COBWEB CORNERS: General Grant comes to town

By Mel McFarland

       On July 16, 1880, General Ulysses S. Grant arrived at El Moro, Colorado from a trip in New Mexico. His plan was to visit Colorado and his son, U.S. Grant Jr., who was a banker in Leadville. His friend, Colorado Springs founder General William Palmer, was providing the transportation. A special D&RG train waited for the former president, including a specially prepared narrow-gauge Pullman. The train quietly passed through Pueblo with no special greeting.
       General Palmer had just finished building the line west from Colorado Springs to Manitou. Grant arrived in Colorado Springs July 17 and was treated to a ride on the first train to Manitou.
       It was Grant's second visit to the area, having visited in 1875 when the area was still under planning. He was impressed by the changes. Palmer's friend, Dr. William Bell, escorted General and Mrs. Grant to their accommodations in his Mansions Hotel. A few days later, a D&RG train carried Grant to Leadville. It was one of the first trains over the tracks up the Arkansas to Leadville. Grant's party then made their way to Gunnison and the San Juan country, and back into New Mexico.
       Passenger service started to Manitou on July 27, 1880. Interestingly, the little Manitou Springs depot started off as the design for a chapel. An English church was copied for Mrs. Bell, and was to serve as the Episcopalian's chapel in Manitou. Once the decision was made to use it as the station, a small frame chapel was built near the Manitou House. The quaint railroad station, the Manitou House, the larger Mansions, the Mellen home and Bell's new Briarhurst mansion all added to the spa environment.
       The little Manitou train made the 20-minute trip between the ends of the line four times a day. After the first year of operation, a small engine house and turntable allowed the little engine to start every morning in Manitou, if needed. In the summer the railroad was quite busy, but in the winter service was reduced to twice a day, morning and evening. There was a strong desire to tap the area behind Pike's Peak, plus build a shorter route to Leadville and a possible South Park connection.