COBWEB CORNERS: Ripple effect of trains up Ute Pass
By Mel McFarland
We have seen that the Denver & Rio Grande ran a train line to Manitou in 1880. Its little stone depot had an unusual history. An English church had been copied for Mrs. Bell, and was to serve as the Episcopalian's chapel in Manitou. But as the railroad was built, it became evident that the church would be right next to the track. So it became a quaint railroad station, and a small frame chapel was built near the Manitou House.
The little Manitou train made the 20-minute trip between the ends of the line four times a day. After the first year of operation, a small engine house and turntable allowed the little engine to start every morning in Manitou, if needed. In the summer the railroad was quite busy, but in the winter service was reduced to twice a day, morning and evening.
The plan to build farther west had not completely died. There was a strong desire to tap the area behind Pike's Peak, plus build a shorter route to Leadville and a possible South Park connection. Once the Manitou branch was finished, the D&RG spent $19,726.34 for surveys and preliminary work, including land purchases in Ute Pass. Dr Bell was the principal advocate of the plan. He already had a lumber railroad at Manitou Park, having hauled an engine and cars up the pass in 1874. Connecting to that line would help get lumber down into the towns being built around Colorado Springs.
The D&RG decided Ute Pass was too difficult for a railroad. But several years later another group started the Colorado Midland, which built a line through there in 1886. When the line was opened, the little towns west of Manitou were started. Only Florissant had been there before the Midland built west. It had been on a wagon road between Colorado City and Leadville.
The construction of the Midland also influenced the Rock Island to build to Colorado Springs. This influenced town building on the eastern plains along the railroad. Falcon, Peyton, Calhan and the towns along US 24 and I-70 east of Limon were built while the Rock Island was moving west. Today, now that the tracks from Limon to Colorado Springs are gone, it is hard to tell that a railroad was ever there. This, all because the Midland went up Ute Pass!