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: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/articles/a-marxist-history-of-the-world/15498-a-marxist-history-of-the-world-part-61-the-long-depression-1873-1896#sthash.cr7Lylqk.dpuf
etween 1848 and 1873, the European economy experienced an economic boom without historic precedent. - See more at: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/articles/a-marxist-history-of-the-world/15498-a-marxist-history-of-the-world-part-61-the-long-depression-1873-1896#sthash.cr7Lylqk.dpufBetween 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: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/articles/a-marxist-history-of-the-world/15498-a-marxist-history-of-the-world-part-61-the-long-depression-1873-1896#sthash.cr7Lylqk.dpuf
Europe had just 14,500 miles of railway in 1850, but 63,300 miles of it by 1870. - See more at: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/articles/a-marxist-history-of-the-world/15498-a-marxist-history-of-the-world-part-61-the-long-depression-1873-1896#sthash.cr7Lylqk.dpuf
etween 1848 and 1873, the European economy experienced an economic boom without historic precedent. - See more at: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/articles/a-marxist-history-of-the-world/15498-a-marxist-history-of-the-world-part-61-the-long-depression-1873-1896#sthash.cr7Lylqk.dpuf

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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mines in Colorado.

These are mine locations from the USGS Mineral Resources Data System. The graphic here is a Print Screen created from the live, zoomable image of the entire state of Colorado.

The map is produced in a Geographic Information System (GIS) application. Linked to each point there are data, including names and information for 1014 mines in Boulder County.

This resource comes to us from a long-time resident of the mountains, compliments of Facebook. Mike Shaw has lived in the Nederland area for most of his life, knows the area, knows the people.

These data will be useful in documenting the activities of the industrial revolution that seized the area in the late 19th and early 20 centuries.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mining Claims and Surveying.

Irrigation circles, San Luis Valley, Colorado.
If you've flown over the heartland of the American continent you've seen it.

The patchwork quilt of our nation's agricultural landscape.

Jim Wark, a generous, quiet and personable man, began his career as a mining engineer and geologist. For twenty years now he's been studying the patterns of landforms on the North American continent. And making beautiful pictures of them, from one end of our country to the other.

He flies out of Pueblo, Colorado, in a sturdy front-and-back two seat airplane. Like most photographers, he's moved to digital equipment. But only in his commercial work. These images here, like all of his stock work, were created with Leica R-series 35mm film cameras--those of crystalline lenses. The plane is small, with a high wing and a large side opening for an unobstructed view. I imagine him banking a turn in his little Husky, hanging out the window, wind in his hair. Capturing beauty, one click at a time.

San Joaquin Valley, California.

Jim makes these photographs available at Airphoto North America, "providing 100,000 high quality stock aerial images with coverage from Alaska and Labrador to Costa Rica and the Lesser Antilles - and everything between."

A prize-winning aerial photographer, he's also published a number of magnificent books.

A viewer with a bit of historical perspective sees in Jim's images the bedrock of the American way of life, the blueprint for our national economy. Three of the four presidents featured on Mt Rushmore--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln--were surveyors.

Oullette, Maine.
Thomas Jefferson--himself the son of a surveyor--proposed a system for overseeing the setting of boundaries and defining the nature of the measurements of the vast land that stretched out west of Washington DC. The basic module of the Public Land Survey System is a Section, one mile along each side, one square mile. Section lines are roads.

In surveying history, Ohio is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the Public Land Survey System, which is still in use today. This system split public land into townships of six miles by six miles. These would be divided into sections, each one mile square and containing 640 acres. The first area surveyed under the Public Land Survey System was in eastern Ohio, and the work began in 1785 with the Point of Beginning, or the intersection of the Western boundary of Pennsylvania and the North bank of the Ohio River.
Thus, the patchwork from California to Maine, from Texas to North Dakota. To the discerning eye it's an elegant, austere beauty, a God's eye view of the countryside. Ask Jim Wark.

Mt Pleasant, Iowa.
In the present layout of our counties, the pattern is unmistakable. One can see it in the layout of the streets, in the layout of the agricultural parcels. Here's Boulder County, south of Longmont, Colorado.

Less visible but nonetheless still in evidence, section lines continued to define our space when we moved to towns and cities. Looking at northwest Denver streets, east and west, one sees 64th Ave, 72nd Ave, 80th Ave, 88th Ave. Each major thoroughfare, one mile from the next.

North and south, one sees Pecos St, Federal Blvd, Sheridan Blvd, Wadsworth Blvd, Kipling St, each measuring off some variation of a one-mile marker.

In Boulder, we see Table Mesa/South Boulder Road, Baseline Road, Arapahoe Road. Each precisely one mile from the next.

And thus it is in one American city after another, making way only for natural breaks in the terrain--rivers, mountains, passes.

Mining Claims.
Superimposed on the Public Land Surveyor System is the system for mining claims, based on the geologically-defined location and direction of valuable minerals. PLSS defines surface rights only; lode mining claims define subsurface rights as well.
Deposits subject to lode claims include classic veins or lodes having well-defined boundaries such as quartz or other veins bearing gold or other metallic minerals and large volume, but low-grade disseminated metallic deposits. Federal statute limits their size to a maximum of 1,500 feet in length along the vein or lode and a maximum width of 600 feet, 300 feet on either side of the centerline of the vein or lode. The end lines of the lode claim must be parallel.

1500 feet long. 600 feet wide. Following veins of gold and silver. The resulting parcel map is a riot of pickup-sticks ownership parcels.

Recently reactivated gold mines along the Switzerland Trail right of way.

(There's a splendid irony that this jumble of chaos lies directly along one of the true spinal axes of the world survey system, the 40th parallel north. Baseline Road--"baseline"--in Boulder. The Kansas / Nebraska border a few hundred miles east.)

Imagine now the complexities of logistics and administration of a system like this, and put it in the context of the management technology available in the 19th century. This graphic was prepared using 21st century state-of-the-art GIS/computer technology and the advantages of aerial orthophotography. These folks used paper and pencil, drafting table and t-square, transit, Gunter's chain and red-and-white pole.

The potential for error and for conflict were immense as the mining claims were being filed and worked--all with an urgency even in our time-saturated pace of today we might find overwhelming.

This was the situation on the ground--quite literally--as people came together to seek their individual fortunes. These were fierce individualists, self-reliant, proud. And facing the absolute reality of requiring protection in a desperately competitive situation. Stripped raw of all political cant, they were faced with the ultimate need to form a government that would respect their freedom while protecting the rights of each of them.

One wonders how the simple geometric layout of our land has influenced the American psyche, so steeped in rational thought and post-Enlightenment thinking. No doubt there's comfort there, the illusion that we've tamed the world. Perhaps there's a clue here to why we so value our time in the mountains and the wild places of the earth?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Maxwell Pitch.

Less than a mile from the opening of Boulder Canyon, a marker's been placed by the Boulder Historical Society to indicate Maxwell's Pitch, one of the earliest structures remaining from the original toll road up into the mountains. Spend a little time studying this structure and the challenges of early transportation become more than evident. There's a reason why the earliest routes to the gold mines went up Sunshine Canyon.
The iron aqueduct that you see adjacent to the trail lies just beneath "Maxwell Pitch," named for Boulder Canyon Wagon Road engineer J.P. Maxwell. At this point the road pitched steeply up and down, and was a well-know landmark for travelers. Because of its steep, narrow grade, sharp curve, violent winds, and poor visibility, Maxwell Pitch was the scene of numerous horse and wagon accidents. Notice the remnants of a stone wall visible above the aqueduct. This was is said to have been constructed in 1865 (without mortar!) by Maxwell and a crew of Italian laborers. The iron aqueduct was originally a wooden flume, and supplies Boulder with a portion of the meltwater from Arapaho Glacier.

An extension of the Switzerland Trail ROW has become a hiking trail now, an important part of the City of Boulder pedestrian and biking network interactive map here). Here it's visible below the irrigation structure, in this location the edge protected from a steep dropoff with a section of wrought-iron fencing.

The ROW itself actually crossed the creek at this point. Directly opposite the Maxwell Pitch are the remains of one of the dozens of bridges crossing Boulder Creek. Another sign posted by the Historic Preservation group describes the use of the stones from these bridges in the later construction of the Boulder County Courthouse, after the Denver, Boulder & Western Railroad was dismantled and sold for parts in 1919.

Earlier this year the Maxwell Pitch was pictured Then and Now as part of a presentation on the role of irrigation ditches in the development of Boulder Valley. The historic image shows the roadbed more clearly than is visible now. Erosion has taken its toll.