Thursday, February 21, 2019

At the Heart of the City

Today this is one of the busiest intersections in the city of Boulder--Broadway and Canyon--in an image taken from 13th Street.
Not so long ago, it was known as 12th and Water Streets, home to the Boulder Train Yards and most importantly for many people, the Freight Depot of what the photographer identified as the Union Pacific Railroad.

Technically, the railroad was the Greeley, Salt Lake & Pacific. That name was a stand-in for the true operators of the line, but calling it the Union Pacific made it clear that Boulder had been placed on the national map. It was every business operator's dream come true--being a part of the transcontinental railroad.

The GSL&P never owned any of its own locomotives--it had a ready source in the also-U.P. controlled Colorado Central Railroad, from Golden to Blackhawk. But that's a story for another day.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

History hiding--but deeper.

After her years of service, No 30 shows her age.
It takes a bit more digging to reveal this history, but it's there, nonetheless.

In an earlier post we shared our discovery of the abutment for the bridge spanning Boulder Creek, long ago buried by overgrowth.
The bridge over Boulder Creek.

If we continue to the ROW just over the bridge and the turn west, we discover an odd angle to a subdivision lane.
The fence along the south side and the property lines on the north side converge in a trapezoid configuration.
The angle here is revealed clearly in the county parcel data base as in exact alignment with the right-of-way for the narrow gauge railroad from a century ago.
Arapahoe Lane today. Switzerland Trail of America yesterday.
Perhaps one day I'll knock on a door or two and inquire: Are you aware you're living along an historic route?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Boulder Yards Creek Crossing

This is a story of how our history disappears.
Rocky Mountain Joe Sturtevant documented the life of No 30 locomotive.

At the west end of the rail yards in central Boulder, the narrow-gauge train crossed Boulder Creek over a timber-supported bridge, before heading on its journey to the mountains.
Today this area is an elegantly landscaped, essential part of our downtown community.
With the closing of the line in 1919, the entire infrastructure of the railroad was dismantled and sold at auction. Rails, ties, timbers, signage--all were sold, hauled away for reuse on other operating lines.

But they didn't / couldn't move the supporting foundations of the bridgework. Like memorials in cemeteries, that stonework has lasting power.

It's a great place to look for traces of the Switzerland Trail of America in the 21st Century.

So we go looking, and this is what we find.
You might enjoy stopping at the bench to ponder what's before you.
This is the view from the bicycle path along the creek. The bench is an ideal marker for where to look, just west of the Boulder County Courthouse structure and fencing, off Sixth Street a few hundred yards.

A snowy day is the perfect time to see the sandstone foundations of the bridge, at the base of the south side of the Creek. In the warmer seasons there's vegetation hiding it, though it's still visible if you know where to look.
This stonework has been here more than 100 years. It'll be here 100 years after we're gone.
As you move closer, the base takes form more clearly. This is at the north end of properties along West Arapahoe Avenue, homes visible at the top of the bank.
Pristine, finely finished, perfectly fitted blocks.
Boulder Creek Path is regularly walked, biked, visited for lunch and picnics. It's a beautiful retreat to nature in the heart of the city.

How many visitors stop to ponder and appreciate this monument to another time?

How many can imagine the tens of thousands of passengers who crossed over this bridge? Their excitement as they headed up to the true adventure of the gold-mining country of early Colorado?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Switzerland Trail of America to Estes Park

In its 1916 heyday, the Switzerland Trail of America was part of an integrated, multi-modal trip from Denver to Estes Park.

Passengers rode from Denver to Boulder along a standard-gauge track system, in a narrow-gauge car resting on a third rail inside the 3'6" span of the standard gauge.

Boulder, Colorado was at the center.
In Boulder the locomotive pulling them was switched out with one of the Denver Boulder & Western narrow gauge units. Moving slowly through the spectacular switchbacks of the northern branch to Ward, they enjoyed the wildflowers and the inviting vistas of the continental divide.

At the end of the railroad line, they were met by Stanley Steamer automobiles, carried in high fashion the remaining 35+ miles of unfinished gravel road to Estes Park.

Round trip was $9.60. In 2018 dollars? $234.51.
It certainly wasn't a trip for everyone, but for those adventurous few who could afford it, it must have been the journey of a lifetime.

Colorado was making its introduction to the world stage. Rocky Mountain National Park had been declared a national treasure in 1915.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Sunset Water Tank.

Charles McClure captures the excitement of the day, showing the 2-8-0 as it arrives at the new water tower at Sunset, about 1898. The recently constructed right-of-way to Ward climbs up the mountainside in the upper left of the image.
The original narrow-gauge railroad serving the mountain community of Boulder County was one of three local lines operated by the Union Pacific under the name Greeley Salt Lake & Pacific, begun in 1883. A catastrophic flood event in 1894 removed most of the infrastructure, a gift to the UP as it had already contemplated ceasing operations. Gold mining operations were now deep enough they required massive capital investments, and silver mining had disappeared with the 1893 repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act

For three years there was no rail service, with not enough mining activity to justify the capital expense and no investors in sight. In 1897 that began to change, with the incorporation of the Ward Smuggler Gold Mining Company and several other indications of increased activity.

After some tentative efforts to develop a 22-inch tramway between Ward and Boulder, comparable to the successful Gilpin Tramway, Investors from New York, Pennsylvania and Boulder filed papers of incorporation for the Colorado & Northwestern Railway Company. It was to be a full 36-inch narrow gauge, and the announcement of its coming triggered significant additional investments in the Ward District.

Using some of the right-of-way of the defunct GSL&P, moving some sections above the flood zone, and extending it to Ward, the railroad was in Boulder County again.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rand McNally 1895: Boulder County and Colorado.

The New 11 x 14 Atlas of the World, it was called.

This map was published during the recovery of the national economy from its 1892 downturn. Less than ten years earlier, the Greeley, Salt Lake & Pacific railroad had made its first trip from Boulder into the mountain community, in 1883. Now it no longer existed, a casualty of natural disaster--a springtime flood--and human folly.

Time would see the rebuilding of the narrow-gauge rail system, in 1896 under new ownership and management. The Colorado & Northwestern Railway, a new name, a new day. The Switzerland Trail of America slogan, brand name, had yet to be born.

Altona, Hygiene, Highland, Caribou, Sunset, Sugar Loaf, Marshall, Canfield, Boulder Junction--so many. Towns prominent enough to be on a state map in 1895, in 2014 exist in memory alone.

Time passes. Some communities serve temporary purposes. I doubt they understood that about themselves.

Where is Caribou Town now? What happened to the narrow-gauge trestles to the top of the world?

35 years from Native American to European.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Panic of 1873.

By 1883 the mining industry in Colorado had been developing for more than 20 years, yet the railroad had yet to come to the Boulder mountain area. The need for a more efficient and effective transportation system had long been evident. Wagon transport across rocky terrain was slow, expensive, wrought with danger, and was a clear limiting factor in full exploitation of the resources buried in the mountain treasure chest.

The transcontinental railroad had been completed in 1865, the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point in Utah signaling not just the connection of the coasts but the maturation of a technology. In the east and on the west coast, railroad growth experienced rapid, often explosive growth. The population base in the mountain west was insufficient to merit the massive capital investments required, but would soon begin growing.

By the late 1860s and early 1870s railroads began appearing in the Rocky Mountains, where industrialization had already been developing.  The Denver Pacific Railroad laid its first track in 1869, and in 1872 the Colorado Central Railroad extended its line up Clear Creek Canyon to Blackhawk, at the southern end of the mineral field west of Boulder. Conditions were ripe for a rail line to the north.

Between 1848 and 1873 the economy of the European continent had experienced an expansion without historic precedent. One example, to illustrate: total rail lines in 1850 came to 14,500 miles. By 1870 that figure was 63,300 miles.

etween 1848 and 1873, the European economy experienced an economic boom without historic precedent. - See more at:
etween 1848 and 1873, the European economy experienced an economic boom without historic precedent. - See more at: 1848 and 1873 the European economy had experienced an expansion without historic precedent. One detail to illustrate: in 1850 there were 14,500 miles of rail in Europe. By 1970 there were 63,300.
Then came the crash.

In May 1873 the Vienna Stock Market collapsed. Cascading through the continent, one national economy after another failed. The agriculture industry in England was decimated. By September 1873 the catastrophe arrived at American shores, with the decimation of the empire of Jay Cooke and Company, with large holdings in lumber and in railroads. Panic was in the air as investors in every sector of the economy rushed to preserve their own assets.

So began what has become known as the Long Depression, described today as shallow but lasting a generation. With the destruction of capital nationwide, the immense investments required for development of railroad lines in Colorado came to a halt.

It was not until 1883 that the Union Pacific had mustered enough capital and enough courage to venture into the risk of developing a narrow gauge rail that would eventually extend into the gold and silver fields west of Boulder City, Colorado.
Europe had just 14,500 miles of railway in 1850, but 63,300 miles of it by 1870. - See more at:
Europe had just 14,500 miles of railway in 1850, but 63,300 miles of it by 1870. - See more at:
etween 1848 and 1873, the European economy experienced an economic boom without historic precedent. - See more at:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

University of Colorado, 1880.

As the narrow-gauge railroad was being contemplated, hoped for, planned, here's what the University of Colorado looked like.

This is it in 1880. In its totality.

Here it is in 2010. Construction has continued for the past four years.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Boulder County STA Map.

Doing some other research I've just encountered a map created from our data being used by the Boulder County Open Space Department.

I'm thrilled to see it being used, and consider it a huge success for the efforts we've been making to restore this historic treasure to its proper place in local consciousness.

Monday, March 24, 2014

American History unfolding.

A clever and efficient use of technology, here's the story of the development of the legal entities that have comprised the United States. The image is a static view of the first frame. Here's history in motion.

Despite the professional controversies regarding the frontier thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner, it's difficult to escape the reality of the East to West direction of the development of the country.