COBWEB CORNERS: The Corley Mountain Highway
By Mel McFarland
There is a road that once carried the name, Corley Mountain Highway. We know it as the Gold Camp Road. Where did the old name come from? The story involves a coal man, W.D. Corley, and his rivals, the Canton brothers, Spencer Penrose and A.E. Carlton. The Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railway, usually known as the Short Line, was failing. On October 16, 1922, it was formally offered for sale at auction. W.D. Corley intended to be the top bidder. As a rival to Canton in the coal business, Corley disagreed with Carlton, Penrose and their associates' political and business practices. He saw himself as a little man from the back woods of Mississippi, out to defeat the "giants of industry." His plan to derail them succeeded.
The Canton interests approached Corley with an offer. He quickly rejected them. He had a plan to develop the Short Line's roadbed in a way few could have envisioned when it was graded. He saw the roadbed as a toll road to Cripple Creek for automobiles. Decks were put on the old bridges, which later were either buried or bypassed. The old stations were used for a few years, but eventually all signs of the railroad were removed. Here and there the old railroad is still findable, where the road took a shorter route.
The City of Colorado Springs bought a portion of the old Short Line railroad yards in the downtown area, and the newly formed Department of Public Utilities built a power plant on the site. After the streetcar company's nearby power plant closed, it was converted it into a substation for emergency city power. This all was nearly lost in the 1935 flood. Now it is the Martin Drake power complex.
Corley's special use permit for the toll road across Forest Service land expired in May 1939, after which it became a free county road. Travel on the Gold Camp Road was hard on cars, and in the winter was unsafe. Regularly there were tales in the news, even into the 1960s. of people being stranded and losing their lives. It can still be dangerous to those who drive it beyond its speed limit.