COBWEB CORNERS: Legacy of early mines still with us
By Mel McFarland
If you could look down at Colorado Springs from way up in the air, starting near 30th Street and Centennial, swinging around in a Big “C” toward Shriver Air Force Base, underground is a layer of coal. In some places it is just a few inches thick, but elsewhere it is a hundred feet thick. It was mined from the 1870s until a few years ago. The old mines still cause problems in Colorado Springs as they collapse. They leave big sink holes in yards and streets.
Franceville was a coal mining town (now south of Colorado 94 - "the Farmers Highway" east of Marksheffel, near Shriver). It was started by the mayor of Colorado City, Matt France, in about 1878, as a single mine, with a few shacks for his miners. It grew to several mines in the late 1880s and early 1890s when two railroad lines were built to haul out coal. The big railroad customers were gone by 1920, and the mines gradually died out; however, there was some activity until about 1950. One of the last non-mining buildings was a one-room school.
Over on our side of town, one of the first mines opened in 1872 north of what's now Garden of the Gods Road when workers building the new Denver and Rio Grande Railroad cut into a hill and found coal. It would become the source of coal for a couple years before more mines opened up along the ridge that runs north of Garden of the Gods, nearly all the way up to Woodman road. Pikeview was the largest settlement, at the base of present-day Rockrimmon.
Recently Forrest Porter passed on. He actually lived in a mining town that almost sat in the Air Force Academy at 1-25 called Breed. Forrest had a great interest in Colorado City's history, and his uncle, Rufus Porter, was famous as the Hard Rock Poet up in Cripple Creek. The south end of Breed sat where 1-25's Woodman Road interchange is located. The old shafts even turn up when they work near there today. There is also a new water treatment plant on Mark Dabling that was complicated by mines under it. Old Forrest had some interesting stories about the coal mines.
A lot of the history of our earliest mines has yet to be unearthed. Someday maybe we'll talk about our oil wells too!