COBWEB CORNERS: Railroad to Pikes Peak: The first attempt

By Mel McFarland

       In early 1883, the first Pike's Peak Railway was proposed. It would go from near the D&RG's Manitou depot up to Crystal Park, Sheep Mountain, Mount Baldy and on to Pike's Peak's summit. The Rio Grande station was a logical choice, since trains traveled through Colorado City from Colorado Springs a couple times a day. It would be a regular adhesion railway and would not be a steep line.
       The new railroad was promoted by Colorado College Professor James H. Kerr, along with Irving Howbert, Thomas J. Fisher and Orlando Metcalf, who had been major railroad supporters in the area. Other people raised initial money for the project. It was even hoped to get former United States President Ulysses S. Grant to invest, but he never did.
       A railroad up Pike's Peak would have to be a serious project, but it started in trouble. The first survey had to be scrapped as completely unworkable. The second proved to be twice as long, with several serious defects. The mountains above Manitou were not forgiving. The grading finally started in the summer of 1883. Three miles had been carved out by December. Work ground to a halt as winter set in. When construction resumed heavy blasting was in preparation. The charges were echoed by charges in the East. In May the company's financing collapsed. It seems that Professor Kerr had deposited the money in a bank in New York City. It was felt that western banks were not stable enough to risk the loss of their funds. The eastern bank closed its doors, taking the company's money with it. The railroad project died quickly and almost quietly.
       The idea itself did not die, and we know the much shorter cog railroad was built a few years later. However, the earlier route is still in use. It became Crystal Park Road. Large portions of the finished railroad grade carried car traffic as early as 1910. Several major portions of the early railroad were never built, and this was the big initial problem. The first change was to find a good starting point. Once this was done, a twisting, windy road was built up to the old railroad line. A long loop up Englemann Canyon was never built. To get from one level to another, sharp turns were needed. Little turntables got cars around the corners. If you look up and see the road, that is a bit of the information about that line on the mountainside.