COBWEB CORNERS: The forgotten importance of coal
By Mel McFarland
In the early days there was a need in Colorado Springs that is completely lost in the history books. The need for banks and construction materials, as well as food, seem to be remembered, but this one thing gets lost. It was coal! We do not think of Colorado Springs as a coal-mining town, but in the 1880s all the way up until 1900 it was very important. One of the first industries right after the railroad was a coal mine.
The last operating coal mine sent coal to Cripple Creek right up until it closed. The mining activity was heavily dependent on Cripple Creek's demand. The coal was used for power for operating mining and milling machinery, as well as lighting. Water pumps and ventilation, critical to operating the deep mines, were helpless without electric power. The Colorado City mills used large quantities of coal. Cragmoor and the Pikeview area became the hot spot for coal production in Colorado Springs. In addition to the mining business, coal delivery to homes and businesses gave jobs to hundreds of people.
The trains up Ute Pass carried up to 10 cars of coal to the Cripple Creek district a day in the early days. The number was way down by the 1940s, but the material was the main thing hauled up the pass, second only to people!
There is still an important reminder of the importance of coal to the district in downtown Cripple Creek. At the District Museum's old Colorado Trading and Transfer building, the space behind the building was originally a huge coal shed. The Carlton Brothers, Albert and Leslie, who ran the company, shipped their own coal from mines they owned near Colorado Springs up to that building, as well as to others in the district. It was not just for the railroads, but the mines, right down to staying warm in the cold winter nights, and much of it came from Colorado Springs after 1920. Their rival Mr. Corley, who owned the Gold Camp Road, was even a coal mine owner in Colorado Springs.
The towns in Ute Pass and points west all used coal hauled in by the railroad. In the 1940s some of this was hauled in by trucks. After the railroads were gone, and trucking coal became expensive, many switched to different types of gas service.