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The Front Range


Last updated 5/27/2020 at 12:05pm

In the 1860s, there was a boom and a recession in Colorado. The boom started with the discovery of gold in Cherry Creek at what became parts of Denver. In the 1860s, the need for change was stalled by a lack of transportation. Colorado did not have any railroads - yet.

I have talked here about General Palmer and what he did to develop Colorado’s railroads. He first came here as part of the development of transcontinental trains. The railroad he worked for was stalled in Kansas, racing the Union Pacific across the country. It never built past Colorado, even though General Palmer had scouted a route all the way to California. Originally, they were heading for Trinidad from Kansas, but shifted to go to Denver when the line to the west was scrapped. When Palmer got to Denver, he quit working, mainly focused on a new idea. He wanted to build his own railroad to connect Denver to Mexico City, which boosted the cities on the Front Range.

In 1871, Palmer built to Colorado Springs, eventually reaching Trinidad. He would race the Santa Fe railroad in southern Colorado. They were building along the route that he had surveyed for a line to California. This competition would go on for nearly the rest of his days in railroad management. Sometimes he won, and sometimes the Santa Fe came out on top.

In the late 1870s, the Santa Fe seemed to be the most victorious. They had gained the use of Raton Pass south of Trinidad. The shift to building in the Royal Gorge was next. First the Rio Grande and Palmer were winning, then it shifted to the Santa Fe. General Palmer was running out of money. He eventually rented his tracks to the Santa Fe, which gave them a route into Denver from Pueblo. In 1880, Palmer was recovering and regained control of the tracks, but the Santa Fe still used his tracks to Denver. In 1883, Santa Fe started worrying about their use of those tracks, and started buying land along Fountain Creek, north of Pueblo. By 1885, they had enough land to start building. They followed near the Rio Grande, and in a couple places they even crossed over them, one just north of here. In November 1887, the Santa Fe reached Denver on their own tracks.

There was another railroad line from Denver to Pueblo, but it was well east on the plains. I have talked about the Denver and New Orleans line through Black Forest in the past. They were building to go to Louisiana, but shifted to serve towns on the southern Front range. Eventually, they would change over and use the much shorter Santa Fe. Before the railroads were built, there were not many towns on the Front Range, but most date from the 1880s during the growth of the railroads. Many of those, started then, died off in the 1920s and 30s as the automobile took over!


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