Monthly Archives: April 2023

Divide, the Pinpoint of Colorado’s Historic Ute Pass

C 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article have appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine

As far as anyone knows, the Devil never made a pact at the crossroads in Divide. If he had, he surely would have lost, since Divide has sported nothing less than a fairly wholesome history for nearly 150 years. Never big but always prominent, the community has always served as a turnstile in Colorado’s high country transportation. The Ute Pass wagon road, dating back centuries as an ancient Native trail, cut through the center of town to traverse across the state. From Divide, travelers could access the Cripple Creek District, Denver, Colorado Springs, Leadville, and the western slope. Fresh horses, eats, drinks, and a room for the night were always available here.

Historically, Divide was originally known by a variety of names including Belleview, Theodore and Rhyolite. The Belleview Ranch (also known as Bellevue) was actually located just about a mile west of the town. The ranch functioned under the Crescent Cattle Company, which was run by James Husted. Now known as the Crescent Ranch, many of the historic buildings remain today as private homes. Allegedly, silent film star Tom Mix once worked as a ranch hand at the Crescent before launching his action-packed movie career.

Early pioneer James Loshbaugh is believed to have been the first settler at Divide when he opened a saloon in 1870. He also made rank as the town’s first criminal, after taking a shot at his daughter’s beau one night. The bullet missed its mark, hitting miner Walt Hughes instead. The unlucky Hughes had just recently spent two weeks trapped in a mine, living off candles and shoe leather until he was rescued. Not surprisingly, he also survived the gunshot.

By 1871, the Spotsweed & McLellan Stage was making regular stops at Divide to change horses before traveling on. Cattle were also frequently herded through town on their way to distant grazing grounds. Within a year’s time, Divide saw an estimated 12,000 horses and mules come through. Travelers came to know Divide as the last place to buy supplies before going on. A variety of entrepreneurs slowly began seting up shop to accommodate them.

In 1873, the Hayden geographical survey team officially pinpointed the summit of Ute Pass just west of town. The settlement became known as Hayden’s Divide, which was later shortened to Divide. How appropriate the name was, since this is where travelers divided to head west to South Park,  south to Cripple Creek, north towards Denver, or east to Colorado Springs. A post office was established in 1886. The first postmaster was Alice Hardy, who also ran a stage station and a hotel.

The post office and other structures were built in anticipation of the Colorado Midland Railroad, which reached Divide in 1887. Railway workers lived in local boarding houses while the less fortunate stayed in mobile shanties and tents. All were less than ample in comfort. Women were few, with the exception of Mrs. Hardy and Mrs. Hays, the latter whose boarding house took in as many as 50 men per night. Divide’s first depot was 896 square feet and contained a waiting room, freight room, and living quarters. A tiny telegraph office operated 24 hours a day. There was also a section house, a bunk house and a tool shed. 

The gold boom at the Cripple Creek District some 18 miles away in 1891 did much to enhance Divide’s economy. A few years later, the Colorado Midland built a spur, the Midland Terminal Railroad, which branched off to the Cripple Creek District. Travelers could now hop on the Midland Terminal, which featured about a dozen stops at various towns around the district. Divide merchants prospered as their goods were shipped to the 25 or so towns and camps surrounding Cripple Creek. In turn, ore from district mines was shipped out via Divide.

As of 1896, there were 100 people living at Divide. Businesses included J.S. Creswell’s saloon, J.W. Hardy’s lunch counter, Postmistress Mrs. William Hardy’s Hardy House Hotel, Neil Harkin’s drugstore, Kelly’s Saloon and Boarding House, C. Pederson’s livery stable, Mrs. Charles Rowen’s Hotel, and G.W. Sadler’s grocery store. Most all of that was lost, however, in November of 1898. Two boys playing with matches in a vacant building near Sadler’s set a fire which destroyed most of the business district at Divide, as well as a number of homes. 

Ever resilient, Divide quickly rebuilt, and added a school for the local children. Students trekked in from miles around, warming their homemade lunches on a cookstove in back of the schoolroom. By 1902, prominent businesses and their owners included Blacksmith A. Anderson, Justice of the Peace John Harkins, three hotels run by William H. Burnside, Annie Mathews and Mrs. D.D. Thomas, Littleton and Hergot’s Saloon, George Sadler’s general merchandise and mill, Postmaster G.H. Sharrack’s groceries and meats, and William Tate’s livery. The Divide Lumber Company also did quite a bit of business.

A larger depot was built in 1904. By then, there were even more businesses. Ironically, the only facet missing from this wholesome little town in its early years was a church. During the early 1900’s an itinerant Episcopalian minister, Dr. Bonell, started holding services in one of the saloons on Sundays. Between the collection plate and admission charged for family dances, Bonell had raised enough money by 1905 to build Saint David’s Episcopal Church. Today, the historic house of worship is known as the Little Chapel of the Hills.

The economy in Divide eventually slowed in conjunction with the mines of the Cripple Creek District, where gold was becoming more and more difficult to mine. In 1918 the Colorado Midland Railroad discontinued service west of Divide, although service on the Midland Terminal continued to Cripple Creek for some 30 more years. During that time, Divide continued to serve as a terminus for the Midland Terminal, but also became known for the rich soil in the area. Potatoes and lettuce became the name of the game as Divide quickly became known for its plentiful crops. The first gas station in the town’s history, Turner’s Texaco, opened in 1921.

Divide continued to prosper. In 1927 a Community Club formed. By 1938, the Coulson Ice Company had installed a giant hoist to meet the packing demands for shipping Divide lettuce. Unfortunately, the farms of Divide eventually depleted the soil. The last crops seem to have gone out with the Colorado Midland and the Midland Terminal, which made a final run through Divide in 1949. Today, the railroad grade can still be spotted on the south side of Highway 24.

In 1952, the Community Club burned following a New Year’s gala. It was important to the residents to rebuild this focal point of the town, which they did. Now called the Pikes Peak Community Club, the non-profit continues to serve the Divide area. Another surviving building is the little depot, which served as the Whistle Stop Saloon for many years. The school also survives at the one intersection in town, and had served many different uses over time.

By 1979 the population of Divide was 500, with several businesses. The settlement remained pretty much a sleepy, pleasant wide spot in the road until the onset of gambling in Cripple Creek in 1991. Slowly but surely, Divide experienced a new resurgence of life, despite not really needing one. The town has developed into a sprawling bedroom community over time and today hosts a shopping center and several modern businesses. It is also home to the Teller County Sheriff’s Office. As always, Divide has continued to stay on the map as a pleasant and useful rest stop for those passing through.

Image: The Colorado Midland Railroad arriving at Divide’s little depot.

Dairy, Mining & Crime at Spring Creek, Colorado

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are from Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms and Lost Ghost Towns of Colorado 

Located on the outskirts of today’s Cripple Creek Mountain Estates west of Cripple Creek, Spring Creek’s early beginnings came from several mining claims in the area. While not exactly in the Cripple Creek District proper, the community provided important services to the residents of Cripple Creek and the rest of the district. The tiny hamlet was located along its namesake creek in a pleasant and quiet valley. The main road skirting the creek was dotted with tidy little houses. A wagon road cut through the valley between Copper Mountain and Mineral Hill, providing easy access to Cripple Creek.

Spring Creek’s beginnings are marked by its little cemetery, which was established in 1893. In all, fourteen to sixteen people were entombed there over time. Locals who spent time exploring Spring Creek as teens remember seeing five or six wooden grave markers, which have long since disappeared. Some also remember a wrought iron fence surrounding the graveyard. Today, even the one granite tombstone of the burial ground has been buried by the deep woods around it.

On the newspaper front, the first mention of Spring Creek was in the Cripple Creek Morning Times of December 6, 1895, when the Modoc Mine was recorded as selling a mining deed to the Spring Creek Gold Mining and Milling Company just a month before. There was little other news, as Spring Creek never grew large nor prominent. The community never did have a post office or even a newspaper. If it had, Jacob Abby most likely would have been postmaster since he was one of the longest residents of the community.

In the early days, Abby partnered with Ed Neppel. But it is Abby who is most often mentioned in a handful of notes about Spring Creek, and it is known he operated one of three dairies there. He also dabbled in mining, and with good reason. In January of 1896, the Morning Times revealed that the Mineral Hill Tunnel Company was “quietly” digging a tunnel from Spring Creek, through Mineral Hill and “directly to the new Midland Terminal depot in Cripple Creek.” Work had just started, but “solid formation has not been reached.”

In the end the tunnel never materialized. The only news in Spring Creek during 1896 was that Abby’s five year old son, Lloyd, died. The child was buried in the little cemetery, supposedly alongside two other siblings named Hazel and Clare. Later, Jacob named the Little Lloyd mining claim after his son. Other claims filed by Abby include the Little Annie, Little Ellen, Little Emma, Little Jessie and the Little Mary. Thus by 1897, Abby was better known as the partial owner of several mining claims.

Spring Creek was just far enough away from law enforcement authorities in Cripple Creek for some rather odd crimes to occur. On New Year’s Day in 1898, for instance, a most gruesome discovery was made at the home of Annie Robinson on Spring Creek. Robinson’s large log home, which was occupied by herself and two young children, had burned to the ground. A Morning Times reporter and neighbor, W.S. Carmele, investigated and found charred bones amongst the ruins. Then in June, the Times reported,

Officers last night effected the capture of the man who has been deranged for some days, and has eluded captures, staying in the country near Spring Creek. He was brought to this city and locked up, charged with insanity. 

Last, in August, stolen goods were recovered from the Spring Creek cabin of Sherman Crumley, one of three brothers who, the Morning Times charged, “have been responsible for many a depredation in this district for the past two years.” Crumley’s cohorts, a man named Purdy and one Charley Ripley, had already been apprehended following the theft of some saddles and harnesses from a Mr. Harker. Three days later, it was reported that sheriffs Frank Boynton and Tom McMahon had found more stolen goods in a cabin near Sherman’s Spring Creek home, known to be one of his “hiding places.”

The crime wave in Spring Creek had subsided by 1899, and newspapers reported only on the mines around the community throughout the year. Because it was not officially considered part of the Cripple Creek District, Spring Creek is not even mentioned in city directories until 1900 when the Abbys, plus forty other people, were listed as residing there. Jacob Abby now worked as a carpenter, but there also were two dairies, the Union run by Fred Desplaines and the Midway, owned by Charles Warner. Twenty three miners lived at Spring Creek too. Their children attended a schoolhouse on the south slope of Copper Mountain. Miss Alberta Smith, who lived in Cripple Creek, traveled over the saddle daily to teach them. There were also Edward Tealon and his nineteen-year-old wife Belle who ran a saloon. Belle’s brother, John Parr, was the watering hole’s bartender.

Jacob Abby continued dabbling in mining, but was trying his hand at farming by 1910. The total population of Spring Creek that year was around eighty people, but folks gradually began moving away as the Cripple Creek District’s mines began playing out. By 1920 the Abbys were at, or considered part of, Gillett where Jacob returned to carpentry. Mary died in 1927 and Jacob died in 1934.

Throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, Spring Creek continued to shrink, although many of the community’s cabins were still occupied as late as the the 1950’s and 1960’s. Around that same time, however, many of the buildings were dismantled or moved into Cripple Creek. One of them is located near Golden and B Street today. The remaining buildings at Spring Creek have silently sunken into the grass, and a few modern homes have appeared in the area since the 1990’s.

Image: Little Lloyd Abby’s grave as it appeared in 1996. c Jan MacKell Collins