COBWEB CORNERS: When coal was the main fuel

By Mel McFarland

       If you could look down at Colorado Springs from way up in the air, starting near Centennial and Vindicator, swinging around in a big C toward the airport, underground is a layer of coal. In some places it is barely inches thick, but in others it measures a hundred feet. It was mined starting in the 1860s by Colorado City people. The first residents used wood for heat and cooking, but coal was the main source of fuel from the 1870s up to the 1950s. The old mines were in use in the 1930s and '40s, but as Colorado Springs grew they were lost in housing developments. The mines still cause problems in Colorado Springs as they collapse. They leave big sink holes in yards and streets.
       Franceville was a coal mining town south of Colorado 94 (the "Farmers Highway") and east of Marksheffel. It was started in 1878 by the mayor of Colorado City, Matt France, as a single mine, with a few shacks for his miners. It grew to several mines in the late 1880s and early 1890s when two railroad lines were built in to haul out coal. The big railroad customers were gone by 1920. The mines gradually died out; however, there was some activity until about 1950. One of the last non-mining buildings was the one-room school.
       In the 1950s there were still several coal yards in Colorado City. One large yard was on Cucharras just west of 26th. I remember another one up on Arch Street where my dad would go to get our coal. It was regularly delivered to most houses. Many houses had a little rectangular door on the side of the house, by the driveway. Which raises an interesting point: The first driveways were built to let the coal truck drive in to unload their coal! In some neighborhoods, there was a building out back where the coal was delivered. The Midland off and on had problems with the theft of coal from their big coal trestle, which sat by the roundhouse. Kids regularly raided the area, but the bucket or two of coal they grabbed was mainly a safety concern. In my book on the Midland Terminal there are a couple of pictures that show young boys with buckets picking up coal! The night watchman had to occasionally run off thieves who tried to get a wagonful.