COBWEB CORNERS: The contributions of Matt France
By Mel McFarland
I have talked about this man before, but today I want to talk about the marks he left in the area. When Matt France died in 1900, in Los Angeles, Calif., he had certainly done enough to be remembered here.
He arrived in Colorado in 1860 after a 43-day trip by ox team from St. Joseph, Mo. Born in Roanoke, Va., in 1830, he was a well-educated man. He moved to South Bend, Ind., where he ran a newspaper. It was here he met Schuyler Colfax, advocate of the West. In 1854 France moved to Leavenworth, Kan., where he briefly had a farm.
He came to Colorado in the great rush to Pikes Peak, living initially in the little gold camp called Denver. He eventually moved up into the gold camps in Gilpin County, where he worked in mines and in a telegraph office. In late 1865 he moved south to El Paso County. He homesteaded on land east of Colorado City, which included a portion of Jimmy Camp Creek. He eventually built a house in Colorado City, later becoming one of the few who moved to Colorado Springs when Palmer started the town in 1871. France no longer ran cattle on his land to the east, but used his knowledge of mining to invest in silver mines in New Mexico and Arizona. The land where he ran cattle held another treasure, coal. A little town, Franceville, grew up around his old settler's cabin.
He was elected county commissioner in 1871. He served more than 12 years. During this time, the growth of Colorado Springs was spectacular. One of his proudest moments was seeing an improved road up Ute Pass. He also sponsored a fire department hose team.
As Colorado Springs grew, the value of his coal land grew. In 1883 France relocated to California, but only for a year. Returning to Colorado, he again lived in Denver, which was a much different camp! He returned to Colorado Springs in the 1890s and was re-elected to the county commissioners. One railroad had served the Franceville mining camp, and by 1890 another railroad was serving neighboring mines. When Cripple Creek started to blossom, he invested in mines up there. He continued to serve on the county commission until his death.
France had a huge funeral that was attended by hundreds. A special train was run from downtown Colorado Springs to Evergreen cemetery. He was survived by a wife and two stepsons.