Railroads

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

Railroads Articles

Moffat Road
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.

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.

The flood that built the Moffat Tunnel
The flood that built the Moffat Tunnel

Article contributed by Tim Nicklas

 

For many years Denver longed for its own direct line through the continental divide, linking the city to the west coast.  In the 1860s, Denver was slighted by the Union Pacific(UP), when the company chose Cheyenne as the major hub for the prized Transcontinental Railroad, before it snaked through the Rockies.  Fortunately, the city fathers of Denver did not give up on making their city the center of the Rocky Mountain Empire, as they risked financial disaster by bankrolling a spur line to the main route in Cheyenne.  Denver may not have had their direct route to the west and the fortunes that lay on the other side of the divide, but the city was not dead. 

 

For Grand County, the U.P.'s decision not to penetrate the formidable barrier of Colorado's mountains had a much greater impact.  As it stood Grand County had no for seeable future of gaining a rail line.  This meant that the only means of transportation into or out of the county was by pack animal or foot.  Furthermore, without a line to Denver, there was virtually no practical way for industry to develop in Grand County.

 

In 1904, Denver and Grand County's long awaited dream of a direct line through the mountains and on to Salt Lake City began to materialize.  The Moffat Railroad had risen over Corona Pass and descended into the Fraser Valley.  At the time Corona Pass was the highest rail pass in the world.  Along with this fact came the troubles of maintaining such a wonder.  The route was challenging to keep open in the summer with the violent storms that are prone at such a location.  In the winter the line would close all together.  Adding to the trouble of the unpredictable route was the fact that Colorado's economy of the 1870s was not the same in the early 20th century.

 

In the 1870s, much of Colorado's mineral wealth was centered directly west of Denver in Central City and Georgetown.  By 1880 many of those mines began to play out.  Furthermore, production shifted to the silver mines of Leadville and the Arkansas Valley.  As a result, rail traffic favored Pueblo over Denver.  Pueblo was situated on the plains as the Arkansas River exits from the mountains, eliminating the need for boring tunnels or climbing over arduous mountain passes.  In addition, Pueblo was close to the coalfields that were essential to power the locomotives.  Also, the city was the site of the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi, which supplied rails for the sprawling network.  Finally, Pueblo's smelters boomed when many others withered after the "Silver Panic" of 1893.  At the same time that depression gripped Colorado and silver was devalued, gold was discovered in Cripple Creek.  Within a few short years the new gold camp would become the world's largest producer.  As a result, nearby Pueblo would reap the benefits by converting from silver to gold, to become the smelting capitol of the nation.

 

By the early 20th century, Pueblo's status as an industrial powerhouse and rail center threatened Denver's status as Colorado's "first city."  This was even further evidenced by the "powers-that-be" in the northern part of the state being unable to convince the rest of Colorado to finance a tunnel under the continental divide west of Denver.  Time and again legislation that would fund the missing link between Denver and the western slope was defeated in the statehouse by those in southern Colorado who were content with their established web-link.  Barring a miracle, it looked as if Denver and Grand County would have to settle for the unreliable Moffat line over Corona Pass.  In 1921 that miracle would rush in, due to un-for-seen misfortune upon Colorado's "second city" in the south of the state. 

 

The spring of 1921 started as many do in Colorado, with a drought.  By June 1st the many farmers downstream in the Arkansas Valley feared disaster as crops withered with thirst.  On the 2nd day of June, the farmers got the relief of rain they eagerly wanted.  Unfortunately, the downpour continued until the formerly parched earth became like a sponge and the Arkansas River swelled.  The streets of Pueblo were ankle deep with water by nighttime.  Suddenly, with little warning, a torrent of water rushed from the upper Arkansas Valley toward the helpless "Steel City."  Pueblo's streets filled with water up to rooftops.  The unified rail-yard was ripped instantly.   Unfortunate train passengers were tossed unaware into the maddening grip of the Arkansas, unable to escape the iron coffins in which they were riding.  Families were stranded on roofs as row boats desperately searched for stranded victims.  As pungent water filled the business area with filth and debris, fires broke out.  Unable to do anything, citizens watched helplessly as fire and water consumed their city.  As the flood receded the Rocky Mountain News headline proclaimed "201 Bodies Found, Scores Lost, Pueblo Death Total, 500 To 1,500."  The Rocky Mountain News goes on to describe the scene from June 4th:

"All day long refugees, dazed, not knowing what to do, straggled

about the streets.  Mothers with babes in their arms, mothers

whose arms were empty, old men and women and people of every

description wandered about until gathered up and taken to Red

 Cross headquarters, where they were fed and allowed to rest."

The scene in Pueblo was like those witnessed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or the notorious San Francisco Earthquake in 1906.

 

As Pueblo dried out in the days that followed, plans were immediately being drafted in the statehouse to assure that the devastated city would not befall a future wrath from the Arkansas River.  Seizing upon the opportunity presented by Pueblo's misery, interests in Denver, Grand County, and others in northern Colorado saw fit to take advantage.  As the discussion of flood control in the south dominated state legislation the notion of a tunnel under the continental divide west of Denver resurfaced.  According to Ubbelohde, Benson, and Smith's book, A Colorado History 8th Ed., a "special legislative session made history."  Attached to the act that created the Pueblo Conservancy District, northern lawmakers added the Moffat Tunnel Improvement District.  As a result of the passage of these two distinctly different special tax districts in a single signing by Governor Shoup, the long sought after western passage would be built.  With the tunnel Grand County would finally be open to the outside world by a year round and reliable link.

 

The building of the Moffat Tunnel was an enormous undertaking that cost several lives and injured even more workers.  Nonetheless, the tunnel from its inception has remained of vital importance to the Fraser Va

The Train Comes to Fraser
The Train Comes to Fraser

Article contributed by Tim Nicklas
 

A little over a hundred years ago the few residents of Fraser were awakened by a sound new to their town.  The railroad had finally arrived in 1904, just over 30 years after it had first debuted in Denver.  That same blaring horn, followed by the rumble of iron wheels on rails is waking up the good town-folk of the Fraser Valley today.  As the local Manifest has documented recently, many residents have long been annoyed by the noisy disruption the train makes as it announces its passing through town.  Additionally, parents of school children rushing to Fraser Elementary School in the morning can attest to the intrusive obstacle the slow moving behemoth becomes at in the morning.

A hundred years ago, residents of the Fraser Valley complained loudly of the intrusion of the iron horse on the tranquil lifestyle.  It has long been rumored that the course of the railroad was determined by an angry old timer by the name of Billy Cozens.  Cozens was a pioneer of the valley having homesteaded his ranch in the area in the early 1870s.  According to legend, when the engineers were surveying the route of the future Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railroad through the valley, Billy Cozens bullied the crewmen into the woods.  As the railmen would lay their flags for the roadbed, Cozens, an expert marksman, would shoot the markers out of the ground.  As the story goes, this was the reason the tracks were laid through the forest, rather than the meadow.

The reality of the chosen route for the D.N.&P. was due to grade and not fear of the rifle.  Whether Cozens despised the railroad is anyone's guess.  According to Robert Black's book, Island in the Rockies, the railroads designing engineers actually consulted Cozens concerning the lack of snow on the continental divide.  Regardless, the rumors have persisted over the years about the "Old Sheriff's" contempt for the railroad.  It has even divulged to me that the ghost of Billy Cozens will not allow anything concerning the railroad in his former home, the Cozens Ranch Museum.  Whenever railroad exhibits have been attempted they have mysteriously vanished and were never seen again.

As far as the townfolk of Fraser were concerned, many of them regarded the railroad as an opportunity that had eluded the region for years.  Unfortunately for Fraserites, their town was to be bypassed as the major hub for the area.  Further down the valley Tabernash was chosen as the location for the workshops and roundhouse for the forthcoming trains.  As a result, the trains would move through Fraser without their engineers paying the town much notice outside of their blowing whistles.  Nonetheless, the people of the valley would embrace the iron horse.  Economic potential in Grand County would erupt due to the advent of relatively efficient transportation.  Specifically, the lumber industry would boom with the outlet that the railroad would provide.  Additionally, people could move between Denver and Grand County easily compared to the wagon roads that formerly provided the only passage to the outside world.  As timber and cattle traveled to the Front Range, mail and hard goods traveled back to the Fraser Valley.

In years past, just like today, it has been easy to forget the benefits that the railroad has brought to our lives.  Certainly, when the train moved into the valley, the people that day realized that their life could slow down a bit.  The reality was that the short inconvenience that the passing train brought with its blaring horn, bringing traffic to a momentary standstill enhanced the life and character of the Fraser Valley.  It provided power, people, and materials in a unique way that simplified life here.  This is as true today as it was in 1905.      

 

Train Legends of the Moffat Road
Train Legends of the Moffat Road

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

The railroaders graded and bridged the trails originally made by the Indians and expanded by the trappers, prospector and stage road builders that following in rapid succession. The

Moffat Road
train track has an almost endless series of wreck stories and legends.  In one, a "green clerk" was said to have piled all the mail order catalogs on the same side of a car, causing the train to leave the tracks and roll down the mountainside into Yankee Doodle Lake.

 

In another lost train story, the No. 3 westbound was seven hours late out of Denver because of a severe winter blizzard.  It crept out of the Fraser Canyon and whistled for the Granby Crossing.  The engineer parked the train intending to wait till daylight to continue on.  In the meantime, the No. 2 eastbound, 2 days late out of Craig reached Corona without passing the No. 3. In the morning, all were amazed to find the train parked "plumb center" of Granby's main street. Later investigation showed that the No. 3 train left the train tracks just east of Granby and traveled almost a mile over frozen highway.  The next day a Chinook wind came up and melted the frozen soil, sinking the train to it's axles in mud. It required the building of 1500 feet of special track to salvage the train. However, some longtime Granby residents say the locale of this incident was the Kremmling flats.

 

Sources: Roland L. Ives, Folklore of Middle Park Colorado,Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXXIV, Nos. 211, 212, 1941; Levette J. Davidson & Forrester Blake, Rocky Mountain Tales, University of Oklahoma Press, 1947

     

 

Articles to Browse

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:

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

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.

Topic: Dude Ranches

Devil's Thumb Ranch

According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil's Thumb, a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

Before the Trans-Continental Railroad opened up the area in 1904, a stagecoach route from Idlewild (now
Winter Park) joined the Rollins Pass route. A state station was situated east of what is now our Ranch. The road extended transversely over the Ranch where it followed the course of the existing County Road 83. The land was rich agriculturally, and was used for cattle grazing in the early 1900s.

After the railroad was introduced, settlers began moving west in search of wealth and opportunity. Many ended their journeys in the
Rocky Mountains. During this time, there were more people living in the Fraser Valley than there are today. One favorite hangout of the railroad workers was a dance hall on Black Ranch, located immediately north of Devil's Thumb Ranch.

In the 1930s, Margaret Radcliff built the original Ranch homestead and operated it as a dairy. However, it was brothers Dan, Louis, and George Yager who started Devil's Thumb Ranch as a vacation property in 1946. The Yagers incorporated the Radcliff homestead in to the Ranch facilities and the original building exists today as the Ranch House Saloon.

The Yagers operated Devil's Thumb Ranch as both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972. They introduced cross-country skiing in the winter of 1975-1976. Dick Taylor, a 1964 Olympic cross-country team member, designed 35 kilometers of the area's Nordic trails.

The Ranch was well known as a Nordic destination, but one without many amenities or niceties. The current owners purchased it in 2001, saving it from a group of developers who planned to fill the valley with residences and a golf course. They immediately began making improvements to the facilities, all the while impacting the land as little as possible.

McQueary Family of Middle Park

It has been said that if you walk down the streets of Hot Sulphur Springs and call out "Hello McQueary" at any given time, someone will respond.  Certainly one of the most prolific families to pioneer the Middle Park, the McQueary clan consisted of Scotch-Irish descendents of the immigrants who had settled in the mountainous regions of the Ozarks and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Henry McQueary and his brother Humphrey, visited the Middle Park area in 1866 while prospecting for gold on Troublesome Creek.  Henry built a cabin on the creek in 1875 and other relatives came to settle including Walker, James, John and George, along with their families.  The families settled near Hot Sulphur Springs and as far west as Muddy Creek and the Gore Canyon.

In 1875, Henry found a Ute Indian with a broken leg near the Troublesome Creek.  He took the man to his cabin and splinted the leg.  After three weeks, the injury healed enough that the Ute could return to his family and that created a friendship that outlasted the Ute uprisings of 1878-1879.

In 1888, Fount McQuearly established a hotel in Hot Sulphur Springs which included a 45 foot ballroom in the Antlers Saloon.  In his later life, he served as County Commissioner (1924).  Many other McQuearys also went into politics, so much so that they were sometimes referred to as the "McQueary Gang".     

"Uncle Walk" McQueary once said that if Andy Eairheart "ever fell into the river and drowned, we'd have to look for his body upstream 'cause he's too stubborn to float downstream!".

Dick McQueary was quite enterprising, establishing a store in Hot Sulphur Springs (1904) and helping newcomers to the area locate homestead sites.  He once was paid with a barrel of china for his services.  Dick also was a contractor for building and maintenance for Grand County and he led the effort to build a road through Rocky Mountain National Park.  This road was eventually finished in 1920 and is known as the Fall River Road.

At least three McQuearys served their country in World War I and fifteen in World War II.  They were also noted athletes; at the 1924 Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Carnival, Margaret McQueary won first place in girls jumping and ski-joring while Milton won first in boys cross country.  

Eventually the McQuearys had over a dozen ranches in Middle Park.

 

Topic: True Crime

Spider House Tragedy

Nestled on a quiet lane in Old Grand Lake City sits the intricately crafted home of Warren C. and Mary O’Brien Gregg, known today as the Spider House – a testament to a remarkable woodcraftsman and his tormented wife.

Warren (Watt to his friends) was a dreamer and in the 1870s he left his first wife and a young son in Wisconsin and headed for the Colorado Territory seeking his fortune in the mines of Gilpin County.  Upon returning to Wisconsin his first wife died of fever, leaving Warren a widower with a small son.  Holding tight to his dreams of the west, Warren eventually ended up in his native Indiana where he met and married 20 year-old Mary O’Brien, in 1884.   By 1888 Warren packed his new family into a prairie schooner and headed west.  Like so many other pioneer women before her, Mary bore a child along the trail, a second son whose short life would send Mary down a dark and tortured path. 

The family arrived in Middle Park late in the summer of 1888, built a small homestead on the eastern slope of the Stillwater drainage and the newborn died shortly thereafter.  Though the years would bring more children, Mary would never quite recover from the loss of her second son. They continued to scratch out a living in this harsh and isolated land, where winters were long and supplies were meager. 

Warren spent much of his time searching for game and exploring this new country. The Gregg’s moved numerous times, finally purchasing a plot of land from Old Judge Wescott on the west side of the lake.  Warren built his family an admirable house, with intricate detail and spider-like webs of wooden elements.  Despite the warmth and comfort of this new home, and the close proximity of neighbors, Mary’s depression deepened. 

Then on a sunny Sunday in 1904, while Warren was working in his woodshop and oldest son Lloyd was having Sunday dinner at Judge Westcott’s, Mary took a gun to her four remaining children and then turned the weapon on herself.  The children died instantly while Mary lingered on for four days.  The five victims of this tragedy, one girl, three boys and Mary herself are buried together in one grave in the Grand Lake Cemetery.

Warren lived in the Spider House for another 29 years. With his son Lloyd, he continued building homes and stone fireplaces.  He succumbed to heart failure in 1933.  Mary O’Brien Gregg finally found peace in the quiet grace of the little town cemetery surrounded by her children.  Almost a century later, as the tall pines whisper their mournful winter song, the Spider House still sits nestled on that quiet little lane.

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Biographies

From Indians and explorers to doctors and developers, click on the drop-down menus to learn about some of the remarkable people who helped shape Grand County.

Schools

Article contributed by Betty Jo Woods

The first official school in Grand County was founded in 1875 in Hot Sulphur Springs in a crude dugout. The school met for twenty days and a painting of the classroom shows nine students in attendance. Typically the woman teachers of that era would have earned about $25 per month. 

One report to the Colorado State Department of Education said, “The school secretary left during the Indian uprising and no school records are available.” This school was presumed to be at Hot Sulphur Springs.

In the 1890s school was not held every year in Grand Lake because not enough taxes were raised to pay for a teacher. The school year was generally April through October and classes were held in various vacant buildings for many years. The first schoolhouse in Grand Lake was built in 1910 and remained a one-teacher school until 1935. 

A notice published in the Middle Park Times on january 31, 1889 annouce that a masquerade ball and supper of "beef steer and chickens" would be held on February 14th to raise money to build a school.    

In 1898, the offerings were expanded to include the first experimental high school curriculum to be offered in the county. As towns were developed, several rural one-room schools also came into existence. Many schools were taught only during the summer because winter travel was too difficult.

At one time there were nineteen school districts. In 1958 the County was reorganized into two school districts, with the result that today there are two high schools, two middle schools, four elementary schools, one charter school, one alternative school, and one private Christian school in Grand County.

Sources:
R.C. Black, Island in The Rockies. Pruett Publishing Company, 1969
Colorado State Department of Education, First Formal Biennial Report of Superintendent of Public Instruction for State of Colorado. Denver, Colorado: Daily Times Printing House, 1879

Topic: Granby

The Naming of Granby

Granby Hillyer was born in Cartersville, Georgia on July 7, 1874. The third of six children, born of Shaler Granby Jr. and Lelia (Holloway) Hillyer, and the grandson of the Rev. Shaler Granby Hillyer, Sr. who was born in Granby, Hartford County, Connecticut. When Granby was 13 years old the Hillyer family moved to Washington, D.C. where Granby graduated from public high school. He then entered government service and at the same time studied at George Washington University, receiving a Bachelors of Law Degree. A postgraduate law degree was awarded in 1896 from Columbia University School of Law. He moved to Colorado in 1898 settling at Lamar (Prowers  County) launching a 40+ year legal career. On June 16, 1900 he married Miss Annie Creaghe, from a prominent southern Colorado pioneer family, and a daughter of an Apache County, Arizona sheriff. To this union were born 3 children St. George Creaghe, Granby Francis Ridgeway Jr., and Helen Edna Dolorine (Jane) later Mrs. Albert Hunt of Boston, Massachusetts.

Granby Hillyer was a member of the Republican Party. He served as Lamar City Attorney, Prowers County Attorney, and Deputy District Attorney. He was also affiliated with the Elks, Masons, Sons of the American Revolution, and Woodmen of the World fraternal organizations.

At 28 years of age, the citizens of Prowers, Baca and Las Animas Counties, elected Granby Hillyer to serve in the 14th Colorado General Assembly, House of Representatives, making him one of the youngest elected officials in state legislature history. He served one term from 1903-1905. During this tenure he plotted the streets at no cost for the Frontier Land and Investment Companies newest town on the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad (The Moffat Road). In doing so, Mr. Hillyer was honored by having the Town of Granby, Grand County, Colorado named for him.

Governor Carlson appointed Mr. Hillyer as the Third Judicial District Court Judge, at Trinidad, Colorado from 1914-1916. Her served as the United States Attorney for Colorado from 1922-1925. Afterwards he enjoyed a large private law practice in Lamar and Denver.

In 1928 at Lamar, Granby Hillyer was a speical prosecutor in the "Fleagle Gang Case".  On May 23rd, the First National Bank was robbed, resulting in the loss of four lives.  The case has been credited by the F.B.I. as the first robbery solved from a single fingerprint.

The Denver Post on July 21, 1931 page 9, reported "Granby Hillyer Is Disbarred By Federal Courts." In a decision reached by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals, predicated by a Colorado Supreme Court tribunal, of neglecting the interests of his clients in a number of cases.

Tragedy then struck the Hillyer family twice with the loss of St. George Creaghe in June 1932 and October 1933, Granby Jr. was killed in an automobile accident near Lamar. They both were attorneys. St. George and Granby Jr. were born 16 months apart and passed away 17 months apart. Both funeral services were held at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Denver, with the same set of pallbearers for both young men. They were laid to rest at Denver's Fairmount Cemetery. Their father Granby Hillyer, joined his sons on January 2, 1942, passing away at Denver Mercy Hospital, after suffering a heart attack at age 68.

The name Granby also comes from Great Britain, one of the original references was for the "Marquis of Granby," John Manners. A Member of Parliament from 1754 until his death in 1770, he also was a popular army officer and hero of the Seven-Year War 1756-1763, obtaining the rank of Lieutenant General. In 1766, he was named British Commander-in-Chief of the Army. John Manners once had his hat and wig shot off during a cavalry charge, thus leading to the British expression, "to go baldheaded at something." He had his office attacked by the pseudonymous political writer "Junius." The Marquis of Granby resigned most of his offices and died in debt.

Curiously, Granby Hillyer had an uncle and a brother named Junius.

Topic: Granby

Historic Granby Real Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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