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

Christmas at Fraser

The lights dimmed; mothers had already found their seats after coming from the classrooms where they had put makeup on little children’s faces and checked their costumes to make sure angel wings and halos were secure and costumes were on right side round.  I was at the piano, music and script lined out. The gym was full to the brim, every seat taken, with folks lining the sides and back walls, for the whole town had turned out.  Early birds got the seats!  Christmas wasn’t Christmas in the Fraser Valley unless it included the program at Fraser School (now the Town Hall).   I began the overture and chatter stopped.   I had played for this event for ages, starting in 1958.  High school students were gone by then, moved to the new Union High School in Granby, but 7th and 8th graders were still there.  And in 1958, the first kindergartens in the district were established.   It was a time of excitement and anticipation, of fun, and of panic? Well, no, not panic, for the teachers were beautifully organized. 

The program was chosen during October. Each teacher had a specific job. For instance, Martha Vernon, the art teacher, did sets.  Helen Hurtgen was responsible for dialog.  Edith Hill did costumes.  Nancy Bowlby was in charge of the music.  Others coordinated the whole.  And I played the piano, with Nancy sometimes accompanying me on her violin.  

Mothers were asked to contribute sheets and any fabric they could spare.  Patterns and material for costumes went home to be sewn into various sizes and shapes -- angels, gingerbread men, knights or royalty.  In the gym, we stitched on finishing touches, bright patches to decorate jester outfits, townspeople, and such, while watching various groups practice. Bits of tinsel became crowns, tinfoil turned into wands, cheesecloth into wings.  Lace scraps and sequins added color and “class.”   The budget was extremely minimal at first, but over the years, more money was directed to Christmas programs.  Instead of old sheets, we could buy cotton fabrics, velveteens, sometimes satin.  One year I even stopped by a furrier’s in Denver and begged some fur scraps.  Were we uptown then!  We had fur trim around the necks, cuffs, and hems of the costumes for the prince, queen, and king.  

The day before the play, PTA mothers gathered in the gym to fill brown paper sacks with an apple, orange, nuts, and candies, provided by R. L. Cogdell from his grocery store.  

Every single child in school took part in the play, as a class, except for those with speaking parts, of course.  Fraser grew and grew, then as now. Soon the 7th and 8th grades moved to Granby.  Then the 6th graders went, but the 4th and 5th graders handled the leads neatly.  Our stories were usually simple Christmas tales, but sometimes we tackled ambitious efforts such as the Nutcracker Suite or a version of Gilbert and Sullivan.   The only children not included were the Jehovah Witness youngsters.  They couldn’t be in the play and they couldn’t come watch it either.  We all felt very sorry for them, because everyone had such a wonderful time.  Their teachers tried to give them special projects to entertain and interest them while they sat off in a corner or in their classrooms.   The plays always went well.  Tiny kindergartners came out onto the stage, to stand behind the colored lights.  They knew their song perfectly in practices, but I have to admit that a number of them usually stood silent, stunned by that mass of faces looking up at them.  No matter.  They were darling. “Hi, Mom,” some were sure to call. “Mom” beamed.  

There might be a glitch or two every year. For instance, little Diane was chosen to do the Arabian dance in Nutcracker Suite.  Her parents were dark, as she was, and she was slender as a dancer. Trouble was, she didn’t have an ounce of grace in her body at that stage of her life.  I thought Nancy Bowlby was going to have grey hair before she got that child moving properly.  But the night of the program, Diane looked like Anitra herself, doing her exotic dance.   One year the king jumped his cue and entered on stage.  His first words were, “Did I miss anything?”  The prince muttered, in an aside, “Yes, three pages!”  But the cast went on as if nothing had happened, while down at the piano I sat, flipping pages rapidly, trying to figure out where the dialog was now.  

Another year, our son James was to take part in a minuet.  “Uck!  I have to touch a girl?”  By the greatest good fortune, he broke his leg and got to be a guard at the palace door, standing at attention on crutches, while another boy took his place.  (I think he did that on purpose.)   Songs and parts were adapted to the talents of the students.  We had five boys once, who couldn’t talk, dance, sing -- anything.  So they wore monks’ costumes and filed on stage, supposedly singing a Christmas carol, but supported strongly by the cast present.   Another time, Twyla’s parents couldn’t come, so Miss Vernon took her home to get ready. Now, Twyla usually looked like a dirty ragamuffin, but after a bath and hair wash, she truly looked like the angel she portrayed.   For the finale, the entire school came on stage to sing a last carol, with the audience joining in.  Then Santa showed up to distribute the goodie sacks, and the great night was over.  Coming out into the quiet night was a wonderful feeling.  Sometimes we moved through drifts of new falling snow; sometimes the sky was filled with icy stars.  Gay lights showed in windows throughout town. 

We never talked much on the way home, as we thought of the play, the success of everyone¹s efforts, and how happy the children had made their parents and families.   My last program was the first year after the new school was built.  It was fun still, but the school population had grown enough that it was impossible for whole classes to participate as one. Things weren’t the same as they were in the little old school.

Religion

Article contributed by Betty Jo Woods

The first known white settlers came to Grand County about 1874 but there were no established churches for many years. The area even lacked circuit riders and camp meetings so typical of many other parts of the West.

The first building used exclusively for a church was probably an Episcopal church in Grand Lake, erected in 1896, but used sporadically during summers only. An Arapahoe Indian who was an Episcopal priest held occasional services in that town.

The First Congregational Church of Hot Sulphur Springs was dedicated in 1904 and other churches were also established about the same time in Kremmling and Fraser. 

Sunday School activities along with special holiday services and women’s activities seemed to be what provided continuity to worship efforts. Curiously, at one time a local newspaper carried weekly Sunday School lessons.

A Greek Orthodox church was built in Hot Sulphur Springs for the many of that faith who visit there. A major growth spurt developed during the last quarter of the 1900’s when older buildings became overcrowded and residents, long-term and recent, decided to commit time and money to new church buildings. In 2004, 28 churches were listed in the telephone directory.

Sources:
R.C. Black, Island in the Rockies. Pruett Publishing Company, 1969
Grand County Historical Association, Volume XV, Old Time Religion Early Churches, Grand County. Egan Printing Company, 2000

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: Biographies

Ute Bill Thompson and His Memorial Marker

Dark clouds covered the Continental Divide as we looked east from the ridge leading toward Elk Mountain's remarkable view. Cool winds and spitting snow followed us. We weren't seeking the height of Elk Mountain, but instead, were tracking the historic path of Grand County Pioneer William Jefferson "Ute Bill" Thompson. Specifically, we wanted to locate the memorial marker for Ute Bill that Henry Grafke and Otto Schott placed along this ridge after Ute Bill died in 1926. 

Tracking Thompson requires divergent paths. On one hand, Ute Bill's early presence in Middle Park places him in an era when mountain men and Ute Indians shared the vast herds of elk and deer. Only a handful of hardy souls called Middle Park home when Bill Thompson arrived in the late 1860s or early 70s. On another hand, Thompson settled just east of Hot Sulphur Springs as a young man, where he carved out a cattle ranch that remains in his family today.  

Records prove he owned and operated a billiard hall, drove stagecoaches and established a homestead along the Colorado (then, the Grand) River. But tall tales and oral legends abound too, capturing hair-breath escapes, harrowing western adventures and the mischievous nature of a 19th century westerner. Looking through the numerous historic photos of Ute Bill at the Pioneer Village Museum in Hot Sulphur Springs leaves an impression of a capable trapper, businessman and rancher who textured his image with stories of western adventure. 

With Don Dailey - fellow historic trekker and great grandson of Ute Bill - along, I hoped to pursue the fact and folklore of Ute Bill. As Don pointed out an isolated cabin in the valley below, a Ute Bill tale from the Georgetown Arbitrator of September 1886, "as narrated at the time by one of the participants," captured my imagination.  

Bill Thompson breathed a sigh of relief. The rugged, hungry band of Ute in front of him smiled approvingly as his long black hair fell from his broad-brimmed black hat. A tense moment before, he'd worried about his future as the small band of Ute Indians led by Yarmony came upon his isolated cabin in Middle Park. Fact is, Bill Thompson's hair had just saved his life. Not bein' cut since the Sioux captured him as a child, it hung nearly to his waist.  

Bill was all set up for a Middle Park Winter, with supplies to last through the toughest stretch, when Yarmony and his band came along. Thompson cursed softly at himself for not payin' closer heed to their approach. "Figured they'd be out west by now," Bill muttered as he squared up to his guests. 

Speakin' through a mix of hand signs, broken Ute and English that most fellers in the mountain parks west of the divide understood well enough for basic communication, Bill impressed the band with his manly firmness and calm self-confidence. Then Yarmony spoke, "Beescits," was all he said. Bill hesitated to open his cabin supplies. "Why, them folks are so hungry," he thought to himself, "they're near certain to go mad if they laid eyes on my bacon and flour." At best he'd be without supplies at a risky time of year. "No biscuits, fellers," Bill said with as much certainty as he could muster, "barely enough food fer myself. There's still a shaggy buffalo er two fer the takin' and every feller's got the same chance." When Bill finished talkin' he looked Yarmony square in the eyes. He watched the headman's leathered face swing toward his rough-sawn cabin door thoughtfully. "Beescits," he repeated. 

Yarmony's band, snuggled in their elk skins and trade blankets, looked stoically at Bill. "Well," Bill said, throwing down his last ace, "seems you're intent on havin' my grub and I'm intent you ain't." Then, regrettin' it before he finished sayin' it, Bill raised the stakes, "Why don't we have us a shootin' contest fer it?" No immediate reaction caused Bill to wonder if he'd communicated clearly. Slowly, though, excitement spread through the crowd of Ute, as the entire band - from the pretty young girls to the big-bellies - looked to one feller. In front of Bill stepped a mountain-sized-Ute feller, creating a shadow as he approached. "Piah," the Ute whispered, breaking into a quiet chaos of conversations. Movin' quick and hopin' for some break, Bill scooped up his improved Winchester rifle as he threw off his broad-brimmed black hat so nothin' could obstruct his shootin' eye. Just as soon as his long black hair fell near his waist, the tense moment ended with a gasp from the Ute, followed by a welcome reception that meant more to Bill than any he recollected! Bill determined then and thar on never cuttin' his hair again! 

As he eased down the gun smilin', all them pretty Ute girls began paintin' his face and braidin' his locks. Bill was feelin' positively giddy about his good fortune. Decidin' he just might owe these hungry Utes a favor fer endin' a potentially tragic shootin', he led 'em to a nearby ravine where he'd been watchin' a small herd of shaggy buffalo. Now Bill Thompson figured he'd repay 'em with meat, and still keep his own supplies. Leavin' the Ute on a rise above the ravine, he sauntered down to the fresh buffalo trail just as he heard the thunder of hooves around the ravine's bend to the south. Settlin' into a remote stand of lodge pole pines, he sat right along the path of the rumblin' bison. Pickin' out his choices as they rounded the bend, Bill's Winchester boomed repeatedly, each shot bringin' down a fat cow or a young bull.          

Swaggering toward his kills, Bill was suddenly confronted by Sandy Mellon and Len Pollard, sneakin' along that ravine behind the buffalo. Not recognizin' Bill through all the paint and braids, Sandy thundered to Len that this Ute feller must "a stole Bill Thompon's gun," because there weren't many repeaters like his. Both their guns were trained on Bill.   Calmly, Bill broke the silence. "Don't over-reach yourself, Sandy." Yes sir, Sandy knew from the voice that this-here Ute feller in front of him was really Bill Thompson. That day, he became Ute Bill.  

Breathing hard to make the final incline, Don and I reached the point along the ridge of Elk Mountain where we expected to find the memorial. There it was, as we had hoped. After a hurrah for our success, we slowly read the plaque: "Hunting Grounds of "Ute Bill.'" As we snapped photos and drank water from our packs, I decided that where historic fact and local folklore meet, an authentic western tale begins.

Topic: Towns

Monarch & KaRose

Once upon a time on the land that lies beneath Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Lake there were ranches, pastures and an almost forgotten town, Monarch.  It is a story that goes back 100 years to the Summer of 1905, and the arrival of train service in Middle Park and promoters who were "honest men, but too visionary and lacking in experience", according to Frank H. Wolcott, a brother of one of the founders.

The Monarch Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining and Smelting Company owned the King and Queen copper mines on Arapahoe Range above the South Fork of the Colorado River.  They felt their assays indicated ore worthy of a mill and arranged to haul in the heavy machinery and proceeded to build a town with cottages, a small hotel, stores, a bowling alley, theater and dance hall.  By 1907 Monarch had a school and post office.  However, records indicate only about $150 worth of copper per year was ever produced.    

Soon the promoters realized a sawmill was needed to provide both timber and cash to support the mine operation. A dam was built creating Monarch Lake at the junction of Arapahoe Creek and the South Fork of the Colorado, and a canal was built to float logs cut near Strawberry Lake to Monarch Lake.  A stern wheel steamer bunted rafts of logs into flumes and canals towards the sawmill downstream in Monarch.

In the spring of 1906, Monarch management obtained a charter to build the Rocky Mountain Railway, a standard gauge, for lumber and passengers, from the Moffat tracks in Granby to Grand Lake, with a spur over an unspecified pass to Walden, in North Park.  The track was laid following the river from Granby to the sawmill, by Japanese and eastern European laborers.  Ranchers along the route, excepting Fred and Frank Selak, quietly granted rights-of way. The only rolling stock owned by the railroad was a small, ancient locomotive and a caboose.  The night before Thanksgiving 1906 the first train rolled into Monarch, and the rails never extended any farther.  There was daily service, and local ranchers could flag a ride or have their packages dropped off.  There were no cattle guards, so the fireman would step off the locomotive, open a ranch gate, and close the gate and hop back on after the train passed through. 

During the winter of 1905-06 a box factory was started. It operated briefly before it was destroyed by fire in the fall of 1908.  The fire forced the mill and railroad into receivership.  Visitors, particularly former stockholders, helped themselves to equipment and entire buildings, but Monarch's core was preserved and developed by Harry L. Dierks of Kansas City into KaRose.  This summer resort was named in honor of Dierks' daughter Katharine Rose.  Other Monarch buildings went to neighboring dude ranches and the bowling alley went to Granby.  

To hold the railroad right-of-way, Ernest Behr restored the locomotive in 1912 to carry parties of fishermen along the river from one pool to another.  Ed McDonald, a dude rancher, ran a Cadillac touring car on flanged wheels on the rails to carry mail, supplies, and passengers to the valley ranches.  Just before World War I the engine and rails were sold for scrap. 

Frank H. Wolcott wrote, "In September 1954 my wife and I drove over the site to discover any signs of Monarch or the railroad...It gave us a queer feeling to realize that substantial things like railroads and buildings that we helped build have vanished.  Was it all a dream?"

Topic:

Community Life

What was it like to live in Grand County in the 1800's or the early 1900's?  Click on the drop down menus and find out about community life in the “olden days.“

Topic: Towns

Winter Park

The town of Winter Park was first settled in 1923 and incorporated in 1978. It came into existence as a construction camp during the building of the Moffat Tunnel. The west portal is located here, hence the original name of West Portal.

As early as 1929 hearty winter sports enthusiasts were getting off the regularly scheduled trains there to ski the trails that were being developed. Regular weekend service on a special ski train began in January 1938. That same year, the U.S. Forest Service gave permission to the City and County of Denver to develop land near West Portal for winter sports, constructing ski-tows and trails. Winter Park ski area was formally opened in 1940.

With the consent of postal authorities, West Portal’s name was changed to Winter Park to publicize the ski area.  Benjamin F. Stapleton, the mayor of Denver at the time, championed the cause of the name change to help publicize the winter sports of the area. The town has now grown into a classic resort town and the ski area management has been recently turned over to the Intrawest Corporation by the City and County of Denver.

Stafford Family

James "Jimmy" M. Stafford was born in 1849 in Wexford Ireland. Jimmy immigrated to Leadville in the 1870's to work in the booming silver mines. In Leadville, he met and married  Deborah Helen Acey (born 1846 in Trenton New Jersey) in 1880.  In the 1880's the couple moved to Dillon and then homesteaded the Stafford Ranch on the Blue River at Spring Creek Road. Jimmy built their home by hand carrying logs from Green Mountain.  They had one son, Frank Elmer Stafford, born in 1886. Jimmy and Deborah also operated the stage stop, boarding house and saloon called the "Halfway House" between Kremmling and Dillon on Highway 9.  It remained in operation until the stage lines ceased in the early 1900's and the buildings were dismantled in the 1940's.  

Frank went on to marry Alice Smith in 1909 and they had six children, including their first, a son, James Elmer, who died at age 8 in the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918. Frank and Alice built the Stafford General Store, directly across from the "Halfway House".  Frank was instrumental in installing the first telephone lines in the area and served as Grand County Commissioner from 1928 to 1936 and as County Commissioner from 1948 until his death from injuries in a car wreck in 1950.  Alice was called the "Blue River Belle" and kept the general store until 1960.  Alice lived in Kremmling until her death in 1969.  

 

Topic: Ranching

Murphy Family Ranch

Article contributed by Tonya Bina of Sky Hi Daily News, October 2009

 

As late as this summer, John Murphy, 94, mowed ditches on his ranch land and built a new fence. "You got to keep busy doing something," he said.
His longevity, he said smiling at wife Carolyn across the table, is owed to "having a good wife to keep you healthy."

And then he added, "and being stubborn and contrary, I guess." But, Carolyn believes John's secret to healthy aging is due to "hard physical labor from an early age," plus the privilege of being raised where there is good air, little junk food, fresh vegetables, fresh milk daily and ranch-harvested meat. Dancing and regular rodeo jaunts also don't hurt.

This week, the Murphys are pausing to acknowledge a 100-year milestone, when John's parents first bought the ranch in greater Granby. John Murphy was born in the family's white two-story ranch house, which still stands on the property, six years after his parents Anna (Rohracher) and James Murphy bought 160 acres from Leopold Mueller in 1909. He had purchased the land from the widow of Edward Weber, who was one of the Grand County commissioners shot in the Grand Lake shoot-out of 1883. Weber's grave is still surrounded by a white-picket fence, located just northwest from the Murphys' newer home.

Mother Anna had crossed the ocean from Austria in 1882 with her family, then in the spring of 1884, they walked over Rollins Pass from Ward to homestead at Eight-Mile Creek south of Granby. The town of Granby didn't sprout until the railroad came through in the early 1900s, so twice a year, the family would travel over Berthoud to Georgetown to buy groceries - a testament to the fortitude people had back then. "How often do you go for groceries now?" John asked. "Twice a day?"

Anna and James married in March of 1907 and had three children: Margaret, James and John. When John was just two years old, his father died and his mother was left to care for the ranch and the three young children. She later married Joseph Reinhardt who had the ranch above theirs.

Upon her death in 1952 at the age of 75, "The Middle Park Times" saluted Anna for having been "a hardy pioneer woman" who prided herself for her ability to horseback ride and milk cows, and called the latter a "fine art rather than a chore."

"It was a pleasure for her to sit down and milk cows," John said. "That's when she could rest. She would milk half of the cows while me and my step-dad milked the other half."

The ranch had about 35 cows, and the cream and milk they produced was shipped to Denver where it was sold. When the lettuce colonies came to the Granby area around the early 1920s, the Murphy ranch prospered selling milk and butter to local settlers.  "Where the airport is now, there was a shack or tent on every 10 acres over there," he said, "and five packing warehouses along the railroad." Even a section of Murphy land was leased to grow lettuce and spinach.

When young boys, John and his brother would sometimes find entertainment riding on the backs of calves in the barn - always out of sight from their mother who would have disapproved, he said. And the younger John would horseback to the Granby schoolhouse located across from the present day Granby Community Center.

Back then, Granby was barely a settlement, and the Murphys' closest neighbor was farther than a mile away. Granby, especially, has grown in the past 20 years, threatening the lifestyle he has known all his life. In the past, ranching families made up the community, and neighbors looked out for one another, he said. "There was kind of a togetherness," he said. "Now we don't have that."

Nodding to the golf courses and newer homes surrounding Granby proper, "We're losing it, losing all the ranchers," he said. "Like any piece of property, I hate to see it change hands, but progress happens and there's nothing you can do about it."

John Murphy began running the ranch in 1934 and his older brother James ran another ranch near Fraser, land the brothers originally had purchased together.
John's first wife Edith died during childbirth, and John became a single dad to a daughter and son who were 2 and 4 years old at the time, running the ranch and raising his children like his own mother did when he was a toddler.

At its height, John Murphy's commercial cattle operation had about 2,000 acres and about 120 pair of cows and calves, with the calves selling at the top of the market in Omaha. John said from working his land for hay through the years, he has found buffalo horns. "There must have been quite a few buffalo here in the 1800s," he said. The land has since been leased, split, and some shared with John's family, including daughter Jennifer Baker and son Steve Murphy.

Although the winters are no longer as harsh as he remembers them - "It would get 30 to 40 below for the whole month," he said - he and wife Carolyn now winter in Arizona. John met Carolyn in the 1970s, and the couple would dance at haunts such as the Circle H and Hazel Mosle's (now Johnson's Landing). "I just held the girls, and they did the dancing," John said. "She complained I held her too tight," he said, of Carolyn. "And she's been suffering every since."


 

 

Railroads