Originally Published August 8, 2009
In the mid 1870s, the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad came into existence, running from Denver and up the Platte Canyon, making its way over Kenosha Pass and through South Park, going through the Alpine Tunnel and ending up in Gunnison. The original goal was to make it all the way to the Pacific Ocean (hence the name) but it fell far short of its goal, never even making it out of Colorado.
Considered one of the most controversial railways of the time, partially because it wasn’t part of any of the major railroads, and because the area serviced wasn’t considered the most prime of mining areas, it still continued to expand and run until 1927.
The story of this railroad is a long and convoluted one; many books have been written on it and at least one is currently being written. Rumors, stories and outright lies have been told about this railroad- I recently heard one about how on one rather rough winter in South Park, the snow had hardened to ice, so much so that the plow on the front of the train was having a hard time breaking it off the tracks. Somewhere between Jefferson and Como(Or maybe between Como and Red Hill, or Red Hill and Garos), so the story goes, the train was running into the night and managed to derail without notice of the engineers – the ice was so firm. Eventually, the plow did manage to dig into the snow and the train was stuck. In the morning, the engineers found that they had gone miles off the track out into the high mountain plains and had to be towed back. Now, it’s possible this story is true, but I haven’t yet been able to verify it, other than the story of an old timer from Como. But it is a good story, isn’t it?
The train was most commonly used for bringing building stones from the Garfield Quarry near Morrison and coal from the Satanic Mine. Passengers were also often on the train, taking Sunday picnic trips up into the mountains and areas like South Platte, Buffalo, Pine Grove, Glenisle near Bailey’s and even out as far as Jefferson and Como- anything further than that was more than an afternoon picnic trip. Some of the stops along the route no longer exist, or they have become ghost towns, and in some cases, the names have changed, making them hard to find on modern maps.
Since the story is so large, I’m only going to give you a timeline – and a map – I needed the map to figure out the timeline myself – of when and where the train went and when it stopped. In the future, I plan to focus on the spots it stopped along the way, as well as building, sites, and people of interest along the Denver, South Park and Pacific railroad.
The Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad (rapidly changed to railway) starts in:
1874– Original owners and developers are Governor John Evans, Walter Cheeseman, E.F. Hallack, C.B. Kountz and G.B. Clayton.
From the original Denver train depot to the Denver Union Terminal
To the South Park Junction
To the Sheridan Junction
To the Bear Creek Junction and Webster
1878 – Spur from Morrison to the Garfield Quarry
Spur from Morrison to Soda Lakes.
1879– From Webster to over Kenosha Pass, through the South Platte Canyon, over to Como and on to Trout Creek Pass.
1880– To St. Elmo and beginning construction on the Alpine Tunnel, over Altman pass. The Alpine Tunnel is the very first railroad tunnel, placed at 11,000 feet and running over 1800 feet long.
1881– Ownership transfers to the Union Pacific, who continues to run the D, SP&P as a separate entity.
Alpine Tunnel completed.
From St. Elmo through the west portal of the Alpine Tunnel, through to Alpine and Hancock.
The Fairplay branch is started.
The Breckenridge branch from the Lechner mine spur (1/2 mile north of Como) to the top of Boreas Pass.
1882 – Alpine Tunnel to Gunnison.
Connected to the Denver & Rio Grande track to Crested Butte. A spur was supposed to continue to Irwin, but the Irwin mine was failing, so the idea was abandoned by 1883.
Fairplay branch extended to Alma.
Breckenridge branch extended from Boreas Pass to Dillon.
1883 – Spur from Gunnison to Baldwin mine, new station build at the confluence of Ohio and Carbon Creeks – originally called Baldwin, but changed to Castleton. Spur off of this to the Kubler mine.
Breckenridge branch extended from Dillon to Keystone.
Leadville division started, from Placer to Kokomo.
The Lechner mine spur is abandoned.
1884 – Leadville division expanded from Kokomo to Leadville.
A rout change happens between Buena Vista and Nathrop – a spur is added to the old line to the new Buena Vista station going to Macune through Box Canyon, and on to Schwanders and Nathrop.
1885 – The King mine spur is reduced
The route from Macune to Buena Vista is given over to the Denver and Rio Grande railway.
Trout Creek to Macune is abandoned.
A connection to the Denver and Rio Grande is made at Nathrop.
1888– The Morrison branch is extended
Denver, South Park and Pacific goes into receivership.
1889– The railroad changes its name to reflect the real nature of the railway – it is now the Denver, Leadville and Gunnison Railway, to continue operations.
The spur from Gunnison to Baldwin is abandoned.
1890– The Alpine Tunnel closes.
1894– Denver, Leadville and Gunnison railway goes into receivership; Frank Trumbull to look after its interests, separate from Union Pacific interests.
1908 – Ownership shifts again, and the railway becomes part of the Colorado and Southern Railway. The C&S expands in many directions, including south into Colorado Springs and beyond, and north to Wyoming, acquiring the Colorado Central Railroad that runs along Clear Creek from Denver, through Golden, Idaho Springs, Silver Plume and Georgetown, with a spur to Blackhawk and Central City. The Georgetown Loop continues to run as a tourist attraction today, running from Georgetown to Silver Plume and back
Trout Creek to Macune is reconstructed due to a washout in Box Canyon.
By 1927, most of the line is abandoned, as mines start to play out and the cost to run the railroad is more than the market can bear. The High Line from Climax to Leadville over Fremont Pass continues to run, as well as the rail along the South Platter River to Watertown. Eventually, even these will be abandoned.
Car travel picks up, and as rails are removed, roads take their places along the original rail beds. As the railroad pulls out, some of the towns do as well, leaving only a shadow of what they were, a lone building here and there, or just a mark on a map. Other towns, however, continued and survived and thrive today as small mountain towns and tourist destinations.
My plan is to try to visit all of the towns and passes along the original Denver, South Park and Pacific line, writing about them as we go, giving a little more insight into the Colorado of our ancestors and the history
of our mining heritage.
BTW? You can thank my husband for this line of articles; it was he who took me to the trailhead to get to Strontia Springs Reservoir – the parking area (which I have seen in pictures since used to be the train depot for South Platte) is right across from the old South Platte Hotel. That peaked my interest, and so it begins.
Colorado Railroads: Chronological Development compiled by Tivis E. Wilkins.1974
Colorado and Southern Narrow Gauge by Mallory Hope Ferrell 1981
From Scratch: History of Jefferson County, Colorado By Members of the Jefferson County Historical Commission 1985