Close to 100 at OCC History Center hear Ellis relate Gold Camp Road story
Westside historian Don Ellis gave a history of the transportation route currently known as Gold Camp Road at a meeting of the
Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) Jan. 14.
Close to 100 people packed into OCCHS' History Center to hear the talk, one in a continuing speaker series the society has lined up through March.
Ellis took listeners back to 1896, when gold mills were thriving around Colorado City, and Irving Howbert - a close associate of Colorado Springs founder William Palmer - and other businessmen were planning a more direct rail route to transport gold from the Cripple Creek mines.
“It was unique in layout,” Ellis said, pointing out that the route did not follow streams or rivers like the Colorado Midland railway up Ute Pass. “The Short Line instead contoured around mountains and crossed streams, following a 4 percent grade. That probably contributes to its being a very special ride.”
By 1901, the Short Line to Cripple Creek was in operation. In addition to layout, it was known for style, including elegant club cars. In its first year, then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt rode the Short Line and proclaimed it, “the one-day trip that bankrupts the English language.”
Despite hard competition from the Midland, including rate wars, the rail line stayed in business until 1922 - a time when the gold production was starting to wane.
In 1923, a cotton magnate named W.D. Corley bought the line at an auction, tore out the tracks and had it turned into a toll road, the Corley Mountain Highway. Ellis related how Corley used to take pains to patrol for freeloaders accessing his highway from Old Stage Road.
By 1939, Corley's special use permit across U.S. Forest Service land expired, and it became a free, public road, eventually taking on the name of Gold Camp Road.
This saga lasted nearly half a century until, in 1988, timbers in Tunnel 3 partially collapsed, and the Forest Service closed 8.5 miles of Gold Camp Road between High Drive and Old Stage Road.
Despite all the years since the Short Line ended, Ellis said that “a few remnants” of the railroad remain along Gold Camp Road, including ties, rock work from the old trestles, spikes and bolts, and the locomotive soot inside the tunnels.
Westside Pioneer article