COBWEB CORNERS: D&RG expands to Leadville, Manitou

By Mel McFarland

       Leadville took off in the late 1870s, first with gold and later with silver mines. The Denver and Rio Grande looked for a short route to get there. Having already started building from Pueblo up the Arkansas River to serve the Florence-area coal mines in 1874, the railroad started for Leadville in an epic race with the Santa Fe that would last through the decade.
       In 1880, the D&RG built west from Colorado Springs to Manitou as part of a projected line up Ute Pass. The extension would run by way of Ute Pass to South Park, Hoosier Pass, Blue River, White River and on to Salt Lake City. However, Ute Pass and west was considered too much of a gamble and construction stopped just east of the heart of Manitou.
       The tracks ran along Fountain Creek not far from of the road to Manitou. Dr. William A. Bell, a friend of General Palmer, had purchased large tracts of forest land west of Colorado City and set out to build a resort. Bell planned grand hotels and spas near the Manitou waters. The secondary purpose of the Manitou line was to reach quarries in the Colorado City area.
       Construction of the line went fairly quickly, except for a short delay waiting for Colorado City's approval of the right of way. A thunderstorm in the middle of July brought flash flooding along Fountain Creek. The fresh railroad grade was washed away in the low-lying stretches at Hangman's Gulch, near Colorado City. Rails, ties and the roadbed were gone. A few rails were found wrapped around trees below Colorado City.
       The crews worked through the night to get the track repaired in time for a special ride on the first Manitou train by General U.S. Grant July 16. Afterward, Grant and his group were taken to Bell's nearby Briarhurst. A few days later, Grant left for Leadville, where his son, U.S. Grant Jr., had an interest in banking.
       Passenger service to Manitou started July 27, 1880. The Manitou area was finally ready to be fully developed.
       Next week a bit more on Manitou and Ute Pass.