Industry: The dirty little secret of early Old Town
Researching the area's early industry is not an easy task for a historian. The main reason, Mel McFarland pointed out in his talk at the Old Colorado City History
Center Feb. 16, is that early residents, hoping to attract tourism, liked to pretend that industrial activities didn't exist at all.
One long-ago photo, he said, actually painted out a quarry that apparently got in the frame by accident.
“Industry was always a bad word in early Pikes Peak history,” McFarland observed.
His presentation addressed the quarries, mills and railroads of the 1800s, particularly those on the Westside. He said the early quarries are especially hard to find details about - which is particularly aggravating from a historical standpoint because some of the most extensive quarrying occurred in that era.
In answer to a question, McFarland pointed out that it didn't take much to get a quarry started back in those less regulated times. “You could buy up the land and cut up the stone,” he summarized.
As a result, the remnants of numerous ancient quarries, big and small, can be found in the area, even to this day. Perhaps the most famous was the sandstone quarry in what is now Red Rock Canyon Open Space, McFarland said.
In the early days, because of transportation issues and the area's isolation, local quarries were a necessity because it was hard to get construction stone any other way.
Even the Garden of the Gods was quarried at one time, and preventing future such uses was a key reason why the Perkins family donated it to the city for a park 100 years ago, McFarland noted.
But it was ore from a little farther away - Cripple Creek - that led to the development of Westside's famous gold mills later in the 19th century, he explained. The best known ones were the Colorado-Philadelphia and the Standard (around what is now Red Rock Canyon's 31st Street trailhead), the Portland (the site of the Norris- Penrose Event Center) and the Golden Cycle (site of the Gold Hill Mesa residential/commercial development off 21st Street and Highway 24).
The talk also addressed how the Midland's trains were used to bring the ore down from Cripple Creek to the Westside's mills from the 1880s to the 1940s. Until about 1920, some ore also came down on the Short Line (now the basic route of Gold Camp Road), said McFarland, who has authored two books on the Midland and writes columns for local weekly newspapers (including the Westside Pioneer).
He concluded his talk on early area industry by describing it as “a work in progress,” in which he is still scouting for information. “I look forward to adding more to this,” he told his audience of close to 100 people.
Westside Pioneer article