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

Rowley & Just Homesteads

Karl and Adella Just homesteaded on Pole Creek in the Fraser River Valley in 1896.  Della was the daughter of Henry Lehman, who had, himself, homesteaded on the upper Grand River about 1880.  Karl and Della worked hard, adding to their property until by the late twenties, they had the largest holding in the valley. 

This lovely ranch was where Snow Mountain Ranch is now, and their log home still stands there even today.  Their several children homesteaded in their own rights.  Della and her son Alfred had what is known as the Rowley homestead, (now part of the Y-Camp) as well as what currently is the Winter Park Highlands.  Son Rudy and his wife Clarabelle ranched part of the original Just property on Pole Creek where they watched over his mother.  Another daughter married one of the Daxton boys and their spread was on Crooked Creek.

Until the 1950's, just beyond Tabernash on the north side of the highway at the foot of Winter Park Highlands stood one of the original log homes of this family. In fact, this house appeared in a 1952 movie called "On Dangerous Ground", starring Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, and Ward Bond.  It was torn down some years later and a modern house built there.

Life was hard for ranching pioneers, perhaps hardest of all for the women, for they worked in the fields and of course, did all the work of the house as well as much of the garden work.  Little Della raked hay during the season, hoed gardens, hauled water, fished, sewed, and cooked.  She was tough.  The bright spots were when rare visitors stopped by, or as the population increased, dances were held in one town or another.

It was a given that the Just home, like those of most pioneers, had no indoor plumbing.  Nobody expected it and nobody complained.  However, by 1957, Della Just was in her nineties.  Karl was long gone.  Her children decided that she should have indoor plumbing after all these years, and they heard that young Dwight Miller had a brand new backhoe.   When they called, Dwight was pleased at the thought of doing such a useful job.

He brought his machine out to the ranch and prepared to get to work.  He discovered, however, that there was disagreement on this bright idea.  Della thought the notion was silly.  "I've lived all these years with an outhouse and I don't see any reason at all to change!"  

Back in those days, temperatures were very much colder than those currently expected.  Forty and fifty degrees below zero were not unusual at all.  But that old lady didn't mind this.  (No doubt, there were chamber pots available for the worst weather.)

Della's children, themselves no longer young, won out, and Dwight dug the trenches and the septic tank hole and laid the pipes.  We never heard whether Della got used to such luxury or not, but we know that Rudy and Clarabelle agreed that moving into the modern world was a good idea!

 

 

 

Jim Bridger

Jim Bridger spent quite a bit of time in Grand County and has been cited as "one of the three or four most able, influential, and best known mountain men' according to historian Dan Thrapp.  Born in Virginia in 1804, he was apprenticed to a blacksmith in St Louis at the age of fourteen, and in 1822, left to join Ashley's fur trading operation in the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. He claimed to have discovered the Great Salt Lake in 1824, believing it to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean.  He was a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, along with Tom Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette. 

While Bridger was illiterate, he was noted for both his intimate knowledge of the Rocky Mountains and his prevarications to impress newcomers.  He was engaged in some battles with Indians, but was married to two Indian women; a Ute woman who died in childbirth, and then Shoshone women who bore him two children.

Jim's friendship with Louis Vasquez led to construction of a fort named Fort. Bridger on the Green River in Wyoming.  As a guide, he led the infamous expedition of Sir George Gore through Grand County in 1855, in which Gore killed many thousands of animals and birds.  During the excursion, he would join Gore for luxurious dinners with fine table service and discussions of Shakespeare.  Bridger hired a teenaged boy to read him some of Shakespeare's plays but thought that many of the story lines were just "too vicious or ridiculous". 

He was one of the most sought after guides of the West during his lifetime and guided American troops in the so called Mormon War of 1857-8.  In his later years, Bridger acquired a farm near Westport Missouri, gradually became blind and died in 1873.  His two sons buried him in the present Kansas City, but in 1904, his remains were moved to Mountain Washington Cemetery in Independence Missouri.    Jim Bridger is immortalized with his name being given to many places in the West.

Topic: Granby

100 Years of Location, Location, Location

Real Estate and land ownership have always been important to the Granby area. With the passage of the 1862 Homestead Act by Congress, the West, including the area around the current town of Granby, began to be settled with hardy, ranching pioneers. The opportunity to own land was often made possible by homesteading.   This lured many settlers to the area.

As Congress adjusted the homesteading rules over the years to allow for larger acreages which would support ranching in the Middle Park, towns began to grow. Ranching, mining and especially the railroad fueled the growth. In 1902, railroad visionary, David Moffat, set events into motion in Denver to build a steam railroad from Denver to Salt Lake City which would be built over Rollins Pass.   This was a monumental task which led to the founding of the town of Granby.

Mary Lyons Cairns observed in her book, “Grand Lake in the Olden Days,” “Granby came into being with the Moffat Railroad, which reached that point in September, 1905. The town site was laid out on a piece of land which was part of a homestead and part of a pre-emption taken up by James Snyder from the government. Mr. Snyder sold this land to David Moffat who had the town site surveyed and platted in 1904, and a man named Hunter auctioned off the lots.”  

The lots on the town plat were 12 blocks and a Block “A.” Each block, except Block 12 and “A,” would have 32 lots. Each lot would be 25 feet by 125 feet. Block 12 only had 20 lots. Block “A” only had four smaller lots. David Moffat and the railroad in the form of the Frontier Land and Investment Company designed the town streets so that the southern boundary of the town was Agate Avenue, the western was First Street, and the northern boundary was Garnet Avenue. A variation in terrain in between Block 12 and Block “A” created Opal Avenue that would lead down Fifth Street which would be the eastern boundary of the new town of Granby.    

The new town streets were named Agate, Jasper, Topaz, Garnet and Opal, all precious gems which might reflect the mining heritage. But, in the King James version of the Bible in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 21, Verse 19, heaven is described as, “And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper…” Other streets and foundations are described as being made of precious gems such as topaz and chalcedony. Agate is described in the dictionary as a variegated variety of quartz or chalcedony.   Maybe the founders thought Granby was “heaven on earth.” Or, at least the real estate marketers wanted buyers to think that.

The real estate advertising in the December 16, 1905, Grand County Advocate showed V.S. Wilson as the local real estate agent for Granby. He also was the newspaper editor and became Granby’s first mayor on December 11, 1905. With that background, hyperbole and adjectives must have been in his blood.   “Now is the time to buy property at Granby-The newest and best town on the ‘Moffat Road.’…It would be a Happy Christmas investment. Do it now,” was part of the ad copy.  Mr. Wilson became one of the first land owners in Granby buying lots 18 and 19, Block 7 on Topaz from Frontier Land & Investment in November, 1905.  

When the railroad’s real estate company founded Granby in 1905, local historian, Betty Jo Woods, said the new town location was chosen because it had great connections with the stage route to Grand Lake, was mostly dry ground, and had pleasant views. As they say in real estate, the three keys to successful land investing are “Location, location, location!”   The locations of many of the historic buildings were on the north side of Agate Avenue. According to photographs and written explanations by the late Vera Snider, in 1920, on “main” street, one of the only buildings on the south side of the street was the firehouse which protected the fire pumper and hoses. The post office was also on the south side.   Vera Snider later arranged for the preservation of this historic structure built in 1910 by moving the first post office building in the 1960s from 458 East Agate where it had stood for over 50 years to its present location at 170 2nd Street.

According to the current owner of this historic structure, Deb Brynoff, “When Ron, my husband, was remodeling he found old letters in the wall from when it was the post office building.” It was not unusual during the early years of construction for letters and newspapers to be “stuffed” into the walls to help increase what little “R-factor insulation” existed.    Other early buildings which still exist in Granby are a home at 127 4th Street which was built in 1909. The current Re/Max Granby office at 247 Agate was a home originally built in 1909. Other early Agate Avenue buildings still thriving are Crafter’s Corner at 295 East Agate built in 1913 for the Granby Mercantile. Local lore says the basement was used as a temporary morgue during the 1918 flu pandemic. However, no historic research has yet been found to document this information.  

Research on High Country Motors at 277 East Agate reveal it was originally Middle Park Auto which grew up with the town of Granby. The tax rolls indicate 1913 for the birth of this building. The business was “born” in 1915 when Jack Schliz founded Middle Park Auto. During Granby’s early years this was a hub for locals. It even included a small medical-first aid station inside it before Granby had any local medical services. In 1938, the business was sold to Glenn Pharo and Morris Long. Later, Jack Shield was associated with the business. The authorized Ford dealership was later purchased by Fred Garrett, who later sold it to Mike and Kimberly Garrett.   The only constant on Agate Avenue is change. Many of the buildings have a colorful past. For example, the current location of Brown & Company at 315 East Agate was a Texaco Service Station built in the 1930s.

The Long Branch at 185 East Agate is in a building that was Granby’s first strip mall. That accounts for the many doors fronting on to Agate. Built around 1938 for the Craig’s Café, it has housed Olson’s Café, a Laundromat, a barber shop, The Carpet Wagon rug store and Maureen’s Clothing Store to name a few.   The Silver Spur Saloon & Steakhouse at 15 East Agate used to be the Grand Bar and Café run by Dick and Beulah Samuelson from 1944 to 1964. The original business at this location was the lettuce shed where the famous Granby Iceberg Lettuce was delivered by local growers for shipping to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Some of the original lettuce shed has been incorporated into this building.  

The Dick Samuelson family also has a history with the Granby Mart at 62 East Agate. This building at one time was the home of Bud and Ken Chalmers’ Auto Repair Shop. In the early 1940s, it had a dirt floor when Sonny Samuelson and his Dad bought it. Clyde Redburn had a bowling alley on one side. The Samuelsons later put in more bowling lanes. Upstairs they had a club called “3.2.” At the time, those 18 and older could sip the 3.2 beer served there and dance. At one time Wayne Snyder’s Saddlery shared half of the store.   Sharing a location was the thinking behind the former Minnie Mall located at 480 East Age. Named by local businessman, Jack Applebee, for his mother, Minnie, in the 1980s, many businesses enjoyed the convenient location, The Furniture Store, Hobby Shop, Montgomery Wards, Honey Bear Children’s Clothing, Fabric Nook, Greg Henry’s Get-N-Pack, Radio Shack, Julie Sneddon’s Cards and Gifts, Patti Applebee’s Nimble Needle, Ben’s Aspen Leaf Café and the Shaft Shop which specialized in darts and dart supplies. Today, Granby Medical Center-Centura Health is at this historic downtown location.  

Granby’s historic story from 1905 to 2005 is one of building dreams, homes and businesses to create a community. Chinese Proverb says, “One generation plants the trees; another gets the shade.” How true.
2005

     

Topic: Mining

Mining in Grand County

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: Biographies
Chauncey Thomas memorial

Chauncey Thomas: ‘Sage of the Rockies’

Chauncey Thomas memorial

In 1900, while visiting in Washington, D.C., Chauncey Thomas, a nephew of William and Elizabeth Byers, wrote ‘Snow Story, or Why the Hot Sulphur Mail was Late’.  When the great British author, Rudyard Kipling, read the piece, he pronounced it the ‘best short story by an American’.

The opening paragraph of the ‘Snow Story’ reads as follows:  ‘Berthoud Pass is a mighty pass.  It is the crest of a solid wave of granite two miles high, just at timberline. Berthoud is a vertebra in the backbone of the continent.  It is the gigantic aerial gateway to Middle Park, Colorado - - a park one-fifth as large as all England.  The mail for this empire is carried by one man, my friend Mason.’   The story goes on to describe Mason’s winter trip over Berthoud Pass into Middle Park where he encountered extreme winter blizzard conditions, an avalanche and Salarado.

Chauncey Thomas, a native son of Colorado Pioneers, was born in Denver in 1872 and died there in 1941.  At the age of three, Chauncey suffered his first loss.  ‘The light went out of my left eye forever.  A pair of scissors did it’, he said.  At age nine he received his first weapon, a .22 caliber revolver, and promptly shot himself in the foot.  No matter.  Forever after, firearms fascinated him.

He attended Gilpin and East Denver High School where he was a military cadet, but except for military drill and mathematics, school interested him very little.  After graduation and college attendance at Golden, Colorado and Lake Forest, Illinois, he found his way to New York City. Here, he worked as an editor for well-known magazines - McClure’s, Muncey Publications, and Outdoor Life (among others) and hobnobbed with the likes of Ida B. Tarbell, S. S. McClure, Jack London and Frederic Remington.  He returned to his home town and occupied himself more and more with Denver’s historic past.  

On the night of September 23, 1941, in his garret room at 1340 Grant Street, he took up a scrap of paper and wrote: ‘stroke--agony’.The next morning a neighbor found him, pistol in hand, dead.  Two years later, at Berthoud Pass on a mountain that bore his name, Chauncey Thomas was honored.  Dr. LeRoy Hafen the Colorado State Historical Society’s historian and the Colorado Historical Society dedicated a monument to him on which was inscribed, Chauncey Thomas: Sage of the Rockies.

Excerpts of this article are courtesy of Colorado Historical Society & Grand County Historical Association. The publication ‘Snow Story, or Why the Hot Sulphur Mail was Late’, written by Chauncey Thomas, is available in the History Stores at Cozen’s Ranch Museum and Pioneer  Museum

The Ish Family

The prosperous John Lapsley (Laps) Ish family are an example of very successful settlers and entrepreneurs in early Grand County. The Ish family, with eleven children, came by covered wagon to Colorado from Missouri 1863 and settled on a farm outside of Denver.

18-year-old Laps Ish came to Grand County in 1881 to attempt his luck at the short lived mining boom outside of Teller, north of Grand Lake.  He tried his luck at mining for 4 years and also carried the mail between Teller and Grand Lake, on skis or snowshoes in the winter and by foot in the summer. 

Laps Ish married Alice Shearer and homesteaded near Rand (in present day Jackson County). They had two sons, Lesley John Ish and Guy Lapsley Ish. Laps and Alice built the Rand Hotel and operated it until 1910.  The family then moved to Granby and built the Middle Park Auto Company garage and ran a stage line to Grand Lake. They built the Rapids Lodge by operating a sawmill on the Tonahutu River in Grand Lake and opened for business in 1915  They also built the Pine Cone Inn in Grand Lake and Leslie managed it for many years. Laps Ish died in 1943.

Topic: Libraries

Libraries

In 1938, Grand County decided to establish a library to act as a central reservoir of knowledge for its citizens. The community realized that few people can purchase all of the books and other materials which they may need, and so they agreed to pool their money in the library to build its central collection. At the same time they wanted to be sure that their interests would always be represented in the operations of the library, and so they formed a board of trustees from among themselves.

At about the same time, the federated women's clubs in Granby and Grand Lake, for the same reasons, set up lending libraries in those two communities. Run by the clubs for many years, both were eventually incorporated into the County Library. In 1994, the Committee to Protect the Library was established to petition the Board of Commissioners to increase funding for the library to set aside a completely separate library fund, which would be administered as a Library District. The voters approved the move on November 8, 1994, and Grand County Library District was formed on January 1, 1995. Today, the library still serves that same basic function for the community as well as new roles acquired in the intervening years.

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.

Sheriff

One of the oldest brands in Colorado still in use by the same family is the Bar Double S brand of the Sheriff Ranch near Hot Sulphur Springs. The current owners of the ranch are John Brice and Ida Sheriff. In 1863, Matthew Sheriff of Keithsburg, Illinois came to Colorado to search for gold in the California Gulch, near where Leadville would be established. Mathew was dismayed by the gray mineral which consistently clogged the gold sluice, and gave up on his dreams of instant wealth to return to Illinois.

Many other miners also gave up mining for this reason, never realizing that the gray mineral was carbonite of lead, which was rich in silver. Mathew died in 1863 at the age of 40, leaving behind his wife Marietta and their 3 surviving sons, Burt, Glenn and Mark. In 1878, Marietta was inspired to return to Colorado in search of security and stability for her family. She spent some time in Leadville running a boarding house. Her sister was the wife of William Byers who was developing the Hot Sulphur Springs area so Marietta moved to the area to settle with her sons. In 1882 the family homesteaded three ranches of 160 acres each, proving them up and added a preemption right to another 160 acres.

Bert later moved to Denver and established a livery stable and Mark and his mother moved into Hot Sulphur Springs, while Glenn continued to work the ranch. Glenn married Alice Cleora Smith in 1886 and they had two surviving sons, Brice and Glenn Jr. Glenn Jr. was only 6 weeks old when his father died at the age of 33 of “brain fever” or diphtheria. Alice took the children back to her family in Iowa to raise them, but the boys returned to their Colorado ranch in 1910. Brice, who suffered from a back injury as a child, bought an abstract business in Hot Sulphur Springs and lived there with his mother for the rest of their lives.

Glenn Jr. continued to expand and develop the ranch and married Adaline Morgan in 1923. They had four children; Nona, John, Robert and Catherine. Glenn Jr. served Grand County as a Commissioner for 24 years and also as the County Assessor for 4 years. Glenn Jr.s, son John, took over the ranch and married Ida Marte in 1949. Ida’s family had homesteaded their own ranch near Cottonwood Pass. They have two children and continue to work the ranch to this day.

Topic: Dude Ranches

Devil's Thumb Ranch

According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil's Thumb, a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

Before the Trans-Continental Railroad opened up the area in 1904, a stagecoach route from Idlewild (now
Winter Park) joined the Rollins Pass route. A state station was situated east of what is now our Ranch. The road extended transversely over the Ranch where it followed the course of the existing County Road 83. The land was rich agriculturally, and was used for cattle grazing in the early 1900s.

After the railroad was introduced, settlers began moving west in search of wealth and opportunity. Many ended their journeys in the
Rocky Mountains. During this time, there were more people living in the Fraser Valley than there are today. One favorite hangout of the railroad workers was a dance hall on Black Ranch, located immediately north of Devil's Thumb Ranch.

In the 1930s, Margaret Radcliff built the original Ranch homestead and operated it as a dairy. However, it was brothers Dan, Louis, and George Yager who started Devil's Thumb Ranch as a vacation property in 1946. The Yagers incorporated the Radcliff homestead in to the Ranch facilities and the original building exists today as the Ranch House Saloon.

The Yagers operated Devil's Thumb Ranch as both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972. They introduced cross-country skiing in the winter of 1975-1976. Dick Taylor, a 1964 Olympic cross-country team member, designed 35 kilometers of the area's Nordic trails.

The Ranch was well known as a Nordic destination, but one without many amenities or niceties. The current owners purchased it in 2001, saving it from a group of developers who planned to fill the valley with residences and a golf course. They immediately began making improvements to the facilities, all the while impacting the land as little as possible.