COBWEB CORNERS: What General Grant didnít do
By Mel McFarland
Last week we talked about General Grant's visit to Manitou, but there is more! Once the Denver & Rio Grande finished its Manitou branch, it did surveys and preliminary work in Ute Pass. Dr. Bell was the principal advocate of the plan. His interest was obviously personal. He owned land 15 miles up the pass and hoped to turn it into a resort. He imagined freight and passenger traffic going up Ute Pass. His plan never was built, but the idea became the Colorado Midland.
In early 1883, a new rail idea was brought out by local businessmen. Called the Pike's Peak Railway, it would start at the D&RG's Manitou station and go in a different direction: up to Crystal Park, Sheep Mountain, Mount Baldy and on to Pike's Peak's summit. The new railroad was promoted by Colorado College Professor James H. Kerr, Irving Howbert, Thomas J. Fisher, Orlando Metcalf and other minor figures. It would be a standard gauge "adhesion" railroad for the purpose of transporting tourists to the top of the high peak. It started in trouble. The first survey had to be scrapped as completely unworkable. The second proved to be twice as long, with several serious defects. The mountains above Manitou were not forgiving. The grading finally started in the summer of 1883. Three miles had been carved out by December. Work ground to a halt as winter set in. In May, before work could resume, the company's financing collapsed. It seems that Professor Kerr had deposited the money in a bank in New York City. The bank closed its doors, taking the company's money with it. The railroad project died quickly and almost quietly. It would take Zalmon Simmons and other business leaders in Manitou to get the Manitou & Pikes Peak cog railway built in the late 1880s.
So where is General Grant in all this? He is NOT! There are tales that he was the main financial backer of the first attempt to build a line up Pike's Peak, but actually his visit did not coincide with the starting of the railway. The name, General Grant Railway, was used long after the section to Crystal Park was turned into an automobile road. Large portions of that road use the abandoned railroad line, but in some spots new road had to be designed. Several very sharp curves would have been impossible for trains, and were even difficult for automobiles until more earthwork was done.