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.

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