COBWEB CORNERS: The Midlandís buildings
By Mel McFarland
Last week I expounded on the changes the building of the Colorado Midland brought to Colorado City in 1887. The whole south side of Fountain Creek changed, and for another 20 years would continue to change.
In 1888 the extensive yards of the Colorado Midland were not yet finished, but they were taking shape. The shops consisted of a 14-stall stone roundhouse, a large machine shop, a three-story stone office building, car repair shops and a couple dozen smaller buildings and shops. The area covered was 57 acres between present-day 21st and 26th streets and south of the creek to Bott Avenue and Robinson Street.
The shops employed about 600 men at their peak, which was a century ago. Another 100 worked on train crews based from Colorado City to Leadville. Even in 1888, when the railroad was building the shops, the payroll of the men in the yards amounted to nearly $200,000 a month!
Discussions had begun about building mills here to process the gold and silver ores from Leadville and Aspen, but that would not happen until gold was discovered in Cripple Creek a few years later.
Some of the railroad buildings were made of local stone, while the majority were built of wood. Two of those stone buildings (the roundhouse and the machine shop) survive and have flourished, but only one of the wooden buildings. A big fire in the 1890s destroyed a major portion of the shops, but these were quickly replaced. The big office building burned down in 1953.
The Colorado Midland had 63 locomotives spread out from here to Grand Junction, as well as more than 1,000 freight cars and dozens of passenger cars. The men in the Midland's shops could repair or build almost any of these. The Midland Terminal did not need as large a fleet of cars or locomotives. Most of the Colorado Midland's shop buildings were torn down in the 1920s because the railroad's new owner, the Midland Terminal, had no use for them either.
After the railroad was scrapped in 1949, the buildings sat empty for several years, and saw some vandalism. It may have been a vagrant looking for a way to get warm that started the fire that took the office building.
It is fortunate that most of the homes where the workers lived are still around us.