John Wesley Powell about the time of his Longs Peak ascent

Grand County Colorado

History Article Library

 

Explore the History & Culture of Grand County Colorado

Whether you're just stopping by for a visit and some inspiration from the past or you're doing serious research, we're glad you're here. You'll find over 200 articles on a variety of topics - browse and enjoy!

Have an idea for an article or want to contribute one? Send us a note on the contact form.

This website was initiated by the Community Alliance of Libraries, Museums and Schools (CALM) in 2004 and is currently managed by the Grand County Historical Association for the benefit of the Heritage Coalition of Grand County.  For more information, email Dede Fay at dedefay@hotmail.com.

Articles to Browse

Christmas in the Mountains 1951

It was my first Christmas in the mountains. Not only that, but it was my first time to be part of a vacation in a cozy ski inn.  This was at Millers Idlewild Inn in Hideaway Park (now the town of Winter Park). I had been married only eight months. Dwight and I had worked hard, getting everything in order: ­clean beds, fresh spreads and curtains, floors shining and bathrooms sparkling.  The woodpile was full and food supplies ready.  Our plans for evenings were laid out too. Dwight would do movies. His brother Woodie would call square dances, with former Moffat Road engineer George Shryer accompanying on the fiddle and his wife, Grace, chording on the piano.  Tom Smith would bring his sled and team of horses, to take happy folks along snow-packed roads for sleigh rides, to the tune of jingling bells. Games were at hand, along with a fine supply of books on the shelves. We expected a wonderfully busy two weeks, which was a good thing, because it had been a long time since our last income, before Labor Day.

Family and friends were coming tomorrow to give a hand over the holiday, and then the fun would begin. As the first guests arrived, I stepped outside, and lifting my nose, I thought, "I smell snow!"  Great!  The area already had a pretty good covering, so that when people called and asked, "Is there snow yet?  Should we come on ahead?" we could gladly say, "Come." That night it snowed,­ 12" of beautiful soft flakes.  Skiers were overjoyed. Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out of drifts, take others to Winter Park Ski Area, three miles away. That evening we heard that almost no stumps or rocks were evident on the slopes; all had been buried. The next night it snowed again ­ 12" of beautiful white stuff.  We were amazed.  But Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out if drifts, and take others to the area.  The following night it snowed again, and every night for a week, it snowed, dumping heaps of snow on the whole valley.

Winter Park Ski Area, in those days, wasn't open on Christmas Day; the management wanted to let its employees have the day at home with their families.  So we took our guests to the top of Berthoud Pass; from there they could ski down Seven Mile Trail and we met them at the bottom.  The day after Christmas began the busiest days of all. Back then, many families didn't leave home until the 26th. This was fine, until the passes closed from heavy snows and avalanches. Then visitors, who had to leave, couldn't drive out, but people who were coming by train could still get in!  We had a problem.  The parking lot was jammed with rental cars.  Although some folks went ahead and left by train, many families stayed on.  The rooms were completely full and after all, newcomers were entitled to their reserved space. We had guests stashed all over the lounge, extras in the dorms, and extras in the cabins.  What a crowd it was. I hardly had time to think. 

I cleaned all morning, helped set tables and serve, did dishes, sometimes hauled skiers to or from the area, kept up with the office work, and joined in entertaining folks in the evenings. Thank heaven for family and friends!  There never was such a hectic week. But the Miller hospitality at Idlewild kept our visitors relaxed and happy. Truly, it was a jolly time, with tired skiers loafing in front of the fire, doing puzzles or playing games.  There was always a group playing canasta after dinner, in the dining room, and peals of laughter would pour forth when somebody won a great hand. At last New Year's Eve came and went. The rental cars had gone back to Denver.  The rooms were empty.  We were alone except for a couple of guests.  Making our path through the deep drifts, Dwight and I went home and flopped down on our own sofa.  I heaved a sigh, saying, "Well!  So that's what Christmas in the mountains is like.  I had o idea there would be so much snow."  Little did I know that for Christmas, 1952, we would still have the crowd of guests, but there would be hardly any snow until January!

Topic: Regions

The Blue

Because gold had been found at the headwaters of the Blue River at Breckenridge, hopes were high among prospectors who worked the downstream tributaries in Grand County.  However, this lower section of the Blue contained no mineral wealth. 

The Denver and Rio Grand Railroad planned to run a route through the valley and began constructing grades, but the tracks were never laid because Moffatt's railroad crossed the county first.

An enterprising Canadian, 25 year old Willis Charles Call, had been employed as a cook for the grading company in 1881.  When the railroad abandoned the project, Call became a registrar of voters, and in 1886, the county assessor.  By 1890, he had a choice ranch near Kremmling.  His Austrian wife, Mary Rohrocher, was a very popular hostess.  It is believed that they owned the first automobile in the county.

The conflicts between the white settles and Ute Indians came to a climax in 1878 when the Ute leader Tabernash was killed by a posse and the very next day, Abraham Elliott a homesteader on the Blue, was killed in retaliation.  The remains of his ranch can be seen on Highway 9 at mile marker 135. 

Across the river was the ranch of Henry Yust, who settled there in 1885.  Another early ranching family was that of Thomas Pharo, An Englishman from Franham in Surry, near London.  Settling there in 1880, he developed a major cattle and horse ranch. 

The Blue River area was connected with a route west in 1913, when the co-called Trough Road was constructed, beside the Gore Canyon to State Bridge.

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.

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.

Barger Gulch - Archaelogical site

The prospect of discovering a remnant from a 10,000-year-old stone age society that inhabited Colorado's Middle Park so long ago seemed remote at best - while the suggestion that a prized Folsom point could somehow materialize before our very eyes appeared all but impossible.  For one thing, it was the last day of excavating for the summer at the Barger Gulch archaeological site and the ten member scientific team would soon be packing up and heading back to their ivory towers at the University of Wyoming and the University of Arizona.

Barger Gulch is a desolate spot that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees. It is hard, parched dirt dabbled with sagebrush as far as your eyes can see across the flat valley - a haven for all manner of bugs and other forms of native wildlife. In winter, the place turns to the opposite extreme as temperatures plunge to minus 40-degrees and howling winds whip up ghostly images of snow that swirl eerily across the land. This is Middle Park, a high mountain basin with roughly the same geo-political boundaries as Grand County. It encompasses some 1,100 square miles of unforgiving territory flanked on three sides by the formidable wall of the Continental Divide and its terrain soars high over the Great Plains into the thin, alpine air up to altitudes of 13,000 feet above sea level. What would induce these primitive Americans to trek all the way up here without so much as horses for transportation? How would they have survived the brutal winters with only primitive tools and clothing?  And why in the world would they ever want to settle in such a barren, god-forsaken place as Barger Gulch? 

This site could well prove to be one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of its kind in North America, according to BLM officials who oversee the project here. In just three years of work in a relatively small excavation area, investigators unearthed more than 18,000 artifacts - a staggering number ten times that discovered at typical Folsom sites. And this is only one of four sites in the same vicinity.  In addition to Barger Gulch and Upper Twin Mountain, discoveries include the Jerry Craig and Yarmony Pit House sites. Most of these were occupied by peoples described by archaeologists as Paleo-Indians, a catchall term for ancient humans that inhabited North America; Yarmony Pit House post dated Paleo-Indians by about 3,000 years.

But long before Paleo-Indians ever set foot on the Continent, Middle Park was a prehistoric menagerie; 20-million years ago, it was the stomping grounds for prehistoric rhinoceros, three-toed horses, camels, giant beavers, and even small horses. Creatures known as oreodonts also romped across the mountainous terrain. These vegetarians, ranging in size from small dogs to large pigs, fed on grasses and green, leafy plants. In fact, the skull of one of these animals was discovered recently in the vicinity of Barger Gulch. These long extinct, hoofed animals resembled sheep, but were actually closer to camels, and were common in the western U.S. This latest discovery is remarkably well preserved; while the bones have turned to stone, the smooth, hard enamel that encased the animal's teeth is still intact. 

Humans arrived in North America much later - about 12,000 years ago - as the last Ice Age of the Pleistocene Epoch made its exit. These first Americans crossed a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska and began populating the entire Continent; experts believe it is possible they also arrived on boats following the Continental Shelf into North America. Folsom people are best known as nomadic, big game hunters who chiseled out their spear points and finished them off with a distinctive, artistic flourish - a unique groove, or flute, that runs lengthwise along the face that has become the symbol of this Paleo-Indian culture. They honed the tips of these primitive weapons surprisingly sharp for killing frenzies that were necessarily up close and personal: they herded their prey into traps before launching their spears - and archaeologists suspect there was just such a bison ambush site near Barger Gulch. The quarry just over the rise is a gold mine of raw materials, including fine-grained Kremmling chert and abundant Windy Ridge quartzite, which provided a never-ending supply of top grade stone. "It makes sense," explains Todd Surovell. "You would want to camp where you could get as many raw materials as possible within a short distance. That's where you're going to park yourself for awhile."

The bulk of these tools originated with local material, but investigators have found some 200  "exotic" items noticeably out of place at Barger Gulch. One is a distinctive piece of yellow, petrified wood that came from 93 miles away as the crow flies, near the town of Castle Rock on the Colorado plains. Another is a large biface that was brought up from the Arkansas Valley, some 60 miles south. "They worked on it up here in one place and turned it into two, maybe three projectile points," notes Surovell. "One of them broke during manufacture and we have two pieces that fit exactly together."

Fitting these and thousands of other pieces together is what archaeologists do when they get back to the lab. The process begins on site where investigators photograph each find and record its exact location within the excavation block. This gives the team a visual reference to help recognize activity patterns - a way to connect the dots of Folsom society.  But the specks come to an abrupt stop, as if they suddenly run into a solid wall. "If we could figure out that this represented the wall of a structure, that would be really special," he explains. "Nobody's even been able to do that before in a site of this age in North America." Just then, a graduate student pops his head inside the door. "You want to be a camera man?" he asks Surrovell. "What do you got?" "A Folsom point," he replies with a broad grin. We rush over to the site where Waguespack has dug a narrow shaft down the north wall of the excavation pit and hit pay dirt - a Folsom point that remains half buried in the stratum of rich soil.

Topic: Libraries

Grand Lake Library

The Grand Lake Library was originally sponsored by the Women's Club of Grand Lake.  In January of 1933, the club voted to sponsor a town library to collect sufficient number of books may be obtained to open the in October.  A newspaper article from December 13, 1933 stated:

"The Grand Lake Woman's Club is glad to announce that its free public library is now open to the public at the home of Mrs. Goldie Hawkins. Books may be exchanged every Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm. There are over 300 volumes of fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children. The Club is grateful to many of our citizens as well as to summer residents who have donated these books. It is by means of their generosity that our library is made possible at this time. Lumber for the shelves was donated by Henry Schnoor, and Preston Hawkins built the shelves without charge." Mary L. Cairns, Chairman Library Board.

The Juniper Women's Club, a junior club of the Grand Lake Women's Club first opened a library in January 1945. It started in a small room in the Community house used for town council meetings. The library was allowed to use the room rent free; however, the library was soon bursting out at the seams and unable to take book donations due to lack of space. When the town council and the firemen decided to build an addition on the firehouse in the winter of 1947, the Juniper Club sought and received permission to have an upstairs room of 16 ft. by 18 ft. for the library. There was a condition; the room was to be finished by the club. A contract was let for the complete finishing of the room with built in shelves on the east and west walls and a sub floor. A wiring contract was also let. To earn the money for the payment the club had bingo, potluck suppers, card parties and food in a basket.

Since January of 1945 836 books were added to the 900 books of the former library. In February of 1948 the books were all moved to the new library, by hand and through the snow, with the assistance of the club members' husbands. In the summer of 1948 these books were all classified according to the Dewey Decimal System by the club members. From the May 1948-May 1949 Juniper Club President's report:

  • Our main project has been and will be our public library. We have approximately 2000 books which are mostly fiction. The first year fifty new books were purchased for $134. There were approximately 200 library cards purchased by our patrons.
  • In May a benefit card party was held and $34 was cleared for the library. Two baskets of food were sent from member to member and $26.25 was raised this way.
  • In July a silver teas was given at the library room. A lovely program of music, pictures of Hawaii, etc. was given. $50.75 was cleared from this tea for the library.
  • During August the club women sold chances on a service for six, sterling silverware set. 330 chances were sold earning $229.73 for the running of the library.
  • New Year's Eve, a dance was given and $29.83 was cleared for the library project.
  • In addition to the 50 books purchased, an oil stove was purchased, curtains were made and the floors were refinished for the library by club members.

 From newspaper articles of 1949:
"The library boasts 1650 volumes, most of them good recent books, and it is open two afternoons a week in winter but three in summer with Mrs. Agnes Gingery as librarian. This year's project for the Juniper Club under the direction of Mrs. Grace Eslick, president, will be the landscaping of the area within the circle drive around the fire house in the Community House block. Last Sunday the first of a series of square dances was held at the Southway Lodge, with a good crowd attending. These dances are put on by the Juniper club and will be for the benefit of the Grand Lake library. They will be held every Sunday night and refreshments are served free. If you do not know how to square dance and would like to learn, we will be glad to teach you. The square dances at Southway's on Sunday evenings are proving very popular as well as lucrative for the library fund."

During the Christmas holidays the new floor was laid and new shelves were built. Materials and labor cost $150 of the club's square dance money. The club spent $650 on the library room. 116 books were added, 75 by donation and 41 were purchased.

The Juniper Club then started a beautification program in the area of the town square and around the fire house and library.

The Juniper Library at Grand Lake became a branch of the Grand County Library System in 1988. In May of 1995 the Juniper Library moved from the Fire Station a location just off the town square.

With increased library use and development of computer information systems the need for a larger space was recognized and a new library was built adjacent to the Town Hall and dedicated in June of 2006.

Topic: Biographies

Stephen Bradley

 

Article contributed by Karen Wischnack

 

Born to a Wisconsin doctor in Chicago November 12, 1916 was one of seven skiing sons by the name of Stephen J. Bradley.  His talents in skiing showed up at a very early age.  By the time he was attending Dartmouth College his talents were apparent and was a top competitive skier.  He skied in the slalom, downhill, jumping and langlauf while on the college's team.  Steve then was called to serve his country during the World War II Army service.  After his discharge he then attended and coached skiing at Colorado University. 

 

In 1950 Steve became Winter Park's executive director.  During his employment at Winter Park he guided it from a four rope tow/three T-bar local ski area to a major resort of 770 acres with 13 chair lifts.  His brilliance in design led to the Balcony House, the Base Lodge which was one of the first ski area structures to utilize solar heating, the restaurant in the midway proved to be a model for the "scramble" system of food service and then there's the Mary Jane section of Winter Park which was another one of his talents.

 

Stephen was given the name "Father of Slope Grooming" in 1952 when he then invented the famous Bradley Packer-Grader when experimenting with slope grooming.  The invention was a one man gravity-powered slope grooming device which revolutionized the ski maintenance industry.  Nick-named "the Purple People Eater".  This machine was a mogul-cutting snow groomer that was 5-foot-wide corrugated culvert that a skier would drag down hill or as they said " A hardy mountain crewman" who risked his life by being devoured by the spinning rotor.  As skiing became more popular, skiers started demanding that the slopes be groomed.  Nature was no problem but not everyone wanted to ski moguls.  This Bradley Packer was a way to reduce the mogul's and keep snow on the trails by flattening the snow.  "It was a pretty scary thing" supervisors claimed.  Grooming was soon transferred to a line of tracked vehicles now known a "Snowcats". 

 

Stephen served as President of the NSAA (National Ski Areas Association) and helped organize Colorado Ski Country USA and the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board before his death in Longmont November 13, 2002.  You can find him as an honored member of the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and in the National Ski Hall of Fame.

 

Topic: Mountains

Berthoud Pass

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

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

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

Topic: Places

Place Names

Article contributed by Kathy Zeigler

The County of Grand was established in 1874, taking its name from the Grand River which has its headwaters in the county, and from Grand Lake, the largest natural body of water in the state of Colorado.  The county seat is Hot Sulphur Springs.  The area of the county is 1854 sq. mi., making it larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Fraser was established in 1871 as the town of Eastom.  Its name changed to Fraser, after the river that flows through the town, though it was originally spelled Frazier, for Reuben Frazier. The Post Office adopted the simpler spelling at the establishment of the Post Office.  The town bore the distinction of being the "icebox of the nation" for many years, losing that title in a legal battle with a town in Minnesota.

Granby was established in 1904, taking its name from Granby Hillyer, a Denver attorney who may have been associated with the founding of the town.

Grand Lake was established in 1881 as a mining settlement by the Grand Lake Town and Improvement Company, taking its name from Grand Lake.

Hideaway Park was established approximately 1905, and named for its hidden location with the trees screening it from the road. It may have been earlier known as Woodstock, Vasquez and Little Chicago. Max Kortz, owner of a dance hall in the village is said to have provided the moniker. 

Hot Sulphur Springs was established in 1860 and named for the hot springs.  It may have been refered to as Sulphur Springs in its earliest days, and as Sulphur by the workers and management of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad when it came through in 1904.

Kremmling was established in 1881 as a general merchandise store, owned by Kare Kremmling on the ranch of Dr. Harris, located on the north bank of the Muddy River. In 1888 John and Aaron Kinsey had part of their ranch platted, calling the site Kinsey City. Kremmling moved his store across the river to the new site; eventually the town came to be known as Kremmling.  (Note the two different first names-Reuben Kremmling and Kare Kremmling.  I'll keep working on that discrepancy.)

Radium's name was suggested by Harry S. Porter, prospector and miner, in reference to the radium content in one of his mines.

Winter Park was first known as West Portal, a settlement that grew up during the construction of the Moffat Tunnel in the 1920s.  Postal authorities agreed to the name change to Winter Park, after a request was made by Denver mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton and many sport enthusiasts to publicize the establishment of a top winter sports area.

Berthoud Pass, el. 11314, was named for Capt. Edward L. Berthoud. Berthoud discovered the pass in 1861. He was also chief engineer on the Colorado Central Railroad.

Gore Pass, el. 9524, was named for Sir Charles Gore, who mounted a monumental "hunt" to the American West during the 1850s. Gore spent considerable time in the area, and gave his name to the Pass, a mountain range, and a canyon.

Milner Pass, el. 10759, was named for T.J. Milner, and accomplished civil engineer for railroads and street car lines.

Muddy Pass, el. 8772, bears the name of Big Muddy Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, with reference to the muddy appearance of the waters during the spring runoff and storms.

Rabbit Ears Pass, el. 9426, refers to Rabbit Ears Peak, whose outcroppings somewhat resemble a rabbit's ears.

Willow Creek Pass, el 10850, is named for the stream, and almost certainly for the willow bushes that line the banks of the stream. The pass was a well known Indian trail, and became a road in the early 1900s.

Source: Eichler, George R. Colorado Place Names. Boulder: Johnson Publishing, 1977.

Topic: Towns

Radium

The settlement of Radium, on the north bank of the Colorado River in Gore Canyon, was established in 1906, when railroad construction of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad brought in foreign workers, typically Swedes, Greeks, and Italians. After the rail lines were built, livestock was shipped out and vegetables such as potatoes, peas, and lettuce were grown and picked at the last minute so they could be shipped while still fresh.

Originally the land was homesteaded by the Murgrage and Hoyt ranch families. Railroad passenger service during the winter months was scheduled only three times a week each way but even then, couldn’t always get through. Nonetheless, the “Try Weakly Railroad” service was better transportation than anything residents had ever had before.

The name of Radium was suggested by Harry S. Porter because of the radioactivity found in his mine. The nearby Radium Copper Mine was a large copper producer at one time.

Maintainance workers for Union Pacific, current owners of the railroad, are still based at Radium.