Elbert County, Colorado History and Genealogy

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Denver & New Orleans Railroad in Elbert County, Colorado


Terry Courtright has prepared another informative piece about Elbert County History!

This information is taken from the comprehensive and thoroughly illustrated book “Denver & New Orleans—In The Shadow of the Rockies” by James R. “Jim” Jones (published by Sundance Publications, Ltd., 1997), which is available through the Elbert Library.

In 1881, former Colorado Territory governor John Evans and associates began work on the Denver & New Orleans Railroad. It was to be the first standard gauge route to cross the Palmer Divide and would be a strong competitor to the Denver & Rio Grande along the Front Range on the way to joining with the Fort Worth & Denver City RR on the Canadian River in New Mexico, which in turn would interconnect to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. The D&NO route generally followed Cherry Creek southeast from Denver, crossing it in present day Parker, and climbing along Hilltop Road entered today’s Elbert County by mid December, 1881. From there the route meandered down to Running Creek at today’s Elizabeth, and then continued south closely following county roads 17-21 and 106 to Elbert Road and the present town site of Elbert by mid January, 1882. The town of Elbert was moved from 7 miles southwest to the present location to be along the railroad and became an important stop. Before the end of January, construction had exited Elbert County, following Kiowa Creek and today’s Elbert Road south to cross the Palmer Divide at Apex, then on to Eastonville, Falcon, east of Colorado Springs and on to Pueblo by the end of April, 1882. The railroad seemed always to struggle financially and through several reorganizations by 1898 was known as the Colorado & Southern Railway. In the early 1900’s, only limited freight and “mixed” trains were running the rails between Denver and Colorado Springs. On May 30, 1935, a great flood swept down Kiowa Creek and washed out much of the tracks in and south of Elbert. Nearly half of the buildings in Elbert were destroyed and 6 people from Elbert and Kiowa lost their lives. Because repairs to the tracks was not economic, rail service south of Elbert was discontinued, and to Elizabeth and Elbert only limited schedules were run. Truck and automobile routes were improving and the train was no longer necessary to rural areas. By the end of October, 1936, the railroad through this part of Elbert County was completely abandoned.

In the railroad’s heyday, it was an important method for getting farm and ranch products to the cities and necessary merchandise back out to the rural communities. The trains carried the mail on a daily basis. Sheep, cattle, horses and hogs; milk , cream and cheese from local producers; lumber and timbers; coal; and a wide variety of produce including potatoes, beans, corn, wheat and other grains were all carried more seasonally. Mercantile stores were located along the route and their warehouses were often positioned beside the tracks. Passenger traffic was important on a daily basis before the roads became easily travelled and before the automobile was widely in use. And it was especially popular to take Sunday picnic excursions from the cities to Elizabeth and Elbert to view wildflowers and escape the summer heat. While the Elbert County Fair was held in the fields south of Elbert, several passenger trains from both Colorado Springs and Denver would bring people out for the festivities.

Although continuing development is removing traces of the road bed in many areas (as the grade is used for roads, and the fill is hauled away for other purposes), the abandoned route can still be seen from several county roads as shown on the accompanying map. Respect private property, refer to Jim Jones’ book for more details and enjoy your search in Elbert County!

3 comments:

  1. The remains of the track run right in front of my house which is cool and this was one of the stops along the way too. There is a foundation of an old building right by where the tracks were too.

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    1. I would love to photograph the area you are speaking of. Where is it?

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  2. I enjoyed reading this piece on the D&NO/C&D Falcon Line. Thanks for the references to my book, written over a seven-year period beginning in 1990. Sadly, the 2600 copies are long gone and eBay prices are rather hefty. I've been living in my native Vermont for a dozen years, but plan to revisit beloved Colorado prairie places and friends in 2017. We'll celebrate the book's 20th anniversary with a special show. I'll also be shooting a documentary on the subject that summer. I've been transcribing and digitizing interviews with many wonderful people-- now gone-- who lived in Douglas, Elbert, El Paso and Pueblo Counties during the rail years and survived the 1935 Flood among other events. Folks interested in the railroad, and history of the towns along it, may e-mail me at rutrs3@msn.com
    Sincerely, James R. "Jim" Jones
    author, Denver & New Orleans: In The Shadow Of The Rockies

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