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: Granby

Historic Granby Real Estate

William Shakespeare, the historic play writer, said, “There is a history in all men’s lives.” The same could be said for many Grand County buildings. According to author, Lela McQueary in her 1962 book, “Widening Trails,” real estate sales and land giveaways helped to build our towns. “In 1905, a town site was obtained from Jim Snider, who had homesteaded the land upon the sagebrush mesa,” wrote McQueary. “The village was called Granby for Granby Hillyer, a civil engineer. Two general stores, two livery stables, a post office and a tiny café (all built with false fronts to make them appear much larger) were scattered on the north side of Main Street, three blocks long.”  That Main Street today is Agate Avenue. A quick search of the Grand County tax rolls reveals an interesting historic mix of buildings.

For example, the current Brynoff home at 170 2nd Street was the Post Office building constructed in 1910 and originally located at 458 East Agate. That building was moved to its current home to make way for the construction for the new Post Office building in 1945 at 458 East Agate. Deb Brynoff, the Executive Director of the Grand County Board of Realtors, said, “When we updated and built onto the original building, we found old letters stuffed in the walls. Obviously, they used them in the early years to add insulating value. I guess they had junk mail even then!”

On July 1, 1966, a new Post Office building was dedicated at 225 East Jasper Avenue (now the current home of the Grand County Library District Administrative Office). According to Granby-area Realtor, Susie Peterson of Glenn Realty, who used to own the building at 458 East Agate when they converted it to the Granby Veterinary Clinic, “Downstairs was full of those neat glass front post office boxes with the gold dials. You can just imagine the history in that building.”  Other buildings constructed in those early years were 127 4th Street in 1909. In addition to a private home, over the years, businesses such as Re/max Real Estate and Katie’s Flower Shop were located at 247 East Agate, which was also built in 1909. In 1910, the property at 110 Garnet was built.
The Roaring 20s saw a spurt of construction such as 172 Topaz (1922), 307 Jasper and 59 4th Street (1924), 166 Jasper and 291 Topaz (1929). The current Columbine Café property at 395 East Agate was built during the heydays of 1927 when it was called the Town Crier Restaurant.

After the Great Crash of 1929 and the Depression of the 1930s, New Deal jobs and loan programs helped fuel new construction. In fact, in 1933, the famous Payne’s Café was built at 365 East Agate. Today, the Greater Granby Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Enhancement offices, along with Noriyuki & Parker law offices are housed in the almost 75 year-old building.

Today’s Shadow Mountain Chiropractic Clinic of Drs. Jeff and Deb Shaw at 60 2nd was built in 1935 as a private home. On April 18, 1935, the first addition to Granby helped the town grow. In 1938, 387 East Agate was the site of the new pool hall run by Alva West. Today Lorene Linke’s Fabric Nook welcomes customers and quilters at the historic location.

In 1938, the building at 185 East Agate, which was Granby’s first strip mall, also was constructed with Craig’s Café, later Olson’s Café. Over the years businesses such as Maureen’s Clothing Shop, a laundromat, a barbershop and the Carpet Wagon found homes where today the Longbranch and Schatzis Pasta & Pizza Restaurants are found.

Post World War II America and Granby boomed. Granby had an influx of new residents because of the continued construction of the Granby Dam and the Colorado Big Thompson Water Project. In 1946, the Granby Dairy Building at 106 Jasper sprung up. That same year, Carmichael Real Estate Company built a new office at 191 East Agate. Today real estate is still king at that corner building with the Grand County Board of Realtors and The Title Company of the Rockies offices located there.

The Granby landmark, Frontier Motel, at 232 West Agate was built in 1951 by Earl Saylor. In 1954 Jenkins & Fulk began construction of the Granby Trading Post at 231 East Agate. Ken and Debbie Eaker and Jay Young bought that property in May 1995 and renamed the store, The Grand Mountain Trading Company.  

Topic: Libraries

Hot Sulphur Springs Library

The Hot Sulphur Springs Library started on the second floor of the two story white frame courthouse that preceded the current courthouse. In 1942 the library was moved to the old log courthouse that was directly behind the frame courthouse. The books were moved via a rope pulley-like system from the second floor to the log house.

The library remained in the log courthouse until the mid 1970s when it moved into a 19 ft. 9 in. X 8 ft. 6 in. room in the current courthouse. This tiny room had a double-sided bookshelf in the middle, a bookshelf along one wall, a desk and a chair, and a card catalog on top of a small table. There was only a narrow pathway around the center shelving. There was no room to hold story hour for the 10-15 children who came, so story hour was held in the community room upstairs or the county or district courtrooms, the commissioners' room, or once on the stairs in the stairwell between the first and second floors. Much of the year the hallway by the Treasurer's and Assessor's offices was filled with hats, mittens, coats, boots and the noise and chaos of the children enjoying story hour.

Since the jail was also located in the courthouse, the library was used by prisoners. Those who were "trustees" were allowed to visit the library in their neon orange jail suits. One prisoner was permitted to visit the library to paint a delightful mural of a dragon on one wall and a dog on the window in the door. One day a prisoner asked if he could order some Kurt Vonnegut books. The Librarian jumped up so excited that the tiny library had some Vonnegut books, she kneeled and pulled out a Vonnegut book titled Jailbird!!! In 1983 the new jail was built and the Library moved to the old jail area on the second floor. It was a much larger space and had a restroom.

In the late spring of 1990 the Library moved to its present location in the newly-renovated former bunkhouse of the U.S. Forest Service summer personnel. This larger facility brought many windows and space for story hour, and until the year 2000 there was a wonderful yard in back for story hour and summer reading program activities.

Ute Legend of the Quaking Aspen

It is amazing to behold the continuous quivering of aspen leaves in groves around Grand County, even when there is no apparent breeze.

According to Ute legend, the reason for this unique aspect of the aspen tree happened during a visit to Erath from the Great Spirit during a special full moon.  All of nature anticipated the Spirit's arrival and trembled to pay homage.  All except the proud and beautiful aspen. The aspens stood still, refusing to pay proper respect. The Great Spirit was furious and decreed that, from that time on, the aspen leaves would tremble whenever anyone looked upon them.

Topic: Towns

Winter Park

The town of Winter Park was first settled in 1923 and incorporated in 1978. It came into existence as a construction camp during the building of the Moffat Tunnel. The west portal is located here, hence the original name of West Portal.

As early as 1929 hearty winter sports enthusiasts were getting off the regularly scheduled trains there to ski the trails that were being developed. Regular weekend service on a special ski train began in January 1938. That same year, the U.S. Forest Service gave permission to the City and County of Denver to develop land near West Portal for winter sports, constructing ski-tows and trails. Winter Park ski area was formally opened in 1940.

With the consent of postal authorities, West Portal’s name was changed to Winter Park to publicize the ski area.  Benjamin F. Stapleton, the mayor of Denver at the time, championed the cause of the name change to help publicize the winter sports of the area. The town has now grown into a classic resort town and the ski area management has been recently turned over to the Intrawest Corporation by the City and County of Denver.

The Daily Life of Mountain Men

Washington Irving wrote "There is, perhaps, no class of men on the face of the Earth who lead a life of more continued exertion, peril and excitement, and who are more enamored of their occupations, than the free trappers of the West".

The diet of the mountain men at times consisted of nothing more than meat. When possible. wild plants and berries supplemented needed vitamins.  Pemmican, a meat pounded with fruits and dried in flakes, was convenient to carry and lasted a long time. Mountain men made boudins, sausage made from the intestines of newly killed animals.  These sausages were packed full of undigested grasses which probably protected the mountain men from the illness of scurvy.  The mountain men also chewed on leaves and wild grasses to supplement their vitamin needs.  Potatoes soaked in vinegar supplied further balance to the diet.  Jams and orange marmalade were highly valued whenever they could be obtained. Bread consisted almost entirely of hardtack, a touch cracker usually unsalted, which would not spoil and sturdy enough not to crumble.

Beaver tail soup was considered a delicacy by most mountain men.  Another treat was called "French dumplings", made by mincing buffalo hump with marrow, rolling it into balls, and covering with flour dough and boiled.  Coffee was popular, but limited for transport.  Tea from China came in solid blocks which could be shaved off as needed. 

Normally, mountain men could not carry whiskey on the move but at rendezvous or during visits to forts, they were known as fabulous drinkers.  The most common intoxicant in those days was "Taos Lightening", a strong whiskey manufactured by Simeon Truly of Taos New Mexico.  Various writers have portrayed these men as brutes who lived from one drunken episode to the next, but the facts, and common sense contradict that image.  They could not achieve much in either trapping or trading if they did not stay focused on their outdoor skills and survival. 

Smoking pipes was a luxury, mostly at nights as only a limited amount of tobacco could be obtained.  The mountain men would stretch their tobacco supplies by mixing it with kinnick-kinnick and other plants.

While many traders and trappers dressed in buckskin shirts and trousers, wool garments were even more common and needed to be shrunk to fit.  Probably every mountain man carried what was called a "possibilities bag" that contained personal items such as a pipe, tobacco, soap, needles, and small keepsakes such as mouth-harps.

Before the Sharps "Big 50" rifle was invented, it was necessary to carry a waterproof powder horn and a bag of rifle balls weighing fifty to a pound.  A good knife was essential.  The most sought after of these was the Bowie Knife, invented by Rezin Bowie, but made famous by his brother Jim, who was adept at its use.  Jim was one of the heros killed at the Battle of the Alamo in Texas.

Some mountain men simply loved the lifestyle and had no reason to return to their original homes.  Some had wives back in St. Louis and made an annual trek there every year.  Others had Indian wives or female companions.  Some men claimed to have a wife in every tribe they visited.  Divorce within many tribes was often simple, a matter of putting one's belongings outside the lodge.

As journeys by foot or horse were lonely, mountain men were known to play their mouth harps or sing songs along the trail.  The use of profanity was common, except in the presence of white ladies.  One writer claimed the Indians called white men "Godams" because that swear word was used so frequently by the mountain men, ranch hands and mule skinners.     

Christmas at Fraser

The lights dimmed; mothers had already found their seats after coming from the classrooms where they had put makeup on little children’s faces and checked their costumes to make sure angel wings and halos were secure and costumes were on right side round.  I was at the piano, music and script lined out. The gym was full to the brim, every seat taken, with folks lining the sides and back walls, for the whole town had turned out.  Early birds got the seats!  Christmas wasn’t Christmas in the Fraser Valley unless it included the program at Fraser School (now the Town Hall).   I began the overture and chatter stopped.   I had played for this event for ages, starting in 1958.  High school students were gone by then, moved to the new Union High School in Granby, but 7th and 8th graders were still there.  And in 1958, the first kindergartens in the district were established.   It was a time of excitement and anticipation, of fun, and of panic? Well, no, not panic, for the teachers were beautifully organized. 

The program was chosen during October. Each teacher had a specific job. For instance, Martha Vernon, the art teacher, did sets.  Helen Hurtgen was responsible for dialog.  Edith Hill did costumes.  Nancy Bowlby was in charge of the music.  Others coordinated the whole.  And I played the piano, with Nancy sometimes accompanying me on her violin.  

Mothers were asked to contribute sheets and any fabric they could spare.  Patterns and material for costumes went home to be sewn into various sizes and shapes -- angels, gingerbread men, knights or royalty.  In the gym, we stitched on finishing touches, bright patches to decorate jester outfits, townspeople, and such, while watching various groups practice. Bits of tinsel became crowns, tinfoil turned into wands, cheesecloth into wings.  Lace scraps and sequins added color and “class.”   The budget was extremely minimal at first, but over the years, more money was directed to Christmas programs.  Instead of old sheets, we could buy cotton fabrics, velveteens, sometimes satin.  One year I even stopped by a furrier’s in Denver and begged some fur scraps.  Were we uptown then!  We had fur trim around the necks, cuffs, and hems of the costumes for the prince, queen, and king.  

The day before the play, PTA mothers gathered in the gym to fill brown paper sacks with an apple, orange, nuts, and candies, provided by R. L. Cogdell from his grocery store.  

Every single child in school took part in the play, as a class, except for those with speaking parts, of course.  Fraser grew and grew, then as now. Soon the 7th and 8th grades moved to Granby.  Then the 6th graders went, but the 4th and 5th graders handled the leads neatly.  Our stories were usually simple Christmas tales, but sometimes we tackled ambitious efforts such as the Nutcracker Suite or a version of Gilbert and Sullivan.   The only children not included were the Jehovah Witness youngsters.  They couldn’t be in the play and they couldn’t come watch it either.  We all felt very sorry for them, because everyone had such a wonderful time.  Their teachers tried to give them special projects to entertain and interest them while they sat off in a corner or in their classrooms.   The plays always went well.  Tiny kindergartners came out onto the stage, to stand behind the colored lights.  They knew their song perfectly in practices, but I have to admit that a number of them usually stood silent, stunned by that mass of faces looking up at them.  No matter.  They were darling. “Hi, Mom,” some were sure to call. “Mom” beamed.  

There might be a glitch or two every year. For instance, little Diane was chosen to do the Arabian dance in Nutcracker Suite.  Her parents were dark, as she was, and she was slender as a dancer. Trouble was, she didn’t have an ounce of grace in her body at that stage of her life.  I thought Nancy Bowlby was going to have grey hair before she got that child moving properly.  But the night of the program, Diane looked like Anitra herself, doing her exotic dance.   One year the king jumped his cue and entered on stage.  His first words were, “Did I miss anything?”  The prince muttered, in an aside, “Yes, three pages!”  But the cast went on as if nothing had happened, while down at the piano I sat, flipping pages rapidly, trying to figure out where the dialog was now.  

Another year, our son James was to take part in a minuet.  “Uck!  I have to touch a girl?”  By the greatest good fortune, he broke his leg and got to be a guard at the palace door, standing at attention on crutches, while another boy took his place.  (I think he did that on purpose.)   Songs and parts were adapted to the talents of the students.  We had five boys once, who couldn’t talk, dance, sing -- anything.  So they wore monks’ costumes and filed on stage, supposedly singing a Christmas carol, but supported strongly by the cast present.   Another time, Twyla’s parents couldn’t come, so Miss Vernon took her home to get ready. Now, Twyla usually looked like a dirty ragamuffin, but after a bath and hair wash, she truly looked like the angel she portrayed.   For the finale, the entire school came on stage to sing a last carol, with the audience joining in.  Then Santa showed up to distribute the goodie sacks, and the great night was over.  Coming out into the quiet night was a wonderful feeling.  Sometimes we moved through drifts of new falling snow; sometimes the sky was filled with icy stars.  Gay lights showed in windows throughout town. 

We never talked much on the way home, as we thought of the play, the success of everyone¹s efforts, and how happy the children had made their parents and families.   My last program was the first year after the new school was built.  It was fun still, but the school population had grown enough that it was impossible for whole classes to participate as one. Things weren’t the same as they were in the little old school.

Topic:

Leisure Time

Article contributed by Scott Rethi

Of all the leisure time activities available to the pioneers, dancing
was the favorite.  Dances were held in grand hotels that remained from the mining boom, such as the Fairview House and The Garrison House in Grand Lake.  

Quadrilles, a type of square dance, were popular at the time.  A
fiddler would provide the music and serve as the caller.  These parties would start in the evening and last all night.  The formidable temperatures and great traveling distances were incentive for getting the most out of every gathering.  

Winter Sports have also always been a popular pastime.  Skiing was introduced to the region during the winter of 1883. Snowshoeing and sleigh rides were also enjoyed.  

1882 officially brought the arts to the Grand Lake area when the Dramatic Society was organized.  A production of the
well-known comedy "Our Boys" was the premiere performance.

Sources:
Mary Lyons Cairns, Grand Lake: The Pioneers & The Olden Days, Renaissance House Publishers, 1971

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: Indians

Indians

There is a great deal of evidence of primitive cultures in what is now Grand County, but all seems to have been transient until the modern tribes arrived, probably around 1450. The Arapaho Tribe claimed the northern part of this region and were in frequent territorial dispute with the Ute Tribe, who were dominate in the Colorado Rockies. The Utes did not have “chiefs” in the sense of the organized Plains Indians.

There were five different tribal groupings in Colorado, and those in the Grand County area were known as the “White River Utes”. The Uncompahgre Utes lived in the southern area of the state, near the San Juan Mountains. Their spokesman to the white man was Ouray, and because of his knowledge of Spanish and some English, the federal negotiators designated him “Chief of All Utes”. Thus it was he, who in 1868 agreed that most of the land west of the 107th degree longitude (about one third of Colorado) would be a Ute Reservation “for all time”.

Ouray probably never knew the Utes of the northern region and they were never notified officially of this treaty. Suddenly, their favored hunting grounds of Middle Park, the healing waters of Hot Sulphur Springs, and much of the Front Range and Gore Range were opened to white settlement. Naturally there were tensions between the Utes and the white settlers and there are several well documented accounts of disputes in the area, including the killing of Tabernash, retaliatory strikes by the Utes, and the supposedly intentional burning of Middle Park by Colorow. Finally, there was an uprising in 1879, known as the Thornburg and White River Massacres, and the result was that the Utes were evacuated from almost all of their former reservation and driven to the Utah area in 1882.

Though much of the culture, knowledge and influence of the original Indian people has been lost to time, Ute and Arapaho names still grace many landmarks in Grand County.
 

Topic: Ranching

Murphy Ranch

It's hard to imagine that there was a life before all the new homes filled in the spaces of the spacious lands around our towns. With all the high-tech innovations and new homes rising, ranch-life as it was in the late 1800's isn't thought about much. We're visiting today with John Murphy of the Murphy Ranch to capture some of the labors of ranch-living as he remembers it--before it is all too forgotten.

The Murphy Ranch sits just outside of the Town of Granby and on a somewhat overcast morning, John Murphy is seen ambling down the road heading toward the cabin just above his log home where he enjoys life with his wife Carolyn. Driving next to him, I ask if he'd like a ride. "No", he said, "this is a good walk for me". In his hand he holds an electric bill that he is passing on to his tenant. He looks at the company car and asks, "Is that one of those hybrid cars?" I replied that it wasn't and he just shook his head.

John with his gentle face sits with Carolyn on the sofa and begins the story of the Murphy Ranch. Jim and Margaret were the oldest Murphy siblings; John being the youngest. It wasn't uncommon to ride to school on horseback. John attended school in Granby where the apartments now stand across from the Community Building. In the winter, the horses would be stabled in a barn by the Trading Post (now Grand Mountain Trading).

"On the ranch, we milked cows and sold cream," John said. "Mom sold a lot of butter too. She'd milk 5 gallons of cream and head to the depot. Most of the cream was shipped to Denver and Boulder. We had a well out back and Mom would store the butter in a bucket and put it down in the cold well-water. In the winter, we would saw off blocks of ice from the river and pack it in sawdust to store in the cold shed where we kept our meets. Meats were screened in. We raised goats for meat.

Our first electric poles were set in 1942. Got all the poles in past the Barnard Ranch. Then the war started in 1945. Before we had electricity, we used kerosene lanterns. Mom loved to read and she read by the light of oil lamps. We used kerosene lanterns to milk the cows and the wind would often blow the flame out. With no bathroom facilities, you would have to use the outhouse in the middle of the night. We'd go to bed early because we had no lights. It was dark except for the oil lamps. Once we had electricity, we stayed up longer and read the Farmer's Almanac and Capper's Weekly.

Every year we shipped 35 carloads of cattle to Omaha with cattle from Kremmling and North Park ranches (Linkes, Ainsleys, Sheriffs) and it was a big excitement for us. We'd ride in the caboose and travel back on the California Zephyr." After the war, Japanese families would live in colonies above the ranch. They helped harvest the lettuce fields. Lettuce was a big commodity and there were four packing plants set up on the riverbed. They shipped lettuce to Chicago, New York and Yuma, Arizona. They were hard working families. A lettuce warehouse was sitting where the Old Grand and Silver Spur Restaurant now sit. Lettuce was raised from Yampa to Tabernash in those early years. Suddenly, it disappeared because they found rust in the lettuce. Some say it was the soil.

"Things were tough but we always had meat and potatoes. Never missed a meal. The only thing we didn't have was fresh fruit. At birthdays, we always had a special treat of concord grapes. A juice guy would come every few weeks. We'd love to see him, and he loved to see us-Mom always fed him."  After the war, there were more responsibilities on the ranch. There was lots of physical, hard labor. Brother Jim was commissioner for two terms.

John and his family have seen a lot over the years. Like many other ranchers, they have seen and experienced it all. Unlike today with all the modern conveniences, their lives were much different then and few today would know what it was like in those early years. Each ranch story is different in its way, but all have the same backbone---hard working families with a labor of love for ranch-life.