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: Railroads

Moffat Road

 

"I shall never forget it as long as I live. Nor do I ever expect to experience anything comparable to it again. Civilization had found its way across the mountains into Middle Park," reflected Mrs. Josephine Button in 1955 on her 91st birthday, as she recalled seeing smoke from the first Denver Northwestern and Pacific work-train on Rollins Pass, high above the Fraser Valley and Middle Park. Once those rails made it over the Continental Divide all the way to Hot Sulphur Springs, "changes came thick and fast." Many men, many dollars, many routes and many dreams tried to bring a railroad over the Continental Divide into Northwest Colorado, and the "Hill Route" over Rollins Pass that finally accomplished it a century ago has retained its allure ever since.

The Moffat Railroad built a cafeteria, telegraph station, living quarters for Moffat's "Hill Men" (as the railroad crews up there were known) and a fine hotel - all collectively called Corona Station. Soot-filled snow sheds protected over a mile of this windblown section of track. And where today silence is the most powerful sense, colorful locomotives pulled passenger and freight cars, filling the rare atmosphere with black smoke and mechanical clatter.

Decades of men's dreams lay behind the once massive snow shed that cut the bitter winds from the north and west, behind that fine hotel that offered some of the most spectacular scenery in America, behind the hopeful Town of Arrow nestled below tree-line ten or twelve miles west of Rollins Pass, and behind that first work-train that Josephine Button watched from her hay ranch along the Cottonwood Pass Wagon Road to Hot Sulphur Springs. Competent, often powerful, men in the 1860's through the 1890's filed surveys, graded road beds, and even began drilling before being stopped by severe storms that foiled the best laid plans or their inability to fund the ambitious projects.

Dreams to penetrate the high mountains along the Divide in central Colorado began when the Front Range was flooded with miners during the Gold Rush of 1859. Even before Colorado became a territory in 1861, Golden City, just west of Denver along Clear Creek, recognized its potential as a gateway to the rich mineral resources of mountain towns like Central City, Black Hawk, and Georgetown. Golden City's ambitions went beyond becoming a mountain transportation hub, believing that with the right incentives, enthusiasms, and leadership, its location supported a future as a national commerce center. 

Golden City certainly had men of vision, ambition, and wealth among its ranks. William Loveland and George Vest, both young and feverishly ambitious to see Golden City reach its potential, vigorously pursued their dreams for a powerful commercial center in Golden City. From Missouri River towns like Leavenworth in Eastern Kansas, leading town founders also recognized the benefits of linking their water and rail routes to the east with the resources of the west. Finally, as if destiny had demanded it, Edward L. Berthoud, a young civil engineer and surveyor with energy and ability, arrived in Golden City from Leavenworth in April of 1860 to unite the similar passions of leading citizens from both locations.

From 1861 until 1866, Berthoud, Loveland and Vest focused on bringing a direct transcontinental railroad route through Golden City. First, Edward Berthoud, along with Jim Bridger and a capable young cartographer named Redwood Fisher, blazed a trail across Berthoud Pass through Middle Park all the way to Salt Lake City. Returning to Golden City on May 28, 1861, Berthoud reported "a good wagon road could be ?quickly' built" from Denver to Salt Lake City over Berthoud Pass for about $100,000.00. According to the local hyperbole, a railroad would surely follow.

In spite of considerable enthusiasm, disappointment plagued early efforts to put a rail line over the mountains in Colorado Territory. In 1862, Territorial Governor John Evans sent the Surveyor General for Colorado and Territories along Berthoud's route and others to confirm or deny the potential of a railroad line. About the same time, the Union Pacific Railroad Company sent an independent reconnaissance to examine potential routes over the divide that included Berthoud and Boulder Passes (Boulder Pass became Rollins Pass in the early 1870's, when John Quincy Adams Rollins built a toll road over it, and then Corona Pass when the Railroad crossed it). Surveyor General Case and the UP agreed that neither route offered much hope for a standard gauge railroad. The dream of a transcontinental line over the Continental Divide through central Colorado seemed to die with the UP surveyor's words, "I learned enough to satisfy myself that no railroad would - at least in our day - cross the mountains south of the Cache la Poudre..." 

Multiple failed attempts to bring a rail line over the Divide through Middle Park during the following decades strengthened the UP's "death sentence." Against the odds, Berthoud and Loveland continued to solicit support for a railroad west over or through the Continental Divide, using improved surveys and maps to support their requests. In the 1880's, survey crews from a variety of railway incorporations were scattered over the high country on or near Rollins Pass. Over Berthoud, Rollins and other passes, they marked potential railroad lines with their wooden stakes. It was during this stretch of strenuous surveying activity that David Moffat, a highly successful Denver capitalist, got involved with an unsuccessful effort to bring through the mountains instead of over the top. 

 In the early 1880's, Mr. Moffat invested in the Denver, Utah and Pacific Railroad, which intended to tunnel through the mountains near Rollins Pass. Like the other efforts, though, the Denver, Utah and Pacific vanished in a few short years. Unlike many other lines that accomplished little more than surveys and maps, the DU&PRR completed significant grading and began tunneling before reaching the "end of its resources."

Money, power and success supported Moffat's dream to put Denver on a direct transcontinental railroad line. Doctor Robert C. Black, III, wrote that David Moffat's failed efforts in the early 1880's converted him to the idea that Denver needed to be on a direct transcontinental rail line. Moffat considered the route over Rollins Pass valuable enough to have surveying and grading crews working on it throughout the winter in 1902. The Denver Rocky Mountain News claimed that Moffat's route through Northwestern Colorado included "the largest strip of fertile land as yet undeveloped in the United States..." With his Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad, David Moffat planned to make good his intentions to put Denver on direct transcontinental railroad line.

Moffat's original plan called for the "Hill Route" over Corona Pass ? the name changed from Rollins Pass in honor of Corona Station at the top ? to last for only a few short years. While the "temporary" route over the top generated resources by extracting the resources of Northwestern Colorado, a tunnel was to be bored through the Continental Divide. Even the wealth and power of Moffat, though, failed to adequately finance the tunnel before he died in 1911. The temporary line, therefore, lasted for nearly of a quarter century, from 1904 until 1928.

Its obstacles proved as enormous as the mountains it crossed. Work crews had to cease operations because of snow for most of April in 1920. The road was closed from late January until May in 1921. In December of 1924, engine number 210 busted "a main reservoir pipe," causing the train to fly down the hill out of control until it jumped the tracks and crashed into the valley below. Clearly, the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, which took over Moffat's DNW&P after his death, needed a tunnel to replace the expensive effort over the "Devil's Backbone."

 As Denver and Salt Lake Locomotive Number 120 came through the tunnel in early 1928, it represented the culmination of a massive undertaking through wet, unstable rocks which required considerable engineering ingenuity and caused six deaths in a 1926 cave-in. It also took an enormous amount of coordination and effort to secure the necessary funding. Through local bond issues, private investors and other means, the project was completed. And through a connection at Dotsero, a railroad station less than 30 minutes west of Vail on I-70, freight and passengers could make a direct Pacific connection from Denver. Posthumously, David Moffat's dream became a reality.

For significant periods of time since the trains stopped operations over Rollins Pass in the late 1920's with the opening of the Moffat Tunnel, on-road vehicles crept along its relatively easy grades and wide curves from Rollinsville on the east slope to Winter Park on the west side of the Divide. Like now, the road ran through an area attractive to backcountry campers and sport enthusiasts. On September 1, 1956, local officials and private citizens met on Rollins Pass to celebrate a "joint state-federal-county project to convert the old D. & S. L. railroad right of way over Corona Pass into an access road for sportsmen." According to the Denver Post, the game and fish department's construction division reconstructed the road during the summer of 1955 for about $20,000. The following year, the road became a scenic route over the Continental Divide for family cars and jeep caravans alike. And after it was built, or at least reconstructed, they did come. Intrepid tourists into Middle Park.

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: 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 .

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: Railroads

Railroads

Construction on the railroad line from Denver to Grand County began in July 1902.

The project, called the Moffat road (officially the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific), was the seemingly impossible dream of David H. Moffat, who spent much of his personal fortune building the tracks over the Continental Divide.

The rails pushed higher and higher up the mountains until they reached a station named Corona, meaning the crown of the continent.

Corona was the highest point in the world with a standard gauge railroad and the journey from Denver in the winter was perilous at best.

Huge snowplows were required on either side of the Divide to keep the tracks clear.

Eventually, in the late 1920s, a tunnel was dug through the range, eliminating 22.84 miles of track and the breathtaking journey over Rollins Pass.

The railroad reached Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905 and Kremmling in 1906, and played a significant role in building the population of Grand County.

In 1900 the total resident population of Grand County was only 741, but grew to 1,862 in 1910.

Topic:

Ray Osborn

Article contributed by Tonya Bina 11-07

 

Ray Osborn's father, Elonzo Osborn was also an avid fisherman and hunter, and he and a neighbor stocked cutthroat trout the in the 1920s in the lakes in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. This fact seems to bring pride to Osborn, who spent his entire adolescence exploring the terrain surrounding the upper Colorado River. "Everything in the outdoors was so ingrained in the way we lived," he said. "We lived in the outdoors, and we fished when we could and hunted when we could."

Osborn's maternal great grandfather is Warren Gregg, a settler and talented carpenter whose wife took the life of her young children, sparing two boys, in a story that has become legend in
Grand Lake. His maternal grandfather, Ray Gregg, was a blacksmith and a carpenter. He was also the justice of the peace in Grand Lake.

And Ray Osborn's father was a rancher, a man who was forced off of his land when a large water delivery system came to define the West Slope. Being fourth-generation
Grand County can be frustrating, he said. "There's too many changes. None of them for the better. Rich developers are coming in here and tearing the country up and developing the county. They don't care because they're not going to live here. They're going to get their money and go someplace else," he said. "I don't like all the changes now, they're destroying the natural beauty of Grand County."

Osborn, who had six brothers and sisters, has seen two of his childhood homes be torn down "for progress." The first was the ranch house his family lived in before the Bureau of Reclamation claimed his father's 54 acres for the Colorado-Big Thompson project. The ranch land is now a lake bed, 11 feet below the water's surface.
When Shadow Mountain Reservoir was drained last year to kill weed growth, Osborn said he could still see the old foundation. The government offered his father $5,400 for the 54 acres, take it or leave it.  "My father was broken-hearted over it because he loved to ranch."

With the money, Elonzo Osborn bought 11 acres on the north side of the North Fork of the Colorado, where he kept a milking cow and raised chickens, then went to work for the Bureau as a janitor at the government camps that sprung up for the construction of the project. Ray's mother went to work as a mail carrier, with a route from
Granby to Grand Lake up to Phantom Valley in the Park to supplement the family's income.

During WWII, the family raised rabbits during a meat shortage. "Rabbits were easy to raise, and we sold a lot of them," Osborn said. Ray Osborn attended first through ninth grade at the
Grand Lake primary school before attending Middle Park High School, which had just been built in 1947. There were 22 people in Osborn's class, and he was the first student to graduate mid-term from the new school. The very next day, he joined the Navy, the start of a 24-year career that involved two wars.
"On my first tour of duty, I came home on leave and went to a high school football game," Osborn said. It was there that Osborn met Mary Ann, who was visiting from
Iowa for a few months during her senior year in high school.

After a long-distance engagement, the couple married at St. Anne's Catholic Church in
Grand Lake in the fall. This September, they celebrated their 55th anniversary.
Most of his career was spent overseas, Osborn said, with more than 16 years in
Asia. He credits his wife for raising their four children mostly on her own. In 1973, he retired from the military; his youngest was 13 years old.

Upon retirement, after a stint in
Denver, the family relocated to Grand County, where Osborn worked at Winter Park Resort for 12 years. Nearly every day, Osborn heads to his favorite fishing spots, such as the canal that feeds into Shadow Mountain reservoir, a replacement of the river that once was.  He now brings his grandchildren fishing too, and grandma Mary Ann knows just how to cook up those brookies, "cornmeal and flower, olive oil in the pan, a sprinkle of lemon pepper" to make them taste real good. "Get them real brown," she says.

Osborn likes how much fun they are to catch, and his youngest grandson does too.
"They're like wild trout - you got to know how to fish for them in order to catch them," he said. It's when the 75 year-old outdoorsman is talking about the rivers, inlets and hills he knows so well, he seems most at home. "Not too many people left here that have been here longer," he said.

 

Topic: Towns

Grand Lake

Grand Lake was established in 1879 and incorporated in 1944. It is named for the largest natural body of water in Colorado. In 1867, when only a few people resided near the lake, Major John Wesley Powell (the man whose group first rafted the Grand Canyon) came to explore the possibility of floating down the Grand (now Colorado) River. That summer, Powell, local resident Jack Sumner, and William Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, made the first recorded ascent of Longs Peak from Grand Lake. In the early 1900’s a Yacht Club was formed by enthusiasts who were attracted by the demands of attentive seamanship the lake demanded.

In 1912, Sir Thomas Lipton contributed an impressive cup to be presented annually to the winner of the annual August Regatta. This event still draws skilled sailors to the challenging competition. The town was founded during a very brief mining boom, but because of it's natural beauty, tourism has long been the sustaining feature of it's economy.

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.

Topic:

Irving Hale's Adventures in Grand County

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

At the age of 17, Irving Hale was the first graduate of the Denver Hugh School in 1878. That summer, he and his younger brother decided to go to Grand Lake to catch trout with the plan to sell the fish in Central City and make a tidy profit.

 

On July 5th, they camped atop of Berthoud Pass, building a "roaring fire to keep mosquitoes away".  The next day, they reached Cozens Ranch (stage stop in what is now Winter Park) but their jackass, carrying much of their supplies, had wandered off.  They feared that he had returned to Georgetown, where they had purchased him earlier in the week, but they found him grazing in a nearby pasture.

 

They almost drowned attempting to cross the Fraser River but finally found their way to Grand Lake on July 9th.  There, they camped and fished and collected enough trout for their return trip to Central City.  On the way back, the fish started to smell so they found some ice and started over the Continental Divide.  They realized they wouldn't make much money so were happy to sell their rotting trout for 25 cents per 10 pounds.  On July 25th they shot a deer and had a terrible time trying to skin it and cut up the meat.  Discouraged, they finally returned home to Central City.

 

Irving Hale was given an appointment to West Point and during his career he rose to the rank of Brigadier General. He was given command of troops in combat in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. As Colorado's first combat general, he retired to Denver in 1906, and published his experiences as a youth in  "A Tramp Through Middle Park".

 

When the World War II cold weather camp was established near Leadville Colorado, it was named after Irving Hale. Many of the ski and mountaineering troops, the Tenth Mountain Division, became the founders of many of the modern ski areas of Colorado.  

 

Sources:

Rocky Mountain News, April 15, 1888

Sons of Colorado, Vol. I, 3&, 1906

Fay, Abbott; A History of Skiing in Colorado; Ouray, CO; 2002

 

Topic: Skiing

Winter Carnivals

Carl Howelsen, a ski jumping champion in his native Norway, came to Denver to pursue a career as a stonemason in the early years of the 20th Century.  He amused himself and others by demonstrating ski-jumping in the foothills of Denver. 

In 1911, Howelson went to Hot Sulphur Springs, where he taught locals such as Horace Button the art of jumping.  Under Howelson's leadership, the first winter carnival west of the Mississippi Rover was held there on February 10-12.  According to the Middle Park Times, "Never before in the history of the Territory and State of Colorado has such an event even been contemplated, much less held!".

Norwegian immigrants Howelson, Angell Schmidt of Denver and Gunnar Dahles of Williams Fork (Grand County) all staged jumping competitions during the carnival.  There were also skating and tobogganing events and a Grand Ball.  Hot Sulphur Springs continued holding Winter Carnivals annually until World War II, when they were discontinued until the 100th anniversary celebration, called the Grand Winter Sports Carnival scheduled for December 30, 2011-February 11, 2012.