COBWEB CORNERS: Bell and Palmer and the D&RG
By Mel McFarland
In the early days of Colorado, after the Civil War, a young man and his friend traveled in search of a route for a transcontinental railroad. The two were taken by the beauty of the state. These two men were diverted from their plan into a totally new scheme.
In developing the Front Range, the Pikes Peak region and Colorado railroads, General Palmer, and his close associate, Dr. William A. Bell, made decisions that still affect us today. The two developed a plan for building a different kind of railroad here in Colorado. The plan was to build to Mexico City, with branches into the Colorado mountains.
At first the General's railroad (the Denver & Rio Grande) grew slowly. It reached Colorado Springs in the first year. It barely passed Pueblo in the second. The railroad took off in the late 1870s, with competition coming from the Santa Fe. After a struggle with the road from Kansas in 1880, the D&RG built west from Colorado Springs to Manitou as part of a projected line up Ute Pass. In preparation, the D&RG spent $19,726.34 for surveys and preliminary work, including land purchases in Ute Pass; however, once the extension reached Manitou, work paused.
Dr. Bell, who had purchased large tracts of forest land west of Colorado City, had started a lumbering business, mainly to support the rapidly growing communities of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. Once the lumber was ready, it had to be shipped down the pass by wagon. Some of it was used in building the finer structures in Manitou and Colorado Springs. Heavy, extra-long timbers were cut for the D&RG to use in new, heavier bridges. The timbers were loaded on flat cars at Manitou and shipped all over the railroad.
About a hundred years ago, Bell decided to return to his home in England. The Bell property was purchased by General Palmer and given to Colorado College. Some of it was sold off, but some of the better land became the Manitou Park recreation area. There are virtually no scars left by the railroad, and most of the trees have returned. Today Bell's old home in Manitou is called the Briarhurst.