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.