Rollinsville, the Cleanest Town in Colorado

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

It is fair to call Rollinsville, located roughly five miles from Nederland, “clean” but not in the tidy sense. The town’s founder, John Quincy Adams Rollins, strictly forbade the brothels, dance halls, gambling houses and saloons that were so common in Colorado’s early mining towns. Even so, Rollinsville remains notable as one of the earliest locales in the state, with a history that still shines even today.

Rollins, formerly of New Hampshire, was 44 years old when he was first documented in Colorado as a rancher. But he also liked dabbling in mines and mills, roads, stage lines, and lumber. His earliest investments included the Gold Dirt Mine on South Boulder Creek and the area’s first quartz mill. It was also said he once won $11,000 in a Denver billiard game. Then he discovered a primitive Ute native trail that had already been crossed by American soldiers led by one Captain John Bonesteel in 1862, and newspaperman William Byers in 1866.

Rollins decided that, even at 11,767′ in elevation, the pass was definitely worth looking into further. Later that year Rollins, along with partners Perley Dodge and Frederic C. Weir, were granted permission by the Colorado Territorial legislature to operate a wagon road along the high trail. The pass was named for Rollins, who established Rollinsville with a stage stop in 1868. He also continued investing in a number of mines. Although they were all located some distance from Rollinsville, there was a stamp mill at the town by 1869.

Two years later the Rollinsville post office opened on January 31, 1871. The town was handy for miners needing supplies, and its stage stop was successful enough to merit upgrading Rollins Pass and making it into a toll road. The Rollinsville and Middle Park Wagon Road premiered in 1873. Travelers across the 30-mile route were required to pay $2.50 to access the pass, but it was a boon to trade routes between Middle Park and the Front Range.

For the next year or so, Rollins Pass remained one of the only ways to access Middle Park and the budding mining towns of the northwestern slope. But those traversing the pass and paying for it soon grew tired of Rollins’ monopoly, and besides, Rollins Pass was not an easy road to maintain. A new toll road was built over Berthoud Pass in 1874. The elevation was a little lower, the road was easier to negotiate, and the pass gave access to even more important mining districts. The Rollins Pass Toll Road was soon losing business Berthoud Pass.

Undaunted, John Rollins continued investing in mines and land. By the late 1870’s, he had managed to acquire 300 placer claims and 2,000 acres of farm land. But the population of Rollinsville was a mere 198 souls as of 1887. Enter railroad magnate David Moffat, who tried to tunnel under Rollins Pass to expand his Denver, Utah & Pacific Railroad. But that plan ended in failure; not until 1902 did Moffat incorporate a new railroad, the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad, as he contemplated his underground tunnel. It could take years to accomplish, so Moffat decided to build a temporary railroad over Rollins Pass instead.

It wasn’t easy for Moffat to build his railroad over the pass. Thirty-three tunnels had to be blasted out of the rock, and two trestles also were built. The railroad wasn’t complete until 1909, but brought some needed commerce back to Rollinsville. By then several other camps including Antelope, Baltimore, Buckeye, Corona, Gilpin, Gold Dirt, Ladora, Perigo and Tolland (aka Mammoth), were scattered around Rollinsvlle and along the pass before the railroad reached Hot Sulphur Springs. Another notable camp was Arrowhead, later known as Arrow, which did sport a small red-light district where none was available at Rollinsville. One temporary resident of the district was Mona Bell, a young harlot who would later be murdered by her lover in Nevada.

With the railroad in place, Rollinsville was given new life. A 1916 news article reported that miners in search of tungsten, a rare but hardy metal, were finding it around Rollinsville. “Old abandoned buildings, which, for years were considered unsalable, now have signs on them stating that they are for sale at figures which run as high as $2,000 or $3,000,” the paper reported. Rollinsville was again alive and well with “a constant stream of people from Denver and other places” coming and going through town. Some were staying, too, paying around $75 per lot for homesites. Some mining offices even began opening up in town as the tungsten boom survived well into World War I.

By 1928 Moffat’s next project, the long-awaited Moffat Tunnel, premiered. It too brought profit to Rollinsville while it was being built. But there was now no longer a need for the rails across Rollins Pass. Rollinsville eventually downsized to just 53 people by the time the Denver & Salt Lake served the area in the 1930’s. Eventually the railroad, including the Moffat Tunnel, fell out of use.

The last of the 33 tunnels along Rollins Pass collapsed in 1979. Today the pass is a pleasant and challenging four wheel drive road. Rollinsville with its tiny population of 53 people was serving as a shipping point on the Denver & Salt Lake Railway. Eventually the railroad, including the Moffat Tunnel, fell out of use. The last of the 33 tunnels along Rollins Pass collapsed in 1979.

Today Rollins Pass serves as a fun and challenging four wheel drive road. As of 2010, 181 people still called Rollinsville home. The post office still operates and the original stage stop is now a tavern and restaurant, and a small handful of hotels offer unique lodging. Nearby are the remains of the Moffat Tunnel. Rollinsville has definitely seen its ups and downs, but remains a vibrant if small community that has survived for nearly 160 years.

The Ghost Towns We Love to Love: Colorado

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

There’s nothing quite so good as waking up on a sunny morning and having an awesome revelation: “I wanna go 4-wheeling.” Call me ill-behaved, but knowing I’m going foraging out in the mountains is nearly the same as hearing I just won a cruise. Except the only cruise I ever seem inclined to go on is the cruise me and a willing companion take over hundreds of miles of Colorado back roads. For me, there’s nothing better than roaming a countryside without the luxury of pavement, eating out of a cooler, finding ghost towns, and collapsing at the end of the day either at a remote campsite or an historic motor court with plenty of cold drinks on hand.

These days, that last part is definitely a hit or miss situation. You see, I’ve been researching, finding and exploring ghost towns for some 50 years, including some I don’t even remember because I was very little when my parents taught me the value of learning history. The joy of bumping over faded pathways and careening around rock slide corners has always made me very happy. Naturally I’ve seen seen a lot of old towns come and go, but mostly go. And although that is the nature of the beast when a town is abandoned, it makes me sad.

There are places where as recently as 20 years ago, lots of buildings were standing but now there are none. Places where vandalism, theft or new development has reared its ugly head with no respect for our past. Places where the dead were buried by their families as a forever-remembrance, only to be dug up, discarded and disrespected by people who don’t understand. Places that make us sad, but also places that make us happy because they are still standing and well-preserved. Having watched some of my favorite towns fade away, I—and many others—have become a little more secretive about where they are, a little more vague about where we’ve been, and a little more hopeful that our beloved towns might last a little longer.

Fortunately, there are alternatives (read: battle peacefully on behalf of history preservation) to facing imminent destruction. One is to have a caretaker on-site during the months the town is accessible. They do this at Ashcroft, located near Aspen, Colorado. The caretaker lives in what looks to be an original one-room cabin with no more than a bed, some furniture, water and some pegs to hang clothes on. For the right person, it’s the dream job of a lifetime, waking up each morning to the succulent scent of wild flowers, which are protected by law, and looking out the window at the magnificent old two-story hotel with its false front, which is also protected by law. Both laws would likely be violated on a regular basis if it weren’t for the caretaker.

Sometimes the best of both worlds are reached when an old ghost town is revived, or at least lived in, by a few residents. Such is the case with places like Bonanza and Crestone, north of Alamosa. Both have been occupied in recent decades by summer dwellers, but now even a few die-hards are known to stick it out the year through. In some cases, towns are also protected by private owners who are often descendants of historic figures. Such is the case with Greenhorn, an 1840’s circa rest stop that later blossomed into a fur trading center and, even later, a small resort complete with a restaurant and zoo. Descendants of the Fossceco family, residents since 1916, still own the land and have done their best to save the community’s buildings from falling apart.

St. Elmo is another classic example, albeit also a reason why historic preservation laws should be more stringent. Property owners obviously love their little town, with gracious signs asking visitors to stay in the street and avoid trespassing. But although more of the town remains than most other ghost towns, fires in the last few decades have destroyed some of the historic buildings. To make matters worse, newcomers in recent years have threatened the town’s historic fabric by expressing a desire to build modern homes among the old ones. Thank goodness for the St. Elmo General Store, which not only looks after the town but has a lively Facebook page and offers tourists viable ways to enjoy the historic community.

A lesson could easily be learned by observing what they are doing at Turret, another classic ghost town nestled up north of Salida. At Turret, the old town plat has been utilized in the past to sell lots to new owners—with the agreement, however, that all new construction will follow the town’s historic aesthetics . That means no modern architecture, no electricity, and plenty of respect for what made this town what it was. Naturally this has been challenged in the last two decades, with new property owners declaring they can do what they like with their private land. Yet Turret remains as a viable way to preserve history and encourage building to meet historic guidelines.

One place in particular that seems to have stood the test of time is Animas Forks. Located between Lake City and Silverton, Animas Forks has managed to keep many of its buildings, including a landmark two-story home with a beautiful bay window that has been repaired and primitively restored in recent years. Although the town is located a good long way from civilization and lies in the path of some favorite off-road trails, and although hundreds of people walk into the hotel to have their photo taken from the bay window, somehow it has prevailed.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ludlow, home of heart-wrenching, emotional strikes in 1914 that took the lives of several men, two women and eleven children. Situated on a remote county road between Walsenburg and Trinidad, the abandoned buildings of Ludlow are largely overshadowed by a beautiful granite monument depicting a miner, his wife and their child. In 2003, the monument was severely damaged when vandals chopped off the heads of the adults, including the woman’s arm. To the descendants of strike victims who still live in the area, the act was like vandalizing a veteran’s memorial wall. Supporters of the monument were able to finds a sculptor to restore the heads around 2005, and those who appreciated what important history Ludlow represents keep a wary eye on the area to this day.

Thankfully History Colorado, the state’s official historical society, has continued to play a large part in the preservation and stabilization of historic places all over the state. Especially over the last two decades, signs pointing out preservation efforts have been a common site at ghost towns across Colorado. Sometimes the signs have obviously been there awhile, but they illustrate two wonderful ideas: the state is working diligently to save historic buildings, and the signs serve to deter vandals no matter how deserted the area appears.

Boggsville, Empire and Iron City are some of these places. Founded in 1866, Boggsville served as the last home of explorer Kit Carson, as well as the county seat of Bent County. Since 1993, the CHS has been working to slowly but surely renovate the buildings at Boggsville, and the project fairly complete with a quiet, scenic complex in its original setting. At Empire, located along Interstate 70 on the way to Blackhawk and Central City, four buildings that include Colorado’s oldest hotel, the Peck House, have been added to state and national registers. A rough and rocky road just before St. Elmo leads to the only remaining building at Iron City, a power plant that went under in about 1917 and was recently restored. A sign explaining the structure’s history ends with a most appropriate statement: “The historical heritage of the state of Colorado can only be preserved by the citizens themselves.”

In my experience as a ghost town hunter, researcher, historian and author, the question begs: how can we educate new generations as to how to treat, respect and learn about the ghost towns we visit? One adage that was coined decades ago never dies and remains the best advice: Take only pictures, leave only footprints. But what if the place is slated for demolition with no archeological digs or documentation planned? One way to find help is to enlist the help of local museums, historical societies, History Colorado and Colorado Preservation Inc., the state’s leading preservation organization. All of these worthy organizations can keep you up to date and get you involved not only in finding ghost towns, but assisting in their preservation.

Most of these institutions use a five-point criteria (significant events, significant persons, unique architectural points, geographic importance, and/or important discoveries related to prehistory or history) to determine historically significant properties all over the state of Colorado. And, Colorado Preservation Inc. accepts nominations every year for its Endangered Places List. Everything from Native campsites to trails to bridges, structures and even whole cities are eligible. Those making the list receive media attention and solicitations for support, including an annual meeting in Denver each February. The public is welcome to register for this worthy event, which is attended by experts and others in every historic field there is. To contact Colorado Preservation Inc., access their website at http://www.coloradopreservation.org. History Colorado can be accessed at https://www.historycolorado.org/.

Adelaide, Colorado: The Ill-Fated Stop Along the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Shortly after gold was discovered in the Cripple Creek District in 1891 merchant James A. McCandless of Florence, to the south, was one of many men who took an interest in generating commerce from the gold boom. In McCandless’s mind was Eight-Mile Canyon, an old, windy and sometimes precarious trail used by Ute natives to travel to the high country and make their summer quarters. With a creek of the same name meandering alongside much of the trail, the canyon was ideal for reaching the District. McCandless and several engineers first surveyed the canyon in 1891. By 1892 Thomas Robinson, whose endeavors included promoting the Florence Electric Street Railway Company, had opened the “Florence Free Road” leading to the District. Around this same time, give a take a few years, the name of the canyon was changed to Phantom Canyon.

Robinson intended for the road through Phantom Canyon to eventually run between the borders of Wyoming to the north and New Mexico to the south. When the Salaman Stage Line debuted on the Florence Free Road, its success inspired plans for the Florence and Cripple Creek State Line Railroad. A map of the new railroad was filed in May of 1892, and the company was reformed as the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad.

As plans unfolded for the new railroad, Denver & Rio Grande Railroad magnate David Moffat got involved. Under his wing, the F&CC was incorporated in April of 1893, and construction of the railroad commenced the following December. Robinson also remained involved with the project, to the effect that one early camp along the line was named for him. Railroad workers and travelers could stop at Robinson, situated nearly halfway between Florence and Cripple Creek, to buy supplies at a general store or stay at a boardinghouse nearby.

By 1894, for reasons unknown, the name of Robinson had been changed to Adelaide. A depot was constructed for the F&CC, as well as some homes and a water tank for the train. Two men worked at the tank, each in a 12 hour shift, so that it would remain full of water for the locomotive. They, as well as other railroad employees, lived in a nearby bunkhouse with a coal-burning stove for warmth. The former boardinghouse was converted into a hotel called the Great Elk. The station agent’s quarters were in the back of the depot.

Adelaide served a second, more important purpose too. As the F&CC tracks progressed up the canyon, it was soon discovered that the last few miles into the district proved steeper than originally thought. A “helper” town of sorts, Alta Vista, was constructed on the edge of the Cripple Creek District near the city of Victor, wherein engines could travel down the canyon to the station at Adelaide in Fremont County and assist the trains in making it up the grade.

For about a year, everything was grand at little Adelaide, nestled there among the trees and below the majestic rock walls of Phantom Canyon. But there came an evening in July of 1895 when a horrific thunderstorm, typical for late summer in Colorado, let loose with a destructive might like no other.

The Cripple Creek Weekly Journal later described the carnage that ensued. A F&CC train with 14 cars had just been lightly damaged when a small landslide derailed the train just a mile above Adelaide. Four railroad men from the train walked down to the Great Elk Hotel, and Conductor Brown had just wired news of the incident when he chanced to step outside. In the twilight he could see a wall of water, towering some 20 feet high and flowing at about thirty miles per hour, roaring down the canyon, and Adelaide was directly in its path.

Just up the tracks from Adelaide, a helper engine with engineer Mathew Lines and fireman Bert Kreis had just passed through Glenbrook, the closest stop above Adelaide, on its way down from Alta Vista. Lines and Kreis saw the wall of water, quickly stoked the fire in the engine and sped up as fast as they could as the flood chased after them. If anyone saw the engine fly past Adelaide, there does not seem to be a record of it. The engine managed to pass by the next stop, McCourt, before reaching Russell where the tracks diverted away from the flooded creek. Lines and Kreis survived.

Back at Adelaide, meanwhile, the railroad men and the station agent and his family quickly climbed to safety, as well as three other men and “three tramps” who were dining at the hotel. The railroad men turned around in time to see the Great Elk Hotel smashed to pieces by the water and carried away. Tragically, inside were the hotel’s proprietress, Mrs. Carr, as well as waiter Lee Tracy and cook John Watson. Tracy’s body was eventually found nine miles south of Adelaide, near Russell. Mrs. Carr’s body was carried several miles further, almost to Vesta Junction near Florence. Watson was found too, as well as the bodies of three other men who were believed to be section men for the railroad. Three other men surfaced safely in Florence the next day.

In all, the flood washed away ten miles of tracks as well as several bridges. It took quite some time to reach Adelaide and assess the damage, which was estimated at $100,000—over $3 million dollars in today’s money. One would think that would be the end of the F&CC, but the company remained resilient. Over the next year, workers toiled to rebuild the railroad at a cost of just over $238,000. At Adelaide, the station was relocated about half a mile down from its original location on today’s Phantom Canyon Road, well above the creek. A new water tank, a large cistern and a new depot were eventually built at the site.

Although other cloudbursts and occasional floods continued to plague Phantom Canyon, Adelaide remained safe until July of 1912 when another storm sent yet another wall of water crashing down the F&CC tracks. This time, twelve bridges were wiped out and five miles of track were either damaged or lost altogether in the flood. Rather than rebuild again, the F&CC took into consideration its own finances but also those in the Cripple Creek District, where the mining boom was slowly fading away. In 1915 the F&CC was dissolved, and the remaining tracks were removed from the canyon.

Over the last several decades, any structural remnants remaining at Adelaide have disappeared altogether. The only evidence of the whistle stop today is the large cistern, which can be seen below the road along Phantom Canyon. Small signs denote Adelaide and most of the other stops along the route, making for a most scenic drive through the canyon with a little history thrown in. And in Florence, both the McCandless house and the Robinson mansion bear proof that, for a time, the F&CC was a good investment indeed.

Miramont Castle: A Son’s Love for His Mother in Manitou Springs

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

It is all well and good to “honor thy father and thy mother” just as the Bible says. Manitou Springs’ Father Francolon, however, took this commandment to extremes where his mother was concerned.

Father Jean Baptist Francolon was a native Frenchman who first came to Manitou in 1892 to work with the Catholic Sisters of Mercy. At the time, the Sisters of Mercy were the largest Catholic order of nuns in the country, sent to places like Manitou and Cripple Creek to assist the sick and needy. In a time when tuberculosis was running rampant across the nation, Colorado saw an amazing influx of those afflicted who were seeking a healthier climate. The population of tubercular patients throughout the state actually exceeded the number of miners who came to Colorado during the gold rushes of 1859 and 1890!

Rather than live on the grounds of the Sisters’ tubercular sanitarium, however, Francolon purchased a large lot right next door. Within a few years, the eccentric priest took even more unconventional steps when he decided to build a monumental home for his mother, Marie. The castle was named Miramont in her honor.

Work on the castle began in 1895. Francolon commissioned Manitou builders Angus and Archie Gillis and combined Romanesque, Moorish and Gothic styles to create what would be known as the Castle of the West. The outer walls of the castle were two feet thick and made of hand-cut native green sandstone. Overall, nine different styles of architecture were applied to reflect childhood places that Francolon fondly remembered. There are very few four sided rooms in the building. An octagonal shaped chapel originally served as Froncolon’s library.

By 1897 the 14,000 square foot structure was completed with four floors and an amazing 46 rooms. These included a drawing room, dining room, a great hall and eight fireplaces, including one measuring 16 feet wide and weighing 400,000 pounds, allegedly with a secret passageway behind it. Many of the ceilings were painted in gold leaf. Plumbing and electricity, very modern for the time, were installed as well.

Curiously only 28 of the rooms, mostly located on the second and third floors, were used by Father Francolon and his mother. The kitchen, complete with an intricate intercom system to the rest of the house, was rarely used since the Sisters of Mercy usually brought prepared meals to the castle via a tunnel from the sanitarium next door.

Allegedly, Marie Francolon slept in a bed with four towering posters that was formerly owned by Marie Antoinette or Empress Josephine. Some claim the bed was literally built in Marie’s bedroom and therefore cannot be removed without destroying it. Whimsical stories such as this have surrounded the castle for years, including just why Father Francolon abruptly left town in 1900 and returned to France. Marie Francolon passed away just a few months later.

In 1904 the castle was deeded to the Sisters of Mercy. When the sanitarium burned in 1907, the Sisters occupied the castle full time and called it Montcalme. After Francolon’s death in 1922, the Sisters hung on a few more years before closing the castle in 1928. It was then used for retreats until it was sold in 1946 and converted to apartments.

In 1976, the Manitou Springs Historical Society managed to purchase the castle for just $60,000. Over 260 broken windows were repaired. Staircases and other woodwork that were long ago burned for firewood were lovingly restored or replaced. Today Miramont remains as one of the Colorado’s most intriguing museums, as well as a monumental tribute to a strange little priest who dearly loved his mother. You can learn more by visiting the museum’s website here: https://www.miramontcastle.org/

Image courtesy of Miramont Castle

The Queen Throws a Tantrum: Queen Palmer’s Trip Up Ute Pass

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

It was an understatement to say Queen Palmer was a picky wife.

The genteel daughter of New York attorney William P. Mellen, Queen’s refined and comfortable upbringing was hardly compatible with the raw reality of living in the west. Her disdain wasn’t without reason, for her grandparents and an uncle had been killed by Natives. Beyond that horrifying story, Queen knew relatively little about the wild frontier far from her comfortable station back East.

Then in 1869, Queen met one of her father’s colleagues, General William Jackson Palmer. One look at soft spoken, doe-eyed Queen, and it was all over for Palmer. The esteemed entrepreneur talked about Colorado Territory, a new land of opportunity that was already bustling with life, mining camps and the chance to make lots of money. Palmer told Queen of his gift for making dreams come true, and soon asked for her hand. The two of them could then embark on this magical journey together.

Queen was ambivalent. The proposal coincided with the sealing of a business deal between her fiancé and her father, but it also meant leaving everything and everyone she knew for a harsh, barren land. The refined debutante was accustomed to getting what she wanted: “bacon for breakfast—fried thin!”, according to her diary. She adored operas and shopping. Lucky for the lady, Palmer took her lifestyle into careful consideration. Believing a beautiful, elite “Saratoga of the West” resort town would best suit Queen’s desires, Palmer established Colorado Springs for his high maintenance bride.

The couple were married in New York in November of 1870 and embarked on a honeymoon cruise to Europe. Palmer had business affairs to attend to and made the trip somewhat of a working vacation. If only he had chanced a peek at Queen’s diary of the journey, where already the new bride was tiring of her husband’s business endeavors. “In the evening Will dined with Mr. Speyer,” she revealed in one entry. “Queen remained at home and played Bezique.” Comments about the pending move to the base of Pikes Peak are curiously absent from the journal.

Upon returning to the states, Queen stayed in New York and prepared for the move, while Palmer went on to Colorado Springs. He meant to make things as comfortable and stylish for his bride as he could, but the harsh reality was, the fledgling city looked like a bleak dot on a treeless prairie as it cowered under mighty Cheyenne Mountain and the unforgiving Pikes Peak. How he hoped to make the high prairie more attractive is anyone’s guess, but he failed miserably. Worse yet, just a few miles west was Colorado City, a wild and woolly supply town that only grew more raucous as Palmer’s plans were announced.

Upon her arrival in October of 1871, Queen had to be less than impressed with Colorado Springs. Her dismay grew as she spent the first six months bouncing between a hayloft and a tent for a house. Palmer lost no time in showing her Queen’s Canyon, a beautiful and wild oasis against the hills far west of town. He was building his bride a house, christened Glen Eyrie, with the promise that it would offer the most modern amenities. Outside, he promised, the couple could enjoy the crisp, pine-scented air and view millions of stars at night.

The house was finished at last, and the Palmers moved in. But for stately Queen, the house seemed small and ordinary, nothing like the luxurious apartments and suites she was used to. The air was too dry, the nights too cold, and winter snows could be severe in the canyon. The words exchanged between husband and wife are lost to history, but Palmer eventually planned, and built, a magnificently modern castle at Glen Eyrie that could “stand for a thousand years”, according to him. Until it was completed, however, Queen could only wait in anguished anticipation.

As she waited for her grand castle to be built, Queen tried to adjust to western living. She started a school, but gave it up after a month due to the unruly children. With little else to do, she began taking an interest in the development of Colorado Springs. Local legend claims that it was Queen Palmer who stipulated the streets must be wide enough to turn a carriage around, and that their names should reflect Palmer’s career and western geography.

Both of the Palmers also agreed that no liquor would be sold within the city limits. The decree did much for the liquid economy of Colorado City and its saloons, gambling dens and bawdy houses. There were plenty of respectable, hard-working residents too, but Queen saw Colorado City as a besotted eyesore. Neither she nor her husband intended to let Colorado Springs follow in its footsteps. It is said that even today, the old property deeds declare that any property formerly belonging to the Palmers is to immediately revert to the family heirs if ever liquor is publicly sold within its boundaries.

It was the best Queen could do. Despite friendships with other wealthy easterners, Colorado Springs was not the kingdom Queen wanted. Everything was boring, and the dry high altitude bothered her. The primitive roads were bumpy and dusty and the weather was too unpredictable. There were snakes and the Natives frightened her. Even the command appearance of the Mellen family cook from back home did little to console Queen. Her only entertainment, it seemed, was singing at various social functions and attending teas and luncheons. When she became pregnant with her first daughter in 1872, she staunchly returned to New York to give birth in a more modern facility.

One day Palmer, in another of many attempts to break the monotony of Queen’s life, offered to take his bride to the Manitou Park Hotel above Woodland Park. The elite lodge was built by Palmer and his associate, Dr. William Bell, in 1873. At the time, the Manitou Park Hotel reflected the finest in western living, with lots of eastern influence. There were approximately 60 rooms, a ballroom, bowling alley, billiards parlor, an outdoor pavilion, stables, carriage houses, a blacksmith shop, a golf course and tennis courts. These amenities were described in detail by Palmer in order to lure his bride up Ute Pass. The ploy worked.

It was a beautiful day as the couple set out for the hotel in an open carriage. The ride up Ute Pass however, was bound to take awhile in a day when 20 miles was a real stretch for a wagon. Plus, the pass at the time was still a mere trail and not necessarily conducive to travel by a well-heeled couple. Surely Queen felt more than one jar as the carriage made its way over the bumpy passage.

Then, halfway up the pass, one of Colorado’s famous Chinook winds came storming down a canyon. A whirlwind of dust blew over Palmer’s carriage, covering the couple in a hail of eye-watering dirt.

That tore it for Queen. The only words she uttered—in a dangerously low undertone—were for Palmer to stop the carriage. Then she quickly disembarked and headed for the nearest cluster of bushes which were actually some distance away. There, Queen disappeared for several minutes. Upon returning, no doubt a bit sweaty and out of lung capacity, Queen explained to her perplexed husband what had transpired. “I made the best use of my rest. I was in a furious passion as if the wind were a person, so I lay kicking and screaming as if I were crazy.”

Following Queen’s infamous fit, Palmer toiled even more to make her life more comfortable. Queen managed to remain in Colorado for the birth of her second daughter in 1880. A short time later, however, she suffered a mild heart attack during a visit to Leadville. It was a warning of things to come. It was now clear that Queen not only had no use for the barren land of Colorado Springs, but also that she was ill. She began taking trips back east and to England as her visits to Colorado Springs became more and more sporadic. Queen was visiting England regularly by the time she had her third and last daughter in 1881.

William Palmer, who had been steadily working to raise a first-class city from the ground, was helpless. Although he did finish the grand castle at Glen Eyrie and outfitted it with as many modern amenities as he could, he could hardly convince his wife to stay there much. Ultimately Queen moved to England for good, where she died of heart disease in December of 1894 at the young age of 44. General Palmer was left to live out his lonely life at Glen Eyrie. An unexpected spill from his horse in 1906 paralyzed him and required installing a custom-made waterbed created from animal skins. Palmer died in his sleep in1909 and was buried at Evergreen Cemetery. Possibly against Queen’s wishes, her ashes were disinterred in England and placed beside Palmer’s in 1910.

A number of landmarks remain in Colorado Springs as a testament to Palmer’s influence on his own brainchild. The most prominent of these is a statue of him on his horse which resides majestically right in the middle of the intersection at Nevada and Platte Avenues, much to the chagrin of motorists who must maneuver around it. Glen Eyrie is now owned by The Navigators, a national Christian organization. They do host Victorian teas at the castle, which would probably please Queen. Overall, however, she would probably be glad to know her name appears very little beside that of her husband except in history annals. In a way, her absence is her final word on Palmer and his silly Saratoga of the West.

From fool to fame: the life of Lon Chaney

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

If ever a man were born to entertain, it was Lon Chaney. Leonidas Frank Chaney was born in Colorado Springs on April 1, 1883. He was the second of four children, and the family lived on Bijou Street near the downtown district. His parents, Frank and Emma, were both deaf but his father, nicknamed “Dummy Chaney,” made enough to live on by working as a barber for Phil Strubel. Lon later cheerfully attributed his father’s success to the fact that people could talk to Frank all day and he didn’t seem to mind.

In the fourth grade, Lon left school because he was needed at home to help his mother, who suffered from inflammatory rheumatism. The boy was already mastering the art of pantomime as a means to communicate with his parents and to entertain his family. Many an evening at the Chaney home consisted of Lon putting on silent plays for his family, re-enacting characters and situations he had witnessed in town that day. His talent for contorting his body and face into all sorts of positions amused his family, but little did they know that such a talent would also bring Lon world-acclaimed fame.

By age twelve, Lon was proving a useful source of income at home. He worked as a tour guide to escort tourists to the top of Pikes Peak before he and his older brother John secured employment at a local theater. Lon worked as a prop boy, earning .25 cents per night. A few years later, the family had saved enough money to send Lon to Denver, where he learned to hang wallpaper and draperies and lay carpet. In 1900 he was back in Colorado Springs, working as a painter.

Still, young Lon could not stay away from the stage and secured a job at the Colorado Springs Opera House. By 1901, after studying makeup techniques in vaudeville and perfecting his own skills, Lon and John formed their own acting company and produced their first play, “The Little Tycoon.” For the next twelve years, the pair traveled throughout the Midwest and the south. Lon performed a variety of duties in addition to playing on stage, but his contorted and varied characters quickly earned him the nickname “Man of a Thousand Faces.” In 1905 he married a 16-year old actress named Francis Cleveland “Cleva” Creighton in Oklahoma City, and the couple remained in town long enough to have a son. Lon’s career was put on hold as he and Cleva worked to support the baby, whom they named Creighton.

Eventually the stage called to Lon Chaney once more. For the next several years he and Cleva eeked out a living with traveling shows and by performing for money on street corners. The couple would sing and dance while young Creighton gathered tossed coins off the sidewalk. The year 1910 found the Chaneys in California, with Lon working various stage shows in San Francisco while Cleva danced and sang in cabaret shows.

By 1912, Chaney was ready for the movies. He played tiny, uncredited parts in no less than an amazing 38 short silent films through 1914. Such work became a strain on the Chaney marriage, and Cleva attempted suicide backstage in Los Angeles in 1913. The poison she swallowed was not fatal, but it did ruin her vocal chords. After years of jealousy and fighting, Chaney left her. Creighton was sent to a children’s home while Lon continued his career. During 1915 he wrote two films, directed both as well as five more, and played in 32 films. He also remarried to chorus girl Hazel Hastings and reclaimed his son.

Chaney’s biggest break came in the 1919 film The Miracle Man about a con artist pretending to be a crippled man who is healed. By 1920 the Chaneys were living in an average Los Angeles neighborhood with a larger-than-life household consisting of Hazel and Creighton, as well as 5 ½ year old Roy Willard who was inexplicably listed in the census as an uncle, and Hazel’s sister and her husband.

The family no doubt moved to larger quarters after 1923 when Chaney donned pounds of makeup and latex to play Quasimodo in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. And his incredible made up disfigurement as the maniacal Erik in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera further escalated him to stardom. So unrecognizable were his many characters that he soon became the darling Mystery Man of Hollywood. “Don’t step on that spider, it might be Lon Chaney!” was the tongue-in-cheek quip of Tinseltown.

It is no wonder then, that Chaney commanded his personal privacy and spent his off time with his family at his cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. His true friends understood, but Hollywood was less forgiving. Despite descriptions of him by friends and colleagues as a fun loving friend, good natured and a wonderful father, Lon’s refusal to attend very many events or grant interviews, combined with his gruesome characters, made him appear odd to the world. “Between pictures, there is no Lon Chaney,” the famed actor once explained, but to no avail. Thus the man who worked so hard to understand people like his parents who were labeled “different” was so labeled himself.

In 1929, Chaney swallowed a piece of fake snow during the filming of Thunder that allegedly required throat surgery. But the real malady was throat cancer. The acclaimed actor made one talking movie, a remake of one of his earlier films called The Unholy Three. Then he retired to his cabin in the Sierras and died on August 26, 1930. He was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in California. During his funeral, MGM stopped all production on the studio lot and honored him in silence. Hazel died three years later.

Lon Chaney’s legacy carried on. His son, Creighton, had been discouraged from going into theater because the lifestyle was so unstable. Following Chaney’s death, however, Creighton decided to utilize the vast amount of experience he learned from the father. Against his own wishes but at a producer’s urging, he took the stage name Lon Chaney Jr. and went on to fulfill roles his father might have played. Among them were Of Mice and Men in 1939, The Wolf Man in 1941, Ghost of Frankenstein in 1942, and several subsequent “Wolf Man” and other horror movies. Lon Jr. died in California in 1973. His mother, Cleva, who had some bit parts in the movies during the 1950’s, died in Sierra Madre in 1967.

Together, father and son made well over 300 films. Today the Chaney cabin in the Sierra Mountains is on the National Register of Historic Places. Chaney’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue to promote their famous grandpa. In Colorado Springs, the Lon Chaney Theater at the Colorado Springs Auditorium puts on performances and honors the man who only wanted to talk to his parents.

A Quick History of Idaho Springs, Colorado

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

In its very early days, Idaho Springs, went by many other names including Idaho, Idahoe, Idaho Bar, Idaho City, Jackson Bar, Payne’s Bar, Sacramento and Jackson’s Diggings. The latter name was applied in honor of 32-year old George Jackson who first discovered gold in the area in 1858, as well as a natural hot springs around Chicago Creek.

During its stint as Idaho, the original town was established in 1860 and before long had grown to include 12,000 residents. By then it was known that Idaho was a Native American word for “Gem of the Rockies.” By 1861 there were two hotels, at least one saloon and gambling house, and F.W. Bebee’s “Bebee House Hotel” with its substantial menu. There were about 40 homes in town. The first post office, established in 1862, was a wooden box kept in the living room of Mrs. R.B. Griswold.

In addition to the mining industry, the hot springs at Idaho Springs drew people looking to improve their health. As in other places around Colorado, invalids, tuberculosis patients and tourists in general sought out the mineral springs. In 1863 Dr. E.S. Cummings erected the first bath house there. Although it was only in use about three years, Cummings’ bath house was the first of many such spas to come. The year 1868 saw an even bigger health resort and the introduction of stage coach service to Georgetown. The following year, William Hunter built a large log theater and called it Rock Island House. Idaho Springs’ first newspaper premiered in 1873.

Idaho was so popular during the 1870’s that its name was actually considered for the new name of Colorado Territory in 1876. But the idea was forgotten when new mineral discoveries in Virginia Canyon above town had overshadowed the findings at Idaho Springs. When a toll road (known locally as Oh My God Road) was built through Virginia Canyon to Central City, Idaho Springs realized additional commerce by serving as a supply town. The Colorado Central Railroad reached the town in 1877. The post office name was changed to Idaho Springs in April of that year, and Idaho Springs incorporated in 1878. Eventually it also became County Seat of Clear Creek County.

More growth would come as Idaho Springs became a well-known spot along the railroad and various trails. In 1879 the Idaho Springs Mining Exchange was built. Castle Eyrie, one of the city’s most prominent homes at 1828 Illinois Street, was completed in 1881, as well as the elite Club Hotel. By 1887 some 2,000 people were guessed to be living in and around Idaho Springs as plans were made to construct the 5-mile long Argo Tunnel (originally named the Newhouse) to Central City. The tunnel was completed in 1892 at a cost of $10 million.

For many more decades, Idaho Springs remained an important city and became known for its colorful watering holes. Among them was The Placer Inn in 1898 and The Buffalo Bar in 1899, the latter which remains a mainstay of Idaho Springs today. The city also remained unique for its hot springs and “Vapor Caves,” (now known as the Indian Hot Springs) which also are still in operation as well. Nearby mines and a smelter kept the town up with Colorado’s economy.

Eventually, as Colorado’s famous gold boom era faded, Idaho Springs lost some of its population. Still, the city remained an important stop along today’s Interstate 70 with restaurants and hotels for the weary traveler. In 1958, Interstate 70 was redirected, but the business loop still cuts directly through the scenic downtown area. By the 1970’s Idaho Springs’ old-time saloons and eateries had become legendary. Today some of them have gone to the wayside while others have taken their place. These, as well as several museums, historic buildings, mining tours, rafting, and even a zipline make Idaho Springs well worth a visit.

Photo: Busy Idaho Springs as it appeared around the turn of the century.

Arbourville, Colorado and its Community Parlor House

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

www.JanMacKellCollins.com

            Every day, hundreds of cars whiz along Highway 50 along Monarch Pass between Salida and Gunnison. Between these two metropolises lie a number of forgotten towns, some no larger than a building or two. Some of the communities no longer stand at all, their existence marked only by a pile of lumber or sign along the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad as it meanders along the Arkansas River and parallel to the highway. Though travelers in their fast cars have no real reason to stop now, a century ago these small hamlets played an important role in Colorado’s development. At the tiny town of Maysville, for instance, several toll roads offered mail and passenger service in a number of directions. As a crossroads leading to both the goldfields of the west and the southeastern plains of Colorado, Maysville became an important center for exchanging news and information.

These were the days of lawlessness in urban Colorado, but only because there weren’t many laws to break nor outlaws to break them—which would explain why Maysville was sometimes referred to as Crazy Town. When Arbourville was founded along Highway 50 just five miles west of Maysville, it too became a social center of the Monarch Mining District, mostly because the camp housed the only substantial brothel in the area.

Although Arbourville was never incorporated, a post office was established on September 12, 1879. The town was likely named for M. Arbour, a real estate agent who was living at A.B. Stemberger’s boardinghouse near Arbourville in 1880. It was said Arbour had migrated to the new camp from Silver Cliff. It is interesting to note that the first day lots went up for sale at Arbourville, over 100 were sold. Soon, the growing hamlet sported a hotel, boardinghouse and general store.

By 1880, the population was up to 159, a number that seems consistent with the town’s history. There were 102 men and 25 women, many with children. Residents included three local ranchers, as well as upwards of 46 miners who commuted further up Monarch Pass to the Madonna Mine and other surrounding prospect holes. Business folks in 1880 included a banker, two butchers, seven carpenters, three doctors (all of whom were also surgeons), a general merchandiser, a harness shop owner, three grocers, a hotel operator, two livery stables, miller H. Breckenridge, two house painters, two real estate agents, two restaurant operators, two saloon keepers, a shoemaker and two teamsters who likely carried freight and passengers between the mines and the railroad. Stage fare from Maysville to Arbourville cost fifty cents.

Arbourville’s brothel, which is said to have doubled as a stage coach stop, saloon and hotel, replaced a smaller log brothel that operated in the town years earlier. The new bordello is thought to have been constructed by James or Eli Wolfrom in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. In more recent years, the now empty building has become known as the “stone house”. Despite being a house of ill repute, this structure likely assisted Arbourville in rivaling the nearby towns of Garfield and Monarch, since people also gathered there for news and to socialize.

Renowned photographer William Henry Jackson was among those who recorded early-day photographs of Arbourville between 1880 and 1890. In 1881 the post office name was inexplicably changed to Conrow, but closed altogether in 1882. When travel-writer Ernest Ingersoll visited the area in 1885, he noted that Maysville and Monarch appeared to be the most important communities in the area.

Although the D. & R.G. crossed today’s Highway 50 on the town’s edge, there does not appear to have been a depot at Arbourville. Wagon roads led up to Cree’s Camp and other mines, and east or west along the “Rainbow Route” to Salida or Gunnison, respectively. The town cemetery was located under today’s Highway 50. Of the only two identified burials there, the earliest one dated to 1883.

The silver panic of 1893, combined with better transportation, left Arbourville in the dust to the point that the town wasn’t even covered in census records beginning in 1885. The buildings went into private ownership and the town settled into a quiet suburb. In 1938, when the state expanded the highway to its present size, workers declined to even bother moving the bodies from the graveyard.

Long after its short glory faded, Arbourville eventually became home to just one resident, Frank E. Gimlett, the former proprietor of the Salida Opera House. In 1900, Gimlett and his family, including a cousin, were living at Monarch. Gimlett initially worked as a mine superintendent. Later he worked as a grocer and lived with his family in Salida until about 1930. Sometime after that, he made the defunct town of Arbourville his home.

An eccentric and likeable hermit, Gimlett lived year-round at Arbourville until his death in circa the mid-1940’s. He utilized his winter months by writing a series of booklets called “Over Trails of Yesterday.” As a veteran of the mining era, Gimlett knew many of the people and places from the old days and spun many a colorful yarn about them. His stories were entwined with his own personal philosophies. One of his books, “The Futility of Loving Vagarious Women,” inspired playwright and diplomat Clare Boothe Luce to write him a protest letter in defense of the fairer sex. But notably, Gimlett did love one woman, his wife Gertrude, who supposedly also lived with him at Arbourville.

Gimlett also dubbed Arbourville “Arbor Villa” and assigned his own names to various mountains in the area. Among them was Mount Aetna, which Gimlett petitioned to rename Ginger Peak after his favorite film star, Ginger Rogers. Gimlett went so far as to send a petition to President Franklin Roosevelt himself to change the name, but the president himself shot the idea down. Supposedly Roosevelt explained that while Ginger Rogers was worthy of the honor, the name change might prove too much trouble for cartographers. Gimlett retaliated by sending a bill to the government for $50,000. The fee was for “guarding the mountains” during winter and assuring the snow and ice were safe from thieves. It was never paid.

Today, about five buildings are left standing in Arbourville, along with old fences along traces of the main drag, collapsed structures, several foundations and the magnificent stone house. The roof of the building gets weaker and weaker each year and is in danger of sinking in altogether. The ghost town is accessed via the Monarch Spur RV Park, which was owned by Elsie Gunkel Porter in 2012. Having grown up in the stone house, Elsie and her brother Jerry were the last residents of Arbourville. “That town was Jerry’s life and his love,” said Christina Anastasia of Salida in a 2005 interview. Anastasia, along with her husband Raymond, was a good friend of Gunkel’s.

According to Anastasia it was Jerry Gunkel’s dream to re-develop Arbourville, but he passed away in May of 2003. In his honor Anastasia, a doctoral candidate and professor at Colorado Technical University of Salida, nominated Arbourville to the National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado State Register, but to no avail. “They said there is no historic relevance to the property, although there are all kinds of fun stories,” she says, “because there is so little documentation about it. Arbourville was a mining camp so there is no legal record that really shows anything. They said until someone can come up with some historical significance, it doesn’t have any relevance.”

Monarch Spur RV Park at Arbourville continues to serve as a wonderful and remote vacation spot with tent and RV sites, cabins, shower and laundry facilities, a store, and even internet service. For information or reservations, or to visit Arbourville, call 888-814-3001 or 719-530-0341 or access the website at msrvpark.com.

Wild and Woolly Ash Fork, Arizona

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

http://www.janmackellcollins.com

Portions of this article first appeared in the Frontier Gazette.

Long after Native Americans, Spanish explorers and Lt. Edward Beale’s crew made their way along today’s Interstate 40 through Arizona, a settlement popped up at the junction of today’s Highway 89 leading south to Prescott. The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, which laid rails through the area in 1882, called it Ash Fork after a nearby grove of trees.

For a number of years, things at Ash Fork were just swell. A post office opened in 1883, then a Wells Fargo office, and cattle and sheep ranchers began moving in. Local flagstone was loaded onto boxcars along the railroad to build bridges and buildings. Everything was fine until residents realized they had no sheriff, and that their fair little town was seeing a chaotic wave of outlawry and debauchery.

Some of the outlaws around Ash Fork were duly hanged by vigilante committees until the law showed up. When the town became an important branch along the Santa Fe Railroad to Prescott and beyond beginning in the early 1890’s, folks hoped some of the bad guys would hop a train and skedaddle. What happened instead, however, was that more bad boys and naughty girls bought a ticket to come to town instead of leaving it.

By 1893, Ash Fork was quite wicked indeed. On February 22, for instance, the Arizona Journal Miner alone reported that a “woman of the town” had committed suicide, and a man killed E.G. Owens in the same saloon where, the previous summer, one Brog May had also killed a man named Tom West. Also, wife murderer Salvador Armijo was still on the loose. That was just in one day. Later that year, when Ash Fork caught fire and burned to the ground, it is doubtful that anyone was really surprised.

Ash Fork rebuilt. The year 1894, however, wasn’t much better as the incorrigible Bertha Reed came to town. Bertha had already been in Prescott’s court over the morphine overdose of James Gabel and the murder of Tim Casey when she was arrested for loitering in Ash Fork’s saloons. Later, Bertha went to Globe and was involved in several more escapades before disappearing in 1907.

Bertha Reed wasn’t the only troublemaker around Ash Fork. In November of 1901 Rosa Duran was charged with larceny at Ash Fork and sentenced to Yuma’s Territorial Prison for three years. She was back in Prescott by 1908, however, where she and Ella Wilton, a.k.a. the “Turkey Herder”, were arrested for robbing Yee Jackson of $40.

Ash Fork balanced its wild nightlife by having not one but two of the finest Harvey Houses in Arizona. Fred Harvey built the first one, a wooden affair across from Cooper Thomas Lewis’ Parlor House Saloon. When a kitchen fire destroyed the building and some other structures, Harvey built the massive and extravagant Escalante Hotel and dining room in 1907. The Escalante was soon billed as the nicest Harvey House west of Chicago.

The Escalante seemed to tame Ash Fork down a bit. In 1912, an article in the Tucson Daily Star explained that “Ash Fork is today as innocent as a newborn babe; she is as pure and white, morally, as the drifted snows that rim the San Francisco’s.” Of course the cleansing was due to the fact that the day before, “sixteen women of easy virtue” and their consorts were taken to jail in Prescott as a means to clean up the town. Within a year, however, some of the ladies were back. Amongst them was May Clark, who had previously killed a man in Seligman in self defense. After bonding out in Ash Fork, May went to Prescott, dressing in elaborate velvet gowns and conducting herself like a regular socialite during her trial.

May and her many consorts and colleagues gradually moved away from Ash Fork. In time, Route 66 travelers came to rest easy there and in 1947, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made an appearance in town during the filming of “Dark Passage.” Even so, the hotel portion of the grand Escalante closed sometime between 1948 and 1951. The dining room closed just a couple years later as an expansion of Route 66 destroyed numerous storefronts and homes.

The final blows to Ash Fork came in 1960 when the Santa Fe Railroad moved its main line away from town; in 1968 when the treasured Escalante was demolished; in 1977 when yet another fire burned most of the downtown area and yet again in 1987 when one last fire destroyed nearly everything left of the downtown buildings. In between such catastrophes, Interstate 40 eventually by-passed Ash Fork altogether.

The original section of Route 66 still runs through Ash Fork where a healthy handful of historic buildings survive. In 1992 there was another brief revival when another movie, “Universal Soldier” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme was filmed there—although, they say, several decrepit buildings were blown up as part of the action. Today, Ash Fork has reverted to one of its oldest industries, flagstone, while the Ash Fork Historical Society tells visitors about the town’s once wild and woolly past.

Read more about Ash Fork’s wild women in Wild Women of Prescott and Good Time Girls of Arizona and New Mexico: A Red-Light History of the American Southwest.

Arizona’s Agua Fria Valley, An Early Post Office

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

www.JanMacKellCollins.com

Portions of this article first appeared in the Frontier Gazette.

The expansive Agua Fria area encompasses a much of central Arizona, spanning from north Phoenix all the way up to Dewey some miles east of Prescott. Although much of it now lies in the Agua Fria National Monument, there was once a settlement in what is now known as the upper valley in vicinity of Dewey, Humboldt, Mayer and Cordes Junction. This was formally known as Agua Fria Valley.

Agua Fria Valley’s history begins in 1864 with King Woolsey’s Agua Fria Ranch. In March of that year, a group of fifty Pinal Indians attacked Woolsey’s cattle, and the area continued to be plagued by Indian attacks. During August of 1867, one settler was killed during another skirmish as another raid focused on Nathan and Ed Bowers’ new ranch and flour mill just south of today’s Dewey. When stage station operator Darrel Duppa was badly wounded by Apaches in 1872, the military finally stepped in. Lieutenant Max Weisendorf, twenty one enlisted men of “Troop A” and citizen John F. Townsend of Lower Agua Fria Valley had “another battle and killed seventeen Indians” according to area newspapers.

Official Anglo settlements at the community of Agua Fria Valley proper began in 1873, after a “shorter and better” wagon road was built from Prescott. First mention of a woman’s presence came in an 1874 news article when “Mr. Ed. G. Peck and wife, of Agua Fria Valley, arrived in [Prescott] yesterday and left for home today. Ed said that himself and brother farmers have a splendid prospect for crops.” The Agua Fria Valley post office opened in the spring of 1875. Dennis Marr, whose ranch was in the vicinity of today’s Kachina Place and Highway 69, was the first postmaster. Within a few months, mail was delivered weekly.

Other pioneers of the valley included Angeline Mitchell and George Edward Brown. Brown had started his ranch near Mayer in 1877. In 1881 he was elected to the Arizona Territorial Legislature, and would go on to act as deputy sheriff under sheriffs Ed Bowers and William “Bucky” O’Neill. Angeline, meanwhile, occupied her time with documenting local history and collecting mineral specimens.

In 1877, Henry Spaulding became postmaster of Agua Fria Valley. In 1884 the Spauldings also rented a room to a petite school teacher named Annie Allen, who taught the children around the community. One of her pupils was Sharlot Hall, whose family had arrived three years before. Sharlot lived at her family’s Orchard Ranch near Agua Fria Valley for much of her life. A lover of history, she was appointed as Arizona’s Territorial Historian in 1909. In 1928 she opened a museum in the territorial Governor’s mansion in Prescott, known today as Sharlot Hall Museum.

Beginning in 1889, Marr’s Ranch in Agua Fria Valley hosted the first of several rodeo roundups to appease the local cattle industry. A proposal also was made in 1890 to establish the new Mineral Belt Railroad to Phoenix, which would run through the valley. The railroad never came to fruition, perhaps because of the weather which could bring deep snows in winter, catastrophic floods in spring and fall, and very hot days in summer. On a day in July 1890 for instance, the temperature soared to 114 degrees in the shade. Rancher Martin Conrad, who was helping A.C. Burmister bale hay, dropped dead in the heat.

In spite of its expansive land area, Agua Fria Valley was a tight—knit community. In 1892, a “Grand Ball and Supper” was held for the entire community at Fred Hiltenbrant’s Station for just two dollars per person. By 1893, the McCrum Sampling & Milling Company was processing ore for area mines. By then, however, other small towns were popping up everywhere. The Agua Fria Valley post office fell out of use and subsequently closed later that year.

Slowly but surely, Agua Fria Valley’s residents began moving off. Settlers Nathan and Ed Bowers sold their ranch in 1895. Pioneers also were dying off, including Richard “Uncle Dick” Thomas, who had homesteaded in the valley back in 1876. Thomas and his wife Ellen, aka “Aunt Nell”, kept a “a well—known road station” at their home. When he died in 1902, his obituary noted that “‘Uncle Dick’ and ‘Aunt Nell’ are fresh in the memories of many a tired and hungry traveler.” Most fittingly, Sharlot Hall recited a poem entitled “The End of the Trail” at Thomas’s services. Ellen “Aunt Nell” Thomas returned to Michigan, and the ranch was sold.

Even as its residents continued moving away, farming remained a primary focus at Agua Fria Valley. “Residents of Agua Fria Valley report the most prolific corn and hay crops there in many years,” reported Arizola’s Oasis newspaper in 1909. “Thomas E. Reynolds, who purchased what is known to pioneers as the ‘Old Dick Thomas’ ranch, returned from the ranch Saturday with a sample of sorghum the stalk measuring ten feet, ten inches.” Today cattle and crops continue flourishing in Agua Fria Valley, but on a smaller scale than in the old days. As for the post office, nothing is left and the area consists of modern housing and businesses.