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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

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 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.

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:

Agriculture

Article contributed by Scott Rethi

The first settlers in Granby realized the sunny days and cool nights were perfect for growing one crop in particular, lettuce.  Lettuce farming boomed in the 1920's and a new industry was born.

Granby had become an important railway center as tracks were laid over the Divide at Rollins Pass,giving the Moffat Railroad access to Salt Lake City. Granby produced some of the best-known lettuce
in America.  There are even tales that New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bragged of their “Granby Lettuce” on the menu.  

Then a blight settled into the soil, probably brought in by the wooden crates used for shipping, and the lettuce business was ruined. Since then, ranching has replaced agriculture as Granby's major industry.

Sources:
www.byways.org, national scenic byways online, 2003
www.grandcountynews.com, Johnson Media, Inc., 2000-2002
www.djhome.net, 2002

Topic: Towns

Hot Sulphur Springs

Hot Sulphur Springs was founded as the first town in Grand County around 1870.  By 1903 it gained incorporation. The hot springs in the area were considered a healing and sacred place by the Ute Indians long before the white man discovered them.

The town site was once owned by William N. Byers, founder of the Denver newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News. Planning to build a town to take advantage of the springs, he first had to construct an enclosure around the main pool to keep the Indian ponies out and the steam in. The white settlers and travellers were drawn to the  springs for their therapeutic value.

During the Christmas season of 1911, Hot Sulphur Springs hosted the first Winter Carnival west of the Mississippi.

Except for a brief period in the early 1880’s, the town has been the county seat.  The Grand County Historical Museum there draws many visitors to its unique displays.

 

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: Water

Grand Lake

Grand Lake is Colorado's largest natural lake.  The clear blue waters are surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery and a haunting Indian legend.  

Judge Joseph L. Wescott, an early white settler, wrote a poem about a Ute story he heard from an Indian camping at the lake in 1867.  One summer Utes were camping on the shores of Grand Lake when they were suddenly attacked by an enemy tribe of the Arapahoe.  As the brave Ute warriors began fighting, the squaws and papooses hurried onto a raft for safety, pushing the raft to the middle of the lake. As the battle continued, a treacherous wind overturned the raft and all the women and children drowned.  

It is said that you can see ghostly forms in the morning mist rising from the lake and hear the wailing of the women and children beneath the winter ice.

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: Agriculture

Worm Farms and Other Gardens

Have you ever heard of a worm farm? Harry French Sr., who lived for many years at Azure, on the Colorado River, loved to fish, anywhere and anytime.  He had brought the first angleworms into the valley from Iowa.  At his Azure homestead, he made a worm bed and got his worms established. Pretty soon, everybody came by to get some worms for their own needs.  

Worms can’t be found just anywhere in these high mountain valleys. However, at the Arkell place (Diamond Bar T) on Ranch Creek in the east end of the county, luckily someone had planted worms in a corner of the garden plot and this was the only place the Arkells could find worms.  At one point, Gertrude Arkell’s cousin Rose started a small business, digging worms from the garden and selling them to fishermen who happened by.  She even charged the rest of the family if they wanted worms!  

Gertrude described planting their own garden in 1916 after they moved to the ranch.  Papa spread several loads of well-decayed fertilizer from an old corral onto the garden and plowed it, creating a fine base for his vegetables.  Of necessity, pioneers coming into Grand County started immediately to see what would grow here.  They had to eat, and gardens were one of the first items on anyone’s agenda.  Coming over Dice Hill from the Blue and into the Sheephorn area about 1880, Joseph McPhee, a Scot, homesteaded the grass-covered McPhee Flats in Garden Gulch, site of the first garden in the area.  There were only two other homesteads on the Sheephorn at that time.  

Possibly Nancy Veatch Schissler, (Mrs. Henry Roric) planted the first garden on the Williams Fork in 1883.  She asked the men to plow her a bed, but they were positive nothing would grow.  So, undaunted, she planted lettuce, onions, and radishes on her dirt roof and potato peelings along the ditch bank, all of which grew!  Her little daughters fetched pails of water to hand to her up on the roof for irrigation.  

George Henricks, on the farthest reaches of the Troublesome, rarely had access to stores.  His wife, Aurella, bravely started radishes on her sod roof before the ground thawed, later transplanting them to a sheltered spot along with other vegetables.   What were the usual high altitude crops?  Lettuce, green onions, peas, root vegetables, and beans generally grew well.  Willis Call near Kremmling brought the first white potatoes to Grand County. 

Now, the Arkells on Ranch Creek had been told that at 8900 feet altitude, beans would freeze, and they did.  So did the potatoes, except those planted high up the hill in a spot where the soil was deep and black.  An aspen grove had grown there once, maybe for hundreds of years.   The family anticipated a good crop, but in early September or even in late August, a heavy frost completely melted the patch down.  That crop yielded bushels of small potatoes, few larger than golf balls.  Still, the Arkells stored them in their so-called ice-house, because until Papa got a cellar dug, there was nothing else.  They hoped the ice-house would keep the cold out, as it did heat, but the potatoes froze as hard as rocks.  Mama would bring in enough for a meal and immediately put them into a kettle of boiling water.  When done, they tasted like fresh potatoes! 

Before July, the family had early green onions, lettuce, and radishes, since these didn¹t mind the frost.  They froze every night but still lived, grew, and were good.  The white radishes grew long, slender, and crisp.  Head lettuce could be eaten early as leaf lettuce, or later as a fine firm head.  Peas didn’t mind the cold either but grew fast and tall. The package advertised them as “Telephone Pole Peas.”  They bloomed, set on peas ready to pick, and kept right on blooming and growing more peas, producing right up till early frost.  By late July, the Arkells had small rutabagas to eat, a crop new to them.  Turnips in late July were already large, and by fall they were gigantic but still sweet and good to eat raw. Turnips were pulled in the fall and stored in a great pile. Rabbits chewed off the outer skin and ate it but left the rest.  The remaining skinless turnips soon froze and made good cow feed.

Actually, a number of ranchers grew turnips for cattle food, particularly for show cattle.   Over on the Sheephorn, Helen Anghern Curry related that families shipped plenty of potatoes and peas out of Radium to Denver.  Farmers had to get up very early to pick the vegetables in order to get them on the train. That was almost fresh!  

Grain was grown more commonly than one might expect, especially on the west end.  For instance, a young English chap on the Blue River, Tom Pharo, experimented with growing vegetables and grain as early as 1877.  The Company Ranch on the Williams Fork planted many acres in grain.  And Dr. Hoagland, on the Blue, regularly put in oats and barley for two years, before planting seed for hay crops, in order to break up the soil and gradually level the rough ground.  Others raised many grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley, as well as hay.   High altitude lettuce became a main crop to be shipped out of Grand County about 1920.  Before this decade, lettuce sent by train was grown, especially on the upper Sheephorn and on the Blacktail. 

Later, centered around Granby, farms spread to the Williams Fork and the Troublesome, as well as Ranch Creek.  Japanese laborers harvested much of the crop.  In 1919, there had not been a single truck farm in the county; in 1929, there were 34.   On the Troublesome, Roy Polhamus was famous for his lettuce.  His daughter, Catherine, lined the crates with heavy paper in the packing shed. After being cut in the fields, trimmed of bad outer leaves and packed, the crop was shipped to Denver by truck. It depended on how big the lettuce was as to how many dozen would fit into the crate.  Roy also grew enough potatoes that he could spare many for Granby stores in the winter.  

Encouraged by Nathan Hurd, a Mr. Henderson, on a little ranch straddling the shoulder between Hamilton Creek and Ranch Creek, tried growing lettuce long before the lettuce craze the west end of the county. Nobody had thought of growing it before and people were quite sure he was crazy.  His lettuce was as sweet as any ever tasted, but when the big craze hit, for some reason he gave it up.  Before he quit, he had some 2000 crates of Los Angeles Head Lettuce to sell and planned for 40 acres the following year.  Everyone laughed at him two years before when he started, but the laugh was on them now.  His 2 1/2 acres of jackpine paid him over $750/acre.   The lettuce was grown on new ground and no water; ­dry land farmed.  He called his place “The Happy Lettuce Farm”. 

In the same area, a group of Basques did all the work.  They irrigated at night, little lights at hand to show them the way.  This local lettuce was stored in Tabernash in a shed, before being put on the train.  This shed was later hauled to Granby and became the Grand Old Inn.   Other crops were raised, too. 

At Radium, sweet corn and strawberries were grown for sale.  Harry French’s wife, Mary, had a very green thumb, and at the 1914 County Fair, special mention was given to “Mrs. French of the Sheephorn area, then age 77, for her splendid display of Brown Australian onions, raised from seed.”  In addition, “she had a very handsome display of crabapples and tomatoes.”  Mike Leroux, also in the Sheephorn area, said that his family almost always won a prize at the county fair in Kremmling, because they had one of the few spots in the county where one could grow apples!   Women and children gathered wild berries for jams and pies.  Wild strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries went into these treats.  The residents on the Troublesome picked chokecherries, and service berries, currants, in addition.  

Marie Craven George remembers growing rhubarb at their cabin.  Some of it still grows there.  Many years later, after Marie married, she and her husband dug up some of that rhubarb and took it to their own garden in Kremmling.  Marie remembers that, as a little girl, she stuck a gooseberry up her nose once and they had to hang her upside-down and spank her, until she sneezed the berry out.  She decided gooseberries were for pies and jams, not noses!  

Getting off the train, the Arkells often walked from Arrow, to check on the raspberry crop, for great quantities of bushes grew along the tracks.  The wild strawberries, though very small, were so full of unexcelled taste that one cup would be enough to flavor a shortcake for all of them, with whipped cream on top.  Using a kind of rake, they also gathered gooseberries, wild currants, and wild blueberries, which grew everywhere.  Bob Peterson maintains the best berry patch for blackberries or red and black currants was on Cabin Creek a mile of so above Devils Thumb Park.

Topic: Biographies

Eduard Berthoud

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Eduard Louis Berthoud (pronounced "Bare-too") came to the United States with his parents in 1830. His childhood was spent in New York State along the Mohawk River.
 

After completing a degree in engineering at Union College in Schenectady, he spent a lifetime supporting the great western movement. In 1860, Berthoud came to the Rocky Mountains with the Gold Rush. During the 40 years between 1850-1890, Berthoud contributed greatly to the expanding west through his experiences as a young surveyor on the Panama Railroad, the linking of Leavenworth, KS to the Rocky Mountains, and his survey and exploration of a transcontinental road through Colorado's Middle Park.

 

As a Coloradoan, Edward Berthoud (his name now "Americanized) also lead surveys for railroads to booming mining camps in Gilpin County, Georgetown, Leadville and San Juan County. Berthoud's legacy includes his pioneer survey of Berthoud Pass and  wagon road through Middle Park into Utah.  In addition to his work as a surveyor, Berthoud also helped create the School of Mines and often taught there.  He also was involved in various political positions from territorial legislator to Golden's Mayor. He collected natural history specimens for eastern museums that even today are considered extremely valuable.