Spruce Lodge
Chauncey Thomas memorial

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

Colorado Mountain Wild Flowers

A sight to behold
Not just a story to be told
A beauty of our own Grand County things
of the past of here and now

A sight that will forever last
Field, and fields everywhere down low
More growing the higher we go

Our beautiful Colorado mountain flowers
The prettiest of anywhere
All of those colors

Scattered among the trees
Swaying in the breeze
Yellow, purple, blue, pink and red

Tiny little heads
Names of them all I do not know
Just that here they grow
Making a wonderful show!

Oct 2006

The Norton Family

From his earliest memories, Mike Norton recalls playing with model ships and submarines with his older brother. His older brother had a ship, and he had the sub. The small pond on the Circle H ranch where he spent his early life before Lake Granby filled up gave little boys' imaginations an ocean. Marbles gave them depth charges. "But I could never find a way to shoot marbles from the sub," Norton laughingly remembers. As the water literally rose above his home, it shaped his life.

The history of Lake Granby and the Norton Marina goes as deep as the water, literally. Grand County's pioneer ranching history lurks at the lake's bottom, sharing its place with rainbow trout amid the vast water supply for eastern Colorado and beyond. Before the lake filled up as part of the Colorado Big Thompson project, ranches like the Lehmans, Knights and Harveys had been stage stops, cattle and dude ranches and even an airstrip used by Charles Lindbergh.

Mike's dad Frank came to Grand County to ranch. "All I ever really wanted to do  first was to be a rancher here," Frank Norton told the Sky-Hi News back in 1997. At fifteen or sixteen years old, Frank Norton in a Model T Roadster traveled from Okmulgee, Oklahoma to Grand County, where he "fell in love" with the ranch that his mother and step-father started around 1930. The Circle H, started by his step-father Jim Harvey in the valley that is now Lake Granby, became his summer home.

By all accounts, Frank Norton loved ranching. The Circle H "was a working ranch and a dude ranch." Harvey's ranch provided a spectacular backdrop highlighted by the Indian Peaks, reaching 13,000 ft high along the Continental Divide. The Circle H offered a caricature map for tourists looking for a real western experience. It led them over Berthoud Pass along hwy 40 to hwy 34 and then right at the Circle H sign to the Ranch. Leaving on horses from the Circle H, Frank Norton and Jim Harvey took them into a vast and remarkable country that, for the most part, can only be reached on foot today.

In those days, the area now protected as the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area faced less threats from overuse. Ranchers hunted the region to supplement the sometimes skinny winter rations. "Jim Harvey shot two elk from his saddle," Mike Norton proudly recalls of his grandfather as we look at a romantic image of Harvey on horseback. Nowadays, quotas limit use through the peak season. The National Park and Forest Service restrict horse traffic and campfires as well. Early Harvey and Norton history highlight a different time and place, when the remote reaches of Indian Peaks could still be reached by trusting a cowboy with a Winchester rifle to get you there and back safely.

For Mike Norton, the water that drowned out his family's ranching history also floated Norton Marina. Going from ranching to the marina business may seem an odd transition, but Mike's family history shows how flexible they were! Frank Norton spent his early youth traveling with his father's tent show, Norton's comedians. "Dad had such funny stories about that," Mike says. When the traveling troupe era ended (talkies and the Great Depression meant "they didn't eat too well sometimes"), Frank Norton moved to Oklahoma with his father before finally joining his mother and Jim Harvey in Grand County.  

Regardless of his occupation, Frank Norton was a showman. Remarkable old photos save the rich history of pack trips into the Indian Peaks area, camp sites on the shores Lake Monarch and rich harvests of rainbow trout. But Frank Norton and his horse Oak rearing high like the lone ranger really show Frank Norton's flare and charisma.

In many ways, Norton Marina continued the Circle H's heritage. Frank's marina included the Gangplank, a restaurant and dancehall that looked like a boat, with porthole windows and originally a rainbow trout aquarium for the bar. His admiral's hat, which Mike still has today, replaced his cowboy hat and a 25 foot Chris Craft named the Bonnie B replaced old Oak as his ride. More or less, this is the world in which Mike Norton grew up.

Growing up Frank's son meant work too. "I was 8 or 10 years old" when we started "Norton's Ark," Mike smiles, referring to the Gangplank restaurant. It was the early fifties in Grand County. "What backhoe?"

No bailouts either! "Those first few years, I nearly starved to death," Frank Norton once told a reporter. "But," he added, "every year the business kept growing and before I knew it we had a good marina going." Before it was over, Norton Marina fulfilled Frank's dream of a family business, only in "boating recreation" instead of ranching!

"It wasn't all roses," Mike agrees. As a boy, Frank Norton went to military school. "They disciplined him and he used the same technique on his kids." Frank expected his kids to help and to obey his commands, without question. Using Tide and a G.I. scrub brush, Mike Norton recalls scrubbing lower units. They painted wooden boats in the wintertime in the shop. The kids came in from school, changed clothes and started working. "Dad and mom had a lot of kids cause they needed a crew!"

Maybe his most memorable job was cleaning out the septic tanks for the cabins that his dad built to help offset the lack of income at a Rocky Mountain marina during winter. After digging up the lids, "dad would put a ladder into the septic tanks." Then, Mike crawled in and shoveled out the waste while his dad hoisted the buckets out. "I was so glad when Ernie Seipps started his septic clean out business," Mike says as we motor along beside Grand Elk Marina's covered docks on a pontoon boat.

The hard work and experience at the marina paid off when Mike joined the military. Like so many of his generation, Mike received his notice to join ground forces in Vietnam. Luckily, about that time, Navy recruiters were in Granby. They showed a strong interest in a National Honors Society student who lived a life on water! The pieces of the puzzle fit, and "that got me in the Navy," says Mike with real appreciation.

In 1973, the family tradition passed on to Mike and his brother Frank when they bought the marina business from their dad. A lifetime of experience came with them. But it took more than dock maintenance, boat service and customer service to run Norton Marina. And, as the brothers took over, the old Admiral Frank Norton stayed in the house he had built next door to the gangplank, insuring that his strong personality was never far away.

Lots of obstacles exist for a marina on public lands. As Mike took over sole ownership from his brother, he also fought to bring the marina under the National Forest Service instead of the National Park Service, which effectively removed the "power of condemnation." "We had to fight for our livelihood," Mike explained when he sold the Marina in January of 1997.

Mother Nature challenged the marina too. Ice might remain on the water for half of May. June snowstorms blow in monster clouds, as awe-inspiring as the calm sunsets. Freezing rain rips into all but the best prepared boaters nearly any time of year, and hailstorms can hit in a heartbeat. "We're like farmers in that way," Mike recalled. "Drought, winters, high water, low water, you can't really help, we understand that."

On the other hand, the glassy waters of Lake Granby reflect the awe-inspiring Indian Peaks along the Continental Divide on calm, sunny days. Tourists and locals try their luck catching the Mackinaw that makes it attractive to sportsmen and women. Intrepid wake boarders mix with sweet sailboats against a beautiful background of rugged peaks that reach high above tree line. On those days, it's hard to think of a more spectacular place.

Through it all, Mike Norton clearly enjoyed his life at Norton Marina. "I liked being out in the elements with the boating public."  He also counts the independence of self-employment and the uniqueness of the marina as blessings in his "good life."

Grand Elk runs the marina today (2009). Its operation rents out slips and moorings, daily pontoon boats and other related services. It's as beautiful as ever to peer across the lake at sunrise in August, and it's as cold and forbidding as ever when the winter winds whip across the thick ice an snow of the lake in January. Few wooden hulls appear during summer season as in the old days, but beautiful boats, both motor and sail, still surround the Marina.

Yes, its original character remains, not far from the surface. The Gangplank changed its name to Mackinaws, where customers in the main room still look out portholes across the lake to the rugged outline of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, although there is no longer as much space on the dance floor. Those familiar with Indian Peaks recognize old Abe Lincoln lying in his grave along the Continental divide, where Mike's early ranching family led pack trips and today can still be reached, albeit under more controlled circumstances. Today's anchored concrete docks and gas dock continue the process that started with Frank Norton using finger docks that Mike staked in the ground and an old chicken coup from the Circle H to fuel boats.

And in all of Grand Elk Marina's features and history, Frank Norton and his family exist. In the house that they built on site where all of his children were photographed as they grew up and as they graduated from Middle Park High School. In the restaurant where Mike remembers finding the nerve to ask pretty young gals to dance. And, in the numerous family photos that show a smiling, handsome Frank Norton and his attractive family surrounded by high mountains, wooden Chris Craft and a sense of high expectations.

Mike remembers his dad as the "greatest storyteller I've ever known," which he used to his advantage in all occupations. In 2001, I met Frank Norton, only once before he died the next year. He told us about the time Jim Harvey knocked the federal agent who came to tell take their land away to the floor, placed a foot on his chest and said, "If you get up, I'll knock you down again." We could see it happening as he told the story more than 50 years later.

But the story continues beyond Frank Norton. From traveling tents shows to dude ranches to a forty-plus year family run marina, the Nortons made one of Grand County's most enduring "institutions." Entertaining, industrious, and life-loving, Mike simply says, "It's been a really good life." And that's a family tradition.

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: Grand County

Grand County Trivia

After 1879 there were no Native Americans in Grand County.

In the 1800, the leading cause of death in Grand County was accidents followed by pneumonia.

Between 1887 and 1902, Grand County had no divorces.

The total resident population of Grand County in 1900 was 741.  The average life expectancy was 47 years.

Winters in Grand County often were severe, but nothing as terrible as the winter of 1898-1899.  Warm weather preceded the storm which began on February 2nd.  Four feet of snow fell by that first evening and the residents did not see the sun for the rest of the month as the snow continued to fall.  The snow continued into March and April and while few residents died, but the loss of livestock was tremendous.

Topic: Biographies

Isabella Bird

In Yorkshire, England on October 15th 1831, a clergyman and the daughter of a clergyman gave birth to small, sickly girl who would grow up to be one of the most well known travel writers of her time, an exceptional accomplishment in an era when women rarely ventured far from home unescorted. In 1850, after a childhood full of ailments, Isabella had an only partially successful operation to remove a tumor from her spine. Following the surgery, Isabella suffered greatly from depression and insomnia; it was then that her doctor recommended that she travel.  Isabella's father, becoming increasingly worried about his daughter, gave her a hundred pounds and sent her off to see the world.

Ms. Bird traveled throughout the world including Canada, Hawaii, Australia, China, Tibet and Morocco.  She came to Colorado right after the territory had officially been become a state. Isabella loved it in the mountains, so much so that she wrote many letters home to her sister which eventually came to become her third and most famous book, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. In this document, Isabella wrote of her adoration of the area saying, "I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one's life and sigh."

Upon her arrival to Colorado, she traveled into the mountains west of Estes Park. She wrote about adventures and challenges and of her romance with Jim Nugent, or "Rocky Mountain Jim" a one eyed outlaw with an attraction to violence and poetry. He was shot and killed a year after Isabella left Colorado.

Throughout the letters, Isabella mentions the wonderful sights of the lands she explored near current day Grand County.  In one of her letters, Isabella wrote of the time she rode a horse through a blizzard with her eyes frozen shut.  She found herself in another adventure when she was snowed in a cabin with two young men for several months.

Isabella grew eventually grew homesick and headed back to Edinburgh Scotland where she married a doctor. After five years of marriage, her husband died and Isabella returned to travelling. When Isabella returned to Edinburgh in 1904, she grew very ill and died while planning another trip to China.

Topic: Biographies

David Moffat and the Railroad Dream

David Moffat was a wealthy Denver businessman who saw the need for a rail link between Denver and Salt Lake City. His vision, a 6.2 mile long tunnel beneath the Continental Divide, made this link possible.

He was born in 1839, the youngest of 8 children. He ran away from home at age of 12, went to New York City and found work as a bank messenger.  He was an assistant teller by the age of 16 and  became a millionaire through real estate by the age of 21. 

Moffat was admired for his qualities of courage, adaptation to the “barbaric” West and his goodness of heart. He married his childhood sweetheart, Francis Buckhout, moved to Denver, and in 1860 opened a bookstore/stationary/drug store with C.C. & S.W. Woolworth on the corner of 11th and Larimer.  

Moffat and others formed the Denver Pacific Railroad to reach Cheyenne. The rail line to the Moffat Tunnel was the highest standard railroad ever built in the U.S. (11,660 ft). It went over the Continental Divide at Rollins Pass and came into the Fraser Valley in 1904. At the time, it was the most difficult railroad engineering and construction project ever undertaken. It involved boring numerous tunnels through solid granite, as well as constructing precarious timbered trestles that bridged deep mountain gorges. 

David Moffat was a multi-millionaire when he started the Moffat Line and was nearly broke when he died in 1911 trying to raise money for the tunnel that would eventually be built and bear his name. It was finally completed in 1928. The west portal of the Moffat Tunnel can be seen from the Winter Park Resort.

 

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.

My Granby, Little Old Log Church

Contributed by Vera "Stathos" Shay, Kremmling...Granby resident 1930-1945

From what I hear

It is very near

To be torn away

The little church of my childhood day

The most beautiful to see

That can ever be

Inside and out

Without a doubt

Built of log so fine

In the style of old time

In my own little chair

Every Sunday I was there

The chime of its bell

For miles around

Heard its wonderful sound

For a while our school

We didn't fit

So in our church were classes

For a bit

Beside our church on the hill

We sledded for a thrill

That poor little church

They moved it around

All over town

Proudly it's hung together

In all kinds of weather

Every time I go to Granby town

I look around to find

And have a look

At my log church for my eyes'

Memory book

Now they say it's got to go

Pray it won't be so

All of you Granby folk

Louder you should have spoke

To save that church with its

Memories and history

For there could never be

Anything that would compare

Built or put there

With my magnificent, beautiful

Childhood Granby log church

Find it in your hearts

To never let it be torn apart.

 

April 2005

 

 

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: 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.