Saturday, August 20, 2011

Crystal Park Fresno Scraper

This piece of equipment is a Fresno Scraper.  It was used to build the roads in the Park in the early days.  It sat, half-buried in the ground, near the Office for many years before the Historical Committee researched it and decided to restore and display it at the Clubhouse.  The cost of the restoration was paid for by a donation from a Park member.  Below is information on the history of Fresno Scrapers and photos of them in operation.

      A 25-year-old Scot named James Porteous asked a ticket agent for passage to America in 1873. "Where do you want to go?" asked the agent. "I have no idea," replied Porteous. "This family here just bought a ticket to Santa Barbara," said the agent. "Why don't you travel with them?" So Porteous did.

·        That may be anecdote, but it does help us understand Porteous. By 1877 he was selling wagons in Fresno, California. By 1880 he was an American citizen who had been woven into Fresno Valley farm life. Valley agriculture depended upon irrigation. That meant canal digging. Fresno farmers badly needed better earth-moving equipment for their sandy soil. Farmers experimented with horse-drawn earth-mover designs. The problem was harder to solve than it seemed.

·        Yet Porteous solved it. His series of patents reveal a subtle thread of real inventive genius. Fresno farmers had been using something called a buck scraper to move earth. It scraped up dirt and pushed it along in front. It was hard to pull and hard to unload.

·        Porteus' C-shaped scraper had a blade along the bottom. It scooped dirt as it was pulled along. That much was like the buck scraper, but this machine rode on runners and could be tilted. An operator walking behind it could change the angle. When it was full, he tilted it back and let it glide on the runners. He could dump dirt as he passed over low spots and smooth out terrain. He could vary the angle of attack to match the soil.

Porteous called it the "Fresno Scraper," and he formed the Fresno Agricultural Works to build it. It was soon being used all over the world. It was one of the most important agricultural and civil engineering machines ever made. Fresno Scrapers served the US army in WW-I. The two-horse model retailed for $28, yet today's bulldozer blades are its direct offspring. The gigantic scraper-carryall earth mover is its grandchild.
 By John H. Lienhard (University of Houston)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Old Trees in Crystal Park

Recently came across a paper written by US Forest Service people about old Ponderosa Pines on the Front Range; how to identify them and the importance of preserving them.  These trees are at risk because of fire suppression over the past 100 years or so.  In the past, smaller trees around them were burned by periodic fires, thereby removing the means for fire to get into the crowns of these old trees.  Today, because of fire suppression, they are surrounded by trees that are much larger than in the past.  These trees act as “ladders” for any fire to climb into the crown of the old trees and kill them.  The paper stated that there are Ponderosas on the Front Range in excess of 500 years old and that they are not necessarily large trees.  There is a tree on Mt. Rosa (near Crystal Park) that is 780 years old.
In the past week or so, Colorado Springs Utilities has had contract crews in Crystal Park cutting trees that endanger power lines.  This is done every few years.   A reasonably good sized piece of a beetle-killed Ponderosa was noticed, and the rings counted to see how old it was.  Here’s the result:
This tree was 343 years old and so it sprouted in 1668.  The nail is about 3 1/2 inches long.  The configuration of the rings is asymmetrical; the trunk has a diameter of about 17 inches at its widest not a really big tree.  It was a surprise that Ponderosa Pines lived this long (and much longer).  Based on the descriptions contained in the paper and observations of other trees, there are some really old Ponderosa pines here in Crystal Park.  Follow up will be done in the future.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Prairie Dog O'Bryne

Although this is a story about a character of Old Colorado City, he did in fact guide people to Crystal Park.  If you read this story, you'll learn something about Old Colorado City that not too many people know.

The days of Prairie Dog O’Byrne
He was known for his trained, carriage-pulling elk in the late 1800s
By Dave Hughes
A few rip-roaring stories have come down to us about Prairie Dog O’Byrne, the man with a carriage pulled around Colorado City by two antlered elk.
      But who was he? And other than his infamous rides into snooty Colorado Springs with Laura Belle, Queen of the Red Light District, sitting beside him, what else did he do? There are no eyewitnesses still around from the 1880s and '90s, when 21 saloons on the south side of West Colorado Avenue kept things hopping. But I have managed to fill in lots of dots about the life of this memorable Irishman. And I have a photograph of him and his elk. The picture is pretty tame, but it proves he existed and indeed, from his having, at one time, a wheel at the back of his carriage in which a prairie dog ran endlessly. We had such a wheel on our ranch in eastern Colorado. I remember as a boy watching it rotate endlessly as the hapless animal never got anywhere. That was Prairie Dog, who seems to have had as many different jobs and visited as many places as his prairie dog had spins of the wheel.
       John O'Bryan was born in 1862 in still unsettled Ohio, born of Irish Catholic immigrant parents, who were married in the U.S. by Father Machebeuf, later the famed Archbishop in Denver. As he grew up, he was with his father and the rest of the family in Abilene, Kan. As the railroads kept pushing westward, he moved with them as his father supervised rail laying work crews.
       Even before finally arriving in Colorado, young O'Byrne had several scary brushes with Indians, lived through the grasshopper plague of 1874, saw gun fighting, Kansas cyclones and bushwhackers who were put down by vigilante bands and “Judge Lynch.” At Council Grove, he witnessed three horse thieves hanged before he had his own breakfast.
       He wrote a funny little book named “Pikes Peak or Bust,” but it was so disjointed I think he had it published himself. Some of the details of his life came from that rare book from my collection. No publisher or copyright was printed in it.
       Prairie Dog arrived in Colorado sometime in the late 1880s, when he was still in his 20s. He seemed awed by the grandeur and beauty of Colorado and the Rockies, and waxed eloquent about them. To make a living he became a tourist guide around Colorado City and Colorado Springs. In 1890, he drove a stage with four horses all the way to the top of Pikes Peak, where he lectured his charges on the dangers of the high altitude, remarking that water boiled there at 184 degrees. O'Byrne always seemed to be a keen observer. He drove visitors up to Crystal Park, where he marveled at the smoky topaz, agates, and crystal.
       The high jinks for which Prairie Dog is best remembered started in 1889, when Old Town was beginning to rip-roar 24 hours a day. As a matter of fact, there is much evidence that the popular song “There'll Be a Hot Time in Old Town Tonight” referred to Colorado City's Saloon Row, not Cripple Creek's. Colorado City, which had been founded some 30 years earlier with log buildings, was already called “Old Town” by 1890.
       Prairie Dog acquired his pair of young elk in 1888. They had been captured in North Park - probably orphaned by a hunter who killed their mother - then taken to the Stockyards on 15th Street in Denver where they were auctioned off. Prairie Dog bought them from a second owner and named them Thunder and Buttons.
       Even to domesticate elk a little bit, they have to be run almost every day. O'Byrne admits to having to hitch them up and run them up and down Colorado Avenue a lot. He claims he was the first man to drive a team of elk through the gateway of the Garden of the Gods.
       Even then, before the big Cripple Creek gold strikes, thousands of gold-seekers passed through Colorado City. They usually arrived on Palmer's narrow-gauge Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, which ran right up Cucharras Street behind Saloon Row, ending in Manitou Springs. Since Colorado Springs was dry - and therefore dull - the gold-seekers got off the train in Colorado City, caroused all night in the saloons, gambling dens and Red Light District along Colorado Avenue and then poured onto the full gauge Midland Railroad cars the next morning, and headed for the gold districts.
       It was in this wide open town's atmosphere - looked down upon by Colorado Springs' genteel, educated “Little London” residents - that Prairie Dog O'Byrne was in his element. He exercised his elk up and down the avenue, tying them to the hitching rails on the wooden boardwalks outside the saloons. He stopped, drank and gambled in Byron Hames' saloon especially, rubbing elbows with Soapy Smith, Bob Ford (the killer of Jesse James) and “Eat 'em Up Jake.” He probably also met Minnie the Gambler, who horsewhipped a cheater in a card game with her lover, Charlie Utter, of Colorado City. Inside were those “turning a wheel,” playing cards or rolling the dice. He invariably lost the money he earned driving tourists by playing Three Card Monte against Soapy Smith, who was later shot dead in Skagway, Alaska. Colorado City was fully on the gambling circuit, which included Denver, Cheyenne, Creede, and Lead, South Dakota.
       O'Byrne started inviting Laura Belle, Queen of the Red Light District, to ride with him in his carriage in 1889 and 1890. He would take those famous rides with her sitting right next to him, all the three miles into downtown Colorado Springs. That was before street cars, while the Avenue was still dirt. What a sight that must have been! Two antlered elk galloping eastward and Laura Belle's hair blowing in the wind, while startled citizens and visitors just off the D&RG train (near today's 21st and Cucharras streets) jumped out of the way and horses unfortunate enough to be on Colorado Avenue spooked.
       Prairie Dog bragged he could make it to Colorado Springs in “6 or 7 minutes,” which speed I always doubted until I realized that the western limit of Colorado Springs then was “Limit Street” - next to today's Eighth Street. But it's still a feat. The elk undoubtedly were cut loose as much as O'Byrne's grip on the reins would risk.
       Of course, when those elk arrived in downtown Colorado Springs, the fine horses pulling gentlemen and ladies in carriages as often as not bolted, tossing the ladies in the dirt. The police would put Prairie Dog in jail, and Laura Belle had to drag her gowns through the dirt all the way back to Colorado City.
       Old Town folk would have seen this spectacle many more times, except that Prairie Dog had to get a better paying job to pay off his gambling losses. So he became a passenger brakeman between Colorado Springs and Denver on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. Then his route was changed so he had to move to Denver. He took Thunder and Buttons with him.
       Prairie Dog was even more unwelcome in Denver, as horses bolted, there were runaways, and he was arrested more than once. Not before, however, he was paid to help promote a sporting goods store on Lawrence Street by playing Santa Claus with his reindeer - er, elk. He was a smashing success and the store profited.
       Soon he was in hard-boiled Chicago, which gave him an even harder time, so finally he gave up and sold Thunder and Buttons for $500. They ended up in Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show in the East. In later years, he saw them again, but was hurt when they didn't recognize him.
       Prairie Dog, ever the wanderer, traveled to old Santa Fe, to California and Mexico. Always by train. He was robbed, jailed, and snapped pictures of cactus and old missions. He took special interest in those Spanish missions and, remaining an Irish Catholic, prayed in all of them.
       Finally he showed up in Colorado Springs again in 1922. He wrote his funny little book, published it, then disappeared from view.
       Footnote: In 1978, while I was engaged in the revitalization of Old Colorado City, a restaurant being started by Whitey Pine in one of the original saloon buildings needed a name. I told Whitey the story, and he named the restaurant “Thunder & Buttons.” Then in 2004, some years after the original Thunder & Buttons had closed, a female graduate of the Air Force Academy - who had hung out there with fellow cadets and later became an airlines pilot - started it up again, giving it a flying theme and the name “Thunder & Buttons II.”
       So the elk's names, Thunder and Buttons, and the memory of Prairie Dog O'Byrne and his wild carriage rides still live on, 115 years later.

Dave Hughes is a Westside historian, civic leader and board member of the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS). His article on Prairie Dog O'Byrne was reprinted from the OCCHS' March 2006 newsletter

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hidden Cabin to Lost Cabin

In late1885, the Hill family built a cabin sheltered by large boulders for Alice M. Hill, and she moved into it to homestead 160 acres in Crystal Park.  About a week afterward, the cabin burned completely.  In March of 1886, Alice moved into a rebuilt cabin on the same site.  Below is a photo of that cabin, taken in 1886.

The cabin was abandoned later that year when the Hill family left Crystal Park, after selling their holdings to John Hay.  Alice's cabin and surrounding 160 acres were sold to Hay for $600.
As the cabin deteriorated over the years, it went from being known as the "Hidden Cabin" to the "Lost Cabin.

Photo taken in June, 1914, of the party of the famous evangelist Billy Sunday (5th from left) at the Hidden Cabin.

Hidden Cabin in the 1930's

Well on its way to becoming the Lost Cabin in 1990
The Crystal Park Historical Committee has installed a brass marker at the site, which is near the end of Lost Cabin Road, as eventually what remains of the cabin will disappear.  Below is a recent photo of the site, which appears much as it did in the 1990 photo.

Monday, April 18, 2011

1886 Wedding in Crystal Park

According to a manuscript by Francis W. Cragin, a geology professor at Colorado College from 1891 to 1902, this is a photo from September, 1886 of the wedding party of Mary Amelia Hill and Rev. T.H. Acheson (of Pittsburgh).  The Hill family were some of the earliest settlers in Crystal Park.  This is the home of Alexander McLeod Hill; Mary was his oldest daughter.  The house is described by Cragin  as "a four-room story-and-a-half house, substantially built of squared logs, having two rooms in the main part below and one large room above, besides a fourth in the addition on the rear.  There was a tent kitchen."  He also describes "a magnificent pine tree" near the house that the Hills christened "The Queen of the Valley".  Although the exact location of the house is unknown today, it was about a mile from the Gateway, up what Cragin called "Happy Valley".  Looking at the photo, could this be near the beginning of present-day Methuselah Rd. and the big tree in the background the "Methuselah Tree"? 

Present in this photo, according to Cragin: the seven people nearest the door are Mr. and Mrs. Hill and their five children. The bride and groom are not specifically identified. In front of the window to the left are Col. John G. Nicolay and his daughter Helene.  Nicolay and John Hay were President Lincoln's Secretaries during the Civil War and wrote parts of their biography of Lincoln in Crystal Park (see the entry on John Hay below).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

1940's Brochure

This brochure is from shortly after WWII, and is from a period where ownership of Crystal Park changed several times in rapid succession.  It was at this time that the present-day clubhouse was constructed, to be used as a ski lodge.  Two ski runs were built on the slope uphill from the "lodge" and a rope tow was installed.  Little evidence remains today.  The brochure's map uses many of the names of various points along the road as were used in the original descriptions from 1910 onward.

Note that there are several inaccuracies in this brochure.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Pikes Peak Railway and Improvement Company

 At the beginning of the 1880’s, James Hutchinson Kerr, a professor and Trustee at Colorado College, had the idea to build a railroad to the top of Pikes Peak. In 1883 he formed the Pikes Peak Railway and Improvement Company with himself as President, Major John Hulbert of Manitou Springs as Vice President, and other leading citizens of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs as Officers and Directors.  Kerr wrote a prospectus and enlisted the Wall Street firm of Grant & Ward, in which former President U.S. Grant and his son were major partners, to handle the financing. 
The company purchased a 100 ft. wide right-of-way to build a 30 mile long, narrow gauge railroad to the top of Pikes Peak through Crystal Park.  The right-of-way was engineered and graded nine miles from Manitou Springs before the project was abandoned due to a financial panic which bankrupted Grant & Ward (and President Grant personally) in May, 1884.  Railroad Grade Road and part of the present day Crystal Park Road above the present-day Railroad Grade intersection follow the old right-of-way. 
In 1891, the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway (the “Cog”) was opened, with Major John Hulbert as President, and Kerr’s dream of a railway through Crystal Park was dead.  Had this project been completed, Crystal Park would be a very different place today.

James Hutchinson Kerr

President U.S. Grant

Company Prospectus - pgs. 1 & 2

Company Prospectus - pgs. 3 & 4

Example of Narrow Gauge Engine ca.1885

Letterhead showing Company Officers and Directors.  This was an early form, as the name was later "Railway" instead of "Railroad".

Additional Information

There are still pieces of the old graded right-of-way in existence in Crystal Park (in addition to Railroad Grade Road and some of Crystal Park Road), especially on Sugarloaf Mt.  Below is a photo taken this past summer of a retaining wall built in the early 1880's for the railway (person included for scale).


Friday, April 15, 2011

John Hay and Crystal Park

JOHN HAY (1838 – 1905)

John Hay was a statesman, diplomat, author, journalist and private secretary to Abraham Lincoln.

He became a secretary to Lincoln at age 22.  He was Lincoln’s friend, confidant, companion and doer of odd jobs.  He lived in the northwest corner bedroom on the second floor of the White House, a room he shared with fellow secretary and future co-author John G. Nicolay.  Hay was present when Lincoln died after being shot at the theater in Washington.

Hay first came to Crystal Park in 1883, and, like many others, he was immediately taken with it’s beauty, eventually buying most of what is now the Upper Park, which he owned until his death in 1905.  Hay spent several summers in the Park, and Nicolay visited him here on a number of occasions.  Portions of their definitive ten-volume work on the life of Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: A History, published in 1890) were written in Hay’s cabin, which stood at the Gateway (entrance to the Upper Park).

In 1897, President William McKinley appointed John Hay Ambassador to the United Kingdom.  In August of 1898, he was named Secretary of State, a post he held under both McKinley and President Theodore Roosevelt until Hay’s death in 1905.  His contributions to the United States included negotiating over 50 treaties, developing the Open Door policy in China, and preparations for the construction and usage of the Panama Canal.  Hay also was a writer and poet of some renown, and was one the first seven people chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1904.

Hay’s Cabin in 1907.  Note the burro in the background.  This was before the road to Crystal Park was completed.  Burro trips from Manitou were a common way for tourists and visitors to get to the Park

Hay's cabin sometime around 1890 (estimate)

John Hay 1904

John G. Nicolay, Abraham Lincoln, John Hay.  Taken by Alexander Gardner in
Washington D. C. on November 8, 1863, 11 days before the Gettysburg Address.
Photo of John Hay taken during the Civil War by Matthew Brady, the most famous
photographer of the time.
Notice in the New York Times on November 8, 1908, regarding the sale of Crystal Park for $40,000 and plans to build a hotel and other improvements.  This is one of many plans for the Park that never materialized.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Auto Road Opened to Private Cars

Starting in 1913, private cars were allowed up the Auto Road - for a fee.  $3.00 was a serious amount of money in 1913.
Part of an Auto Trip brochure, ca. 1915

1919 Brochure

In 1919, after the bankruptcy of the Crystal Park Company and a series of financial machinations by various groups, the Auto Road was consolidated with the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.  The following picture and description are from a brochure (ca. 1919) for both attractions.

1950's Brochure

This is a Crystal Park brochure from, we believe, the 1950's, as it states that Crystal Park is "open" after 30 years.  It shows that there was a ski slope with rope tow lift, and that what's now the Clubhouse existed, with at least part of the covered deck.  Snowplow Rock had not fallen yet.

If anyone can date this brochure more precisely, let us know through an email to

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tour Group Photos ca. 1910 - 1915

When tour groups went up the road they made a stop in the vicinity of where present-day Lower and Upper Vista Roads are located.  There was a photographer stationed above the road.  The tour group exited the car and stood in front of it and a photo was taken.  On the downhill return, the proofs were ready and they could go home with their souvenir photo, appropriately dated.  Here are some examples:

In this photo there are three Crystal Park vehicles lined up for photos and a private car stopped headed downhill.

This is not one of the professional "souvenir" photos like the others, but rather a personal photo taken by a tour participant.  It was taken at the "Gateway" at the top of the road, where the pavement ends today.  Dated Aug,1913.