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COBWEB CORNERS: Pikes Peak's first weather station

By Mel McFarland

        Today, we get weather reports from anywhere we want the instant it is happening. It was different in the 1800s.
       Some of you know that one of the first weather stations in this area was on top of Pikes Peak. It was put there when the government started expanding the brand new weather service after the Civil War. Up to that time the weather department was part of the Army's Signal Corp.
       Most of the weathermen were still soldiers when the station on the mountain opened in 1874. It lasted until 1890. At the start. there were just two men up there. At some point that was increased to three, and it even grew to five. One soldier was used to transport supplies each week during good weather.
       A telegraph line was built to report temperature, wind and any significant related information down to an office in Colorado Springs, and from there it went to Washington, D.C. An earlier idea was to use mirror flashes, but the fickle weather made that impossible most of the time. Later a telephone line was tried, but that too did not work out well.
       The soldiers built several trails from Manitou to the top of the mountain, using the south slope. The steep hike and weather brought regular changes to the trail. When the cog railway was built in 1889, it followed some of these trails. It would be a long time before Barr Trail was built up the front of the mountain.
       One of the most famous soldiers at the Army's weather station was John O'Keefe. He was assigned to be the supply man. As he worked his way up and down the trail to Colorado City, he made up stories, perhaps to provide a distraction from boredom, perhaps to entertain the hundreds of people who hiked to the Peak during the summer. Indeed he did. Some people still go up there to look for the “grave” of Erin O'Keefe, based on one story he told. If you do not know that story, here's the link to a column where I told it previously: COBWEB CORNERS: A cemetery on Pikes Peak?
       There were other stories from the 16 years the Army manned the weather station. Unfortunately, most of them were not recorded. Today we can drive up the Peak in our cars. Then there is the annual fireworks from the top at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve!

(Posted 1/4/16; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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