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COBWEB CORNERS: A concrete bridge where the trains once ran

By Mel McFarland

Nov. 17, 2018
       This is the sort of little concrete roadway bridge that few people probably notice.
       Until 1948, a big wooden bridge was there. Originally meant for trains, the first of this type was built in 1900, its replacement in 1919. The 1900 span was a constant problem to the owners, having been scorched by fires at least twice.
       In 1948, the roadway that used the then-new concrete bridge was providing a scenic route into the mountains. Although that access was cut off 30 years ago, the bridge still gets steady use, with homes having since been built and recreation opportunities established nearby. In 1948, maybe a hundred people used the bridge a week. I bet that many use it now in an hour!
       Have you guessed which concrete bridge this is? It's on Gold Camp Road, just past its intersection with Bear Creek Road and High Street, at the mouth of Bear Creek Canyon.
       The 1900 timber bridge was built for the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railway (known as the Short Line), which provided passenger and freight service between Cripple Creek and the Westside. The bridge had burned at least once before the fire that destroyed it in 1918.
       The railway went almost six months without a bridge there, until the replacement was finished in 1919. The trains had to go over the Midland Terminal to get to
In roughly the same place where this concrete bridge on Gold Camp Road spans Bear Creek (just past its intersection with Bear Creek Road and High Street), a wooden bridge once supported trains for the Short Line between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek.
Westside Pioneer photo
Cripple Creek during that time.
       The Short Line was sold to W.D. Corley in 1922. He thought about reopening it for trains, but decided to convert it to a toll road. He named it the Corley Mountain Highway, which opened in 1924.
       It was renamed the Gold Camp Road in 1939 when the U.S. Forest Service took it over.
       Until then, many of the highway's old railroad bridges were still being used. All of those, like the one in Bear Creek Canyon, would eventually be bypassed and removed.
       Bear Creek Canyon's current concrete bridge was built in the 1980s, replacing the 1948 span.
       In some places along the Gold Camp Road route, you can still see where the railroad bridges had been. But the last time I looked, there were no signs of the one in Bear Creek Canyon. Even 50 years ago, it was hard to spot.
       When the old timber bridge was torn down, the wood being quite sought after, there were numerous offers to buy it. Quite a bit of the wood was probably burned in furnaces and fireplaces all over town, and maybe used in other structures. The good news was that it had not been treated with creosote (which helped prevent rot and bug problems).
       The old railroad bridge had cut across the canyon well before the road's current location and took a higher line. The road was regraded in 1948 to match the new bridge, and that is pretty much where it is today. Where an abutment for the wooden bridge had been is now the site of the secondary parking lot for the Section 16 Trailhead on Gold Camp Road.
       It's hard to believe that the railroad's grade was barely 10 feet wide, and the tops of the bridges were more like eight feet wide.

(Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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