Category Archives: Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad

Alta Vista, a Tiny Whistlestop in the Cripple Creek District of Colorado

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are excerpted from Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, Colorado.

As the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad (aka the F. & C.C.) built up Eight Mile Canyon towards the Cripple Creek District during the 1890s, it was soon discovered that the last few miles into the District proved steeper than originally thought. The new railroad needed a way to help the engines make the grade. There may have already been an old stage route in the high meadow where the “helper” town was built, for by the time the railroad reached there, the place had been named Alta Vista, Spanish for “High View.” True to its name Alta Vista, at 9,710 feet in altitude, afforded a beautiful view for miles around. From the whistlestop’s lofty location, passengers could see the District=s working mines, as well as the budding city of Victor.

Alta Vista was never platted and never had a post office. Though small, the village played a prominent role in the railroad history of the District. The railroad officially reached the tiny stop on May 20, 1894. Unlike other stops along the tracks, Alta Vista served several purposes for the F. & C.C. A large station yard allowed for repair of both freight and passenger cars. A “classification yard” was also built, wherein freight cars could be sorted by content and destination. Most importantly, Alta Vista housed extra engines to travel south down the tracks to the railroad stop of Adelaide, attach to trains coming up the canyon, and assist them in making the steep grade up to the city of Victor a few miles away. The helper engines were then disconnected at Alta Vista and turned around to head back down the grade to Adelaide.

The founding of Alta Vista happened to coincide with the first of the Cripple Creek District’s tumultuous labor wars. No sooner had the railroad reached town when miners in the Cripple Creek District began a strike. At issue were demands by mine owners for the men to work more hours at the same rate of pay. On May 29, just over a week after the F. & C.C. debuted at Alta Vista, fifty picketing miners showed up. So did Denver deputies, who had a clear view of Victor and watched in horror as strikers blew up the Strong Mine above town. Newspapers noted that “the entire four miles of winding track to Victor was picketed with sharpshooters.” Following the explosion, according to the Aspen Daily Times, “the road supervisor accordingly required all trains to be searched, beginning with a passenger train coming in that included two coaches, the baggage car and even the engine.” Presumably nothing was found, and the train was allowed to roll on in to Victor.

After the labor war ended, coal, gold ore, mining equipment and supplies continued to be brought through Alta Vista regularly, as well as upwards of six daily passenger trains. Few got off the train, for Alta Vista offered very few services aside from a small one-room depot and some residences for railroad workers. For a mere whistlestop, however, Alta Vista’s presence was both necessary and important because of the classification yard. Because the F. & C.C.’s early equipment often included the use of Denver & Rio Grande train cars, defective cars would be held at Alta Vista to await repair or maintenance.

On March 23, 1895, Alta Vista played a very small part when Sherman Crumley’s gang staged the first robbery of the F. & C.C. Crumley, from a good family in Pueblo, had come to the Cripple Creek District with brothers Grant and Newton. He was in Colorado Springs as early as 1894, when he was arrested in June for participating in the kidnapping, tar and feathering of Adjutant General Timothy Tarsney. The General had come in defense of striking miners who had been arrested during the labor wars. Crumley and his gang were hired to kidnap Tarsney, take him to the barn of mine owner William Otis, tar and feather him, and leave him on the edge of town with orders to walk to Denver.

Sherman Crumley initially pleaded innocent in the ordeal, telling reporters he was messaged to bring a hack from his Colorado Springs livery stable to the Alamo Hotel on South Tejon Street. To his surprise, he claimed, a group of masked men dumped their victim into his hack while one of the men jumped up beside him. “‘Now drive, G___ D____ you,’ said the man with me, sticking a revolver against my ribs. It is unnecessary to say that I did as he told me,” Crumley said. While the newspapers might have bought Crumley’s story, the authorities did not. Crumley and several men were subsequently arrested. Amazingly almost all of the men were released due to lack of evidence and reliable witnesses. The exception was El Paso County Deputy Sheriff Joe Wilson, who confessed and subsequently tried.

Crumley soon relocated to Cripple Creek, forming a gang comprised of himself, Bob Taylor, O.C. Wilder, “Kid” Wallace, W.R. Gibson and Louis Vanneck and planning to rob the F. & C.C. On the day of the robbery, the men stationed themselves just below Hollywood, a southern suburb of Victor, and flagged down the F. & C.C. train just outside of town. Passengers were duly relieved of their wallets, jewelry and other valuables before the robbers disembarked and disappeared into the hills. The engineer was instructed to move on. At Alta Vista, Conductor Paddy Lane jumped off the train and notified authorities. A search led to Taylor’s cabin at the Strong Mine, and the posse eventually found the men partying away their profits in the bars of Victor. The men were taken into custody to await trial. Newspapers expounded on the charges: “It is charged that these parties wounded and attacked Alexander McArthur, the custodian of the United States mails, and took possession of said mails,” reported the Aspen Daily Times. Only Gibson and Taylor were held over for trial before a grand jury. By some miracle, Crumley and the other fellows were released per request from the district attorney and a plea from Wallace’s attorney.

The most exciting event to take place around Alta Vista was a flash flood, which erupted just below the station on Eight Mile Creek on July 30, 1895. Water in the creek, which paralleled the F. & C.C. tracks, reached speeds of thirty miles per hour as it swept down Phantom Canyon towards Adelaide. A helper engine on the way back from Alta Vista made breakneck speed to outrun the flood until it reached another whistlestop, Russell, at which point the tracks diverted away from Eight Mile Creek. But the flood caused much havoc. Amongst the drowned were Lee Tracey, proprietor of Adelaide’s Great Elk Hotel. Also drowned were the hotel cook, Mrs. Carr, as well as a boarder identified as Mr. Watson and three F. & C.C. section men.

It cost a bit to rebuild the tracks, but the F. & C.C. was up and running again by November. Four trains passed through Alta Vista daily. Two of them left Florence at 6 a.m. and 2 p.m.; the other two returned from Cripple Creek at 9:10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. By 1899, day picnics in Alta Vista’s sunny meadows were a favorite destination amongst District pioneers. Passengers boarded the F. & C.C. at Cripple Creek at 9 a.m., receiving a nice tour of the District before arriving at Alta Vista. Picnic baskets were unloaded and wildflowers picked as the visitors enjoyed the outdoors. At 3:30 p.m., all boarded the train back to Cripple Creek. A round trip ticket cost a twenty five cents.

Curiously, Alta Vista never appeared under its own listing in Cripple Creek District directories. Only in the 1900 directory, which included residents living outside the city limits of the district towns, were a scant few citizens listed at Alta Vista. They were operator S. Aller, operator, F. & C.C. employees Jim Doyle and George Metzger, miner E.H. Niles and Harvey Taylor’s Brickyard. Taylor employed Louis Scott as a brick maker. Alta Vista remained very quiet throughout the early 1900’s, especially after the F. & C.C.’s tracks washed out a second and final time in 1912. In 1913, the Fairplay Flume reported the Alta Vista Mining Company planned to build a new mill at Alta Vista, with an expected cost of $20,000. This apparently never happened.

A 1923 map still shows Alta Vista on Eight Mile Creek in Fremont County. At that point, however, the tiny community was surely no more than a scattering of abandoned houses. In time only the depot remained, standing in a field along what was now the dirt road of Phantom Canyon. The depot has since been moved to Victor, where it serves today as a visitor’s center.

Pictured: An early postcard depicts the Alta Vista Depot before it was moved to Victor and restored.

Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, Colorado That Are Truly Lost

C 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

In 2016, I wrote Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, an account of every known town in what began as a farming and ranching area and turned into the site of Colorado’s last major gold boom. The book focused on towns that are “truly lost,” which have been destroyed, buried or just plain forgotten over time. It was a tough selection to make since certain places, although they are just a shell of what they once were, still contain residents. What I wanted to showcase were the camps, cities and towns that will never be the communities they once were.

In making my selections for Lost Ghost Towns, I also had to leave out certain places for which I could find absolutely nothing other than a plat map, or mention in a newspaper, or referenced in a history book. These are communities which were so short-lived they were quickly lost to history. Some of them were never developed beyond the planning stage. Others were the dreamchild of someone who hoped to create their own slice of heaven somewhere in the 559 square miles that constitute tiny Teller County. They too deserve their place in history, however short that history may be. That being said, here are the towns which did not make it into Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, but are shared here for you to enjoy.

Custer Cabin is a lone log structure located in Metberry Gulch where Teller County meets with Douglas and Park Counties. The cabin sits along the South Platte River, and is so-named because General George Armstrong Custer is supposed to have stayed there. That would date the building to sometime before Custer’s death in 1876. Others suppose that the cabin was actually relocated to its present site, but the date on that is very fuzzy. To date Custer Cabin has been the victim of vandals carving their names in the walls and even building campfires inside. At this writing, it is unknown whether the cabin is even still standing.

Hayden Park refers to an area between Divide and Woodland Park, and there is supposed to have been a community there of the same name in 1885.

Wilders is only known as a stop on the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad in 1895, just before the stop of Glenbrook.

Crescent Drive didn’t have a chance during the wild and woolly gold boom of the 1890’s. In 1896, the Castle Rock Journal announced that plans were being made to found a new town, Crescent Drive, roughly two miles southeast of Pemberton (today’s West Creek). It is uncertain whether Crescent Drive was truly located in Teller County, but either way the town was doomed. Why? Because Crescent Drive was promoted as a family town. “No saloons or disturbances of any kind will be allowed within its limits,” warned the Journal.

Fulton‘s plat map was filed in 1896. Three years later, the Cripple Creek Morning Times reported that Fulton’s total property value was assessed at $20.00. Both the map, and therefore the town, have since disappeared from official records.

Badger was located a little over halfway between Cripple Creek and Midway on the High Line of the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railway, close to the tiny community of Vista Grande. The High Line was one of two electric trolley systems which offered transportation throughout the Cripple Creek District. A ride on the High Line in 1903 cost twenty cents, with stop all along the northern section of the Cripple Creek District between Cripple Creek and Victor. The tracks through Badger were abandoned in 1905, and the High Line shut down in 1922.

Camps, Towns and Cities That Never Made It Further Than the Planning Stage

Brookville

Ellamo Mining Camp

Free Silver

Garden of Eden

Golconda

Hunky Dory

Juanita Mountain Park

Lafayette

Mineral Hills

Rhyolite City

Richmond

Ritten House

Roanoke

Rubicon

Ruby Aspen

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.