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Denver Panorama c1910


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Street view c1900


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Denver, CO
Elevation 5,193 feet.
Population 256,491 (c1920)

Denver, the capitol city of Colorado, is a modern, fun city full of activity.  It is the largest city in the Rockies, with a population of close to half a million people, thirty five percent of which are young urban professionals.   The metropolitan area sprawls in all directions from the city limits and has a population of two million. 

A popular tourist destination, Denver is a gateway to many recreational and historic regions in Colorado. The city itself has much to offer in the way of entertainment for all types of visitors. 

Though Denver is less than 100 miles from several world class ski areas, the city gets a ton of sunshine. An average of 300 sunny days occur each year, more than San Diego or Miami get annually.  But, even with the sun shinning brightly, Denver can be very icy and windy during the winter and early spring months.

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View to the Plains from the Front Range

The City of Denver lies at the juncture of the Great Plains and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.  The Front Range erupts abrubtly, rising from 5,000 to 15,000 feet elevation in within 30 miles. The mountain foothills are little or non-existent. Instead, massive rock formations have been broken and tilted up, lying on top of the one ahead, like a string of knocked over dominoes. Denver was once the last piece of civilization before traveling into the high mountains.



Denverís history is young for America, with no permanent settlements until William Green Russell found traces of gold along the South Platte River in 1858.  Upon hearing the news of his find, other miners moved into the area and named it Montana City.  It didnít take long for the new arrivals to find out there really wasnít much gold there.  Later that same year, the settlers moved downstream to the Cherry Creek-South Platte area, where the gold was rumored to be more plentiful. They named their new town St. Charles City. 

More and more settlers and miners came into the region in search of gold, and soon built a town across the creek from St. Charles City, naming it Auraria.  Shortly after Auraria was established, Gen. William Larimer moved into the region from Kansas (Colorado was part of Kansas Territory in those days) and founded a settlement right next to St. Charles City.  He named his new town Denver City, after the former governor of the Kansas Territory, Gen. James W. Denver. 

Soon after Denver City was established, the citizens of St. Charles City combined with the new Denver City.  How this was done is unclear, but itís rumored that it was a forced merger.  In the end two settlements were left: Denver City and Auraria. 

For the next couple of years, Denver City and Auraria grew.  Gold strikes continued to bring more settlers into the area, many of which soon found that the strikes were not as rich as they thought.  Even so, the promise of gold caused the cities to grow.  Hotels, saloons, trading posts, and churches were constructed between the two cities, and in January 1860, Auraria was made a part of Denver City, bringing Denverís population close to 6,000.

In the 1870's, the Union Pacific (UP) railroad was intent on its mandate to help build the first transcontinental railroad and was heading due west from Kansas towards Colorado. Upon reaching eyesight of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains just west of Denver, the UP engineers decided it would be much easier to build the route going northwest into Wyoming thus avoiding many of the big mountains.  Upon announcing the UP's intent to bypass Denver with the railroad, T. C. Durant, President of the UP, proclaimed "Denver was too dead to bury."

Denver knew that the railroad was a necessity and the citizens took action by organizing the Denver Pacific and Telegraph to build a connection to the transcontinental UP railroad in Cheyenne, Wyoming. David Moffat was appointed treasurer of the venture. He and his partners had the railroad built by 1870. Moffat became a well respected man, and the railroads continued to be an important part of Denver's future. 

Another well loved railroad figure in Denver was General Palmer. He began what eventually became the transcontinental Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) railroad from Denver to the west coast. The General was great friends with Moffat and placed heavy trust in him. At one time Moffat was the President of the D&RG after Palmer was forced out.

By about 1880, the gold strikes in the Denver area had pretty much played out.  The miners moved on, and Denverís economy fell.  But the setback was short lived, for a couple of years later, substantial veins of silver were discovered in Leadville, Aspen, Cripple Creek, and Georgetown, putting Denverís economy back on track. The D&RG was one of several railroads that played an integral part in the growth by providing shipping ore from the mines to the smelters and then equipment from Denver back to the mines.

The silver mines of the 1880ís proved even more lucrative than the gold strikes of two decades before. Denver was booming again.  The wealthy miners from all parts of Colorado came, built expensive mansions, bought cigars, and partied their way through the decade in style.  One of these silver tycoons, Horace Tabor, constructed a mansion on Capitol Hill that covered a city block.  He also built the Tabor Opera House.  By 1890, Denverís population was close to three times larger than it had been 10 years earlier, with Denver being the biggest manufacturer of mining machinery in the world. 

Denverís racing economy did hit a speed bump in the 1890ís, when silver prices dropped suddenly across the country. But recovery was well underway by the turn of the century, and though isolated by the Rocky Mountains, the area continued to grow. Maggie Brown (AKA Molly Brown) was another famous personality that moved into the neighborhood about this time. She was part of a rich mining family that moved to Denver from Leadville in 1893. Although her wild west manors were not immediately accepted by Denver socialites, she taught them all how to entertain and face life's little adversities with a smile. She eventually became one of the best loved ladies in the city. 

In the 1920's, even though railroads departed Denver to the north, south and east, what they really needed was tracks going west.  Public funds were allocated to build the Moffat Tunnel through the heart of the Rockies, forming a direct railroad route to the west coast, and connecting Denver with the outside world. In addition to the train tunnel, a smaller bore was made through the mountain for an aqueduct that carries water to the City of Denver. 

Now Denver had its golden railroad connection to the west, and its economy thrived and expanded into new areas unrelated to mining or ranching. Manufacturing, transportation, government as well as recreation and tourism all played a part in Denver's growth. Many other railroads operated in Denver and it became a critical crossroads city of western America.. When the Interstate Highway system was developed, Denver became a hub town for travel in all directions. 

Today most folks are well aware of the world class status of Denver. It is one of the most modern, progressive and concerned cities in the world. Still, Denver retains its original wild west cow town image when convenient. The rodeo still comes to town once a year, and their favorite sports teams still boast names like the Broncos and the Nuggets.



Denver was the main headquarters of its namesake railroad The Denver and Rio Grande. In 1871 General Palmer began construction of his railroad in Denver and headed south. He was destined  for Colorado Springs and beyond. Eventually the D&RG would become a major transcontinental line for Denver. However it would have to share the title with several other large railroads, because the Union Pacific, Missouri Pacific, Burlington and AT&SF all had tracks into Denver.

Somehow all these railroads managed to get along and even constructed the Denver Union Terminal (DUT) yard. This complex grew to extend from 21st Street south to Cherry Creek. A major jointly operated Union Depot was a landmark for the west. The associated tracks serve as storage yards, industrial sidings and mainlines. In recent years after several rail mergers, many tracks in the area are no longer needed and therefore have been disappearing. Much of the old land has been reclaimed for a new baseball stadium and community college.

The early railroads in Denver shipped large quantities of livestock, produce, lumber, non-ferrous metal ores, and passengers. D&RG trains like the Royal Gorge, Prospector, Mountaineer, Exposition Flyer, and the Yampa Valley Mail were all regular runs out of Denver. As time went on much of the D&RG traffic began to dwindle. By the 1980's mostly coal was being hauled by the Rio Grande.



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Union Depot southeast c1880

Originally the D&RG had its own Depot in Denver. In 1880 the Union Depot was constructed to allow many rail lines to share the same passenger facilities. The building was a monument to the day and its architectural style reflected the modern Victorian look of the times. A high clock tower was built in the center section.

All trains arrived and departed in the rear of the structure. The original D&RG track was in the front of the building but this was quickly abandoned and new tracks were constructed in the rear. 

In 1894 a fire occurred in the Depot and the roof and clock tower were destroyed. The roof was rebuilt with a less ornate style. Then in 1914 the entire center section of the Depot was rebuilt with a larger structure.



Several yard areas existed at Denver over the years. In 1949 the north Denver yard was constructed to expedite Moffat Route transcontinental freight.  The north yard quickly became the major terminal in Denver. As the north yard grew, the old Utah Junction facilities of the original Denver, Northwestern and Pacific were no longer needed and closed down.



The Rio Grande's main shops were located a few miles southeast of the Union Depot on the original D&RG mainline. The area was named after George Burnham who was a principle in the Baldwin Locomotive Works.

A massive locomotive and car shop formed the headquarters of the Mechanical Department of the railroad. All types of equipment has been constructed, repaired and maintained at the shops in both narrow and standard gauges.

Both steam and then diesel engines have been serviced including grinding crankshafts, setting valves, and rolling flues. The largest steam locomotives on the railroad, Alco L132 class 2-8-8-2's, called these shops home. 

At first Burnham was just a collection of sheds to service Palmer's "baby railroad" narrow gauge equipment. In 1881 the first standard gauge rolling stock began operation. Eventually the complex became one of the best mechanical facilities in the country. Burnham would helped sustain the railroad and made the D&RG the railroad it became.


Utah Junction

The Moffat Route originally had its Denver terminal at Utah Junction, a few miles northwest of the Union Depot. The line was prevented from sharing in the Denver Union Depot by the other railroads until it was made part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western. The original Denver, Northwestern and Pacific (Moffat Road) had their main offices here as well as a Depot, 3 Stall Engine House, Machine Shop, turning wye, Water Tank, Coaling Facilities, Sand, Ash and Oil house. When the D&RGW took over the Moffat Line, Utah Junction was no longer needed and basically closed down.

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Moffat Depot in Denver c1890



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