COBWEB CORNERS: Where the region got its wood
By Mel McFarland
We do not often think that our major product might be wood. The first buildings in Denver were from an area that has been in the news a lot lately, Black Forest. Early ranchers knew their fortune was in the trees.
Long before the discovery of gold near Denver, people were cutting trees for lumber in Black Forest. J.A. Weir and Carl Husted owned the primary sawmills in the forest, both doing business starting in the 1860s. We know Mr Husted because in his later years he chose to live in Colorado City. That is his house at Kiowa and 30th Street.
In 1878 Dr. Bell started his sawmill up in Manitou Park. Much of that lumber was used by General Palmer's Rio Grande railroad, as the line extended through southern Colorado, as well as for houses in Manitou, Colorado City and Colorado Springs.
Competition came from the forests in Southern Colorado and New Mexico, once the railroads reached there. Hardwoods came from the east. Hickory, poplar and gum were from Tennessee. The timber dealers in Chicago bought pine and fir from us and sold us oak and maple. A hundred years ago we started getting lumber from the Pacific Northwest, and still do.
Early on, there was a problem with the imported wood products. After a month or so they started to crack. Our dry climate was the problem. They were being used too quickly. Letting the "foreign" wood dry out first helped. Local door and window manufacturers had known that.
The Cripple Creek gold strike caused a huge demand for lumber, including mine beams and ties. Sawmills west of Pike's Peak prospered. Some of these lasted until about 50 years ago.
A few sawmills are still around. Much of the damaged wood from the Hayman Fire was cut for various uses. The demand for Waldo Canyon wood may not fare so well thanks to the difficulty of building access roads, but Black Forest wood has always been popular.