts, helping them compete at the university or Olympic level.  They were; Dale Thompson, Wes Palmer, Zane Palmer, Landis Arnold, Todd Wilson, Kerry Lynch, Tim Flanagan, and many more.  Horace coached 12 national champions. 

Horace also was an accomplished artist. His specialty was carton ski scenes.  Tim Flanagan honored Mr. Button for his work with local youths and created the Horace Button Ski Foundation.

Horace Button, Jim Harsh, Barney McLean, and Carl Howelsen have been inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame. Barney McLean and Carl Howelsen are honored at The National Ski Hall of Fame.

The picture on the right is of Barney McLean at age 4, wearing a pair of skis his dad made for him. The photo was taken in Hot Sulphur Springs.

Topic: Mining

Teller City, Crescent City and Tyner

The original Grand County contained North Park as well as Middle Park, and during the mining boom of the early 1880's there were several mining camps east of the modern town of Rand. It was several years after the mining boom northern area of Jackson County was created.

Teller City was founded in 1879 and named for Colorado's famous Senator Henry M. Teller, who later became U.S. Secretary of the Interior.  By 1882, the population of Teller City was about 1200.  It had a fine hotel with 40 rooms, a newspaper and two steam saw mills.  It was a lively Old West town with twenty seven saloons and a number of "houses of ill repute".

Some high quality ore assayed at Teller City was as much as $3000 a ton, but most of that soon ran out and by 1884, the high shipping costs to far away smelters dropped the price per ton dropped to $20. The best mine, Endomile, was three miles from town.

Crescent City, southwest of Teller City had an even more brief existence, but there was population enough for a U.S. Post Office in 1880. 

Rumors of valuable silver three miles sough of Teller City drew a number of prospectors to found the camp known as Tyner.  John Noble Tyner was the First Assistant Postmaster General of the United States and visited the mining camp so named in 1879.  He promised the miners a weekly mail delivery if at least 2 miners mined through the winter.  Tyner had been a special agent for the Post Office from 1861 thru 1868, at which time he was appointed to serve in an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for Indiana.  He ran for election win the appointed term ended and was elected and continued to be reelected and serve as a Representative until 1875 when President Grant appointed him Second Assistant Postmaster General.  Grant would later appoint him to the "big job" of Postmaster General in 1876. 

Tyner worked to elect Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and after Hayes was elected and took office in March of 1877, Hayes appointed a new Postmaster General, but gave the second spot, First Assistant to the Postmaster General to Tyner.  Historians suggest that Tyner's demotion angered him to the point that he allowed wide spread corruption in the day to day operation of the Postal Service which was his responsibility to over see. He resigned in 1881 under great public pressure from what became known as the "Star Route Fraud scandal".  He would remain a political figure  being appointed  various positions  with the U. S. Postal Service until shortly before his death in 1904.  Although indited three times for corruption in his Post Office management, he was never convicted.  The "Star Route Fraud scandal", may have local implications.  It had to do with over charging and providing needless postal routes, roads and post offices and kick backs to politicians from contractors .