COBWEB CORNERS: When traffic was really bogged down

By Mel McFarland

       Back in 1879 Colorado City was a mess! From reading the old newspapers, our town had need of a bypass! This last year was a fairly wet one, but it seems 1879 was a wetter year. So what was the problem?
       Colorado City had been on a decline since Colorado Springs was started, but even then, some of the people who held jobs in Colorado Springs built houses and lived over here. In the early 1870s, Colorado Springs founder General William Palmer financed building a better road up Ute Pass, about where it is today. Prior to that it had followed a trail the Indians traveled, near where the recent Incline Fire was. Once the new road was in place, Colorado Springs and Colorado City became supply centers for mountain towns to the west. In 1878, the big rush to Leadville started, and the road through Colorado City was one of the most popular routes. No railroads would reach Leadville until late 1880, and everything moved by pack or wagon train.
       The freighting business came right through town. In early spring 1878, more than a million pounds of freight was waiting in Colorado Springs to be shipped just to Leadville. This freight had been held up by winter weather. Of this about a third was grain to be made into food and drink. The rest was anything from machinery to clothing. It cost 1 to 3 cents a pound to get it to Leadville.
       In Colorado Springs, livery stables and freighting companies lined Colorado Avenue. Every hour of the day wagons took loads west to Leadville, right through Colorado City. Businessmen in Colorado City were in a real predicament. The streets were a mud bog most of the time. People did not want to try to navigate the street to get to the south side. Those who lived on the south side had the reverse problem. The city tried to plow the streets, but the rains only made the problem worse. When summer came it did dry some, but the fall was wet again, Once winter came the ground froze, but still the wagons rolled through town. In many cases it took six to eight hours to get from downtown Colorado Springs to the traffic jam at the bottom of Ute Pass. There were as many wagons coming down as going up, and the single-lane track was run on a time schedule, alternating traffic going up with that coming down. Once the railroads reached Leadville, the problem almost went away.