Teller County History



Midland Railroad Terminal - Divide CO 1896

 

Teller County is on the western slopes of the Front Range (Pikes Peak area) in central Colorado. Named for US Senator Henry M. Teller, Teller County contains 557 square miles of land and 2 square miles of water. The county seat is Cripple Creek.

Teller County begins 20 miles West of Colorado Springs and is accessed via State Highway 24 West.  It is almost directly in the center of the State of Colorado at elevations ranging from 8,000 feet in Woodland Park to over 14,000 on the back side of Pikes Peak.

Teller County was formed on March 23, 1899. Land to form the County was given by El Paso and Fremont Counties. Teller County encompasses an area of 559 square miles.

Gold was discovered in Cripple Creek, which is the Teller County seat, in 1890 by cowboy and part time prospector, Bob Womack.  This discovery forever changed the area which was to become Teller County.   By 1900 more than 50,000 people called "the district" home.  "The district" refers to the entire gold mining area (approximately 3 square miles) and includes Victor, Cripple Creek, Goldfield, and many towns which have disappeared. The value of the gold mined in Teller County is greater than all other gold mining operations ever conducted in the United States combined.

Today Teller County and its cities are home to over 20,000 people.  It faces the very real challenges brought about by rapid growth and the demand to preserve the natural habitat which drew folks to the area in the first place.

Teller County was formed from the western portion of El Paso and the northern portion of Fremont counties and officially became a County on March 23rd, 1899.  Before 1890 most of what is now Teller County was uninhabited, was an area that people traveled through to get somewhere else.  This area was known mostly for the old Ute Pass Trail which was an important route because it offered passage through the front range of the Rockies for Native American tribes, buffalo, explorers, prospectors, cowboys and their cattle.

The first permanent settlement in Teller County occurred around 1870 and was at the summit of the Ute Trail in what is now Divide.  After having many names, like Rhyolite, Belleview and Theodore, Divide stuck because the Arkansas and South Platte watershed divide in this area.

As the tracks of the Colorado Midland Railroad neared Divide in 1887 boarding houses, saloons and restaurants sprang up to meet the demand of railroad workers.

The Colorado Midland Railroad was incorporated in 1883 and built by John J. Hagerman. It was the first standard gauge railroad built over the Continental Divide in Colorado. It ran from Colorado Springs to Leadville and through the divide at Bush Tunnel to Aspen and Grand Junction. Later the line was extended eleven miles west of Grand Junction to New Castle. For a short time the railroad was consolidated with the Aspen Short Line (1893-1897) and with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad owned by the Rio Grande Junction Railway. After the company was sold through the bankruptcy court on May 4, 1897, a new company known as the Colorado Midland Railway took over operation of the railroad. The Colorado Midland Railway, which came, first, under the control of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, and later, of the Colorado & Southern Railway and the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, again declared bankruptcy April 21, 1917. The Colorado Midland Railway ceased operations in 1918. Segments of the road were then sold to the Midland Terminal Railroad; the balance of the line, mostly west of the Midland Terminal connection at Divide, was abandoned. The line was scrapped in the early 1920s.

Woodland Park, originally called Manitou Park, was laid out along the Midland Railroad tracks and was quickly discovered by tuberculosis patients looking for a place to recover.  The town became a popular spot for pleasure seekers and train passengers when the new Harvey House was opened in 1890.  At that time there were 120 residents in Woodland Park.

During that same year, 1890, Teller County was changed forever by a cowboy and part-time prospect named Bob Womack.  Bob owned a cattle ranch, bisected by a small stream known as Cripple Creek,  on the remote south slope of Pikes Peak.   It was here he discovered a rich vein of gold ore which changed the character of the entire Pikes Peak Region, and some say, the United States.  At this time there were less than two dozen people living in the four-mile wide by six-mile long area that was known as the Cripple Creek Mining District.  By 1900 more than 50,000 people lived in "the District."
Within a few short years there were 12 towns in the area ranging from the larger population centers of Cripple Creek and Victor to several other towns which grew up around mining centers.  These were named Goldfield, Elkton, Altman, Independence, Anaconda, Gillette, Cameron, Beaver Park, Arequa and Lawrence.  Goldfield and Gillette are the only two which remain.
The gold mining operations required a great deal of outside support and several areas came to the rescue.  Woodland Park had 5 saw mills producing millions of feet of lumber per year, much of which was timber for the  mines.  200,000 railroad ties were shipped out annually. 
Divide was also an important lumber and supply town, but also became known for its high-quality, disease-free potatoes and for its fine crops of lettuce.  Each fall, produce was crated and shipped to Cripple Creek and other locations around the United States.  Ice to keep lettuce fresh while being transported was cut from ponds in and around the area.
No other town in the Pikes Peak region benefited from Cripple Creek mining like Colorado Springs.   Stratton, Burns, Tutt and Penrose all made their fortunes in Cripple Creek and then made their homes in Colorado Springs.  The Myron Stratton Home (named for Winfield Scott Stratton's father), the Broadmoor Hotel, built by Spencer Penrose, and many of the mansions in Colorado Springs' north end were all built with Cripple Creek gold. 
Five reduction mills were constructed in Colorado City during the turn of the century and began processing the bulk of Cripple Creek ore.  Colorado City offered water, coal and convenient rail access. 
Tension escalated between Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs in the 1890's.  Mine owners, miners and residents in "the District: grew tired of watching tax revenue from their mines go to Colorado Springs, which was (and is) the seat of government for El Paso County.  They wanted a Courthouse closer to mining operations because of the number of county transactions that needed to be carried out.   And so, after much arguing on both sides, the Colorado Legislature created Teller County, named for Senator Henry M. Teller, one of Colorado's first senators.