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Railroads

What do these photos tell you about how important railroads were to miners?

Locomotive Near Central City

This photo shows a locomotive of the 1870s with the town of Central City in the background.

Locomotive Near Central City

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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The first railroad to cross the continent was completed in 1869. It connected Chicago and San Francisco. In time, railroads connected the larger mining towns with Denver and other cities on the plains. Railroads could bring people and supplies to the mining towns and to ship out ore and gold and silver bullion faster and cheaper than horse-drawn wagons.

Their Own Words

"Empire City, Colorado Territory, July 29th, 1869

On the tenth of May word came to Denver by telegraph that the Union Pacific Railroad was completed at twelve o’clock--noon--that day. The track layers from the east and from the west met on the northern border of Great Salt Lake, and the Governor of California drive the last spike. . . . It is a great thing for America, a road from ocean to ocean, nearly five thousand miles in length. . . . Of course this wonderful road does not mean so much to you, but it will be a great thing for Colorado Territory. I should like to ride over the whole length of it; perhaps some time I may."

  Source: Emma Shepard Hill, A Dangerous Crossing and What Happened on the Other Side (Denver, 1924): 118.

Trestle Near Black Hawk

The train in this photo is headed up the mountain from Black Hawk to Central City. It crossed the gully at the bottom of the photo on a trestle or bridge made of wood timbers. The building in the center of the photo is the shaft house of a mine. The light-colored material behind the building is rock removed from the mine. It is called a tailings pile.

Trestle Near Black Hawk

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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The railroad that connected Central City and Black Hawk benefited both towns. It hauled ore from the mines at Central City to the stamp mills and smelters at Black Hawk. The railroad helped provide jobs for miners, smelter workers, and railroad workers.

Their Own Words

“The first railroad to enter the district was completed to Black Hawk in 1872, the depot being an old stone mill in the lower end of town. Large doors were cut in either end, so the entire train was under cover. This was abandoned when the high line to Central [City] was constructed in 1878, and a new depot was erected nearer the center of town. The high line to Central City was completed in 1878.”

Source: C. H. Hanington, “Early Days of Central City,” Colorado Magazine, 19 (January 1942): 13.

Cripple Creek Train Depot

This is the railroad station at Cripple Creek. It shows a locomotive and a horse-drawn carriage parked at the station. The photo was taken in 1896.

Cripple Creek Train Depot

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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A prospector discovered gold at Cripple Creek in 1890. This mining camp was located in a remote region behind Pike’s Peak. It was more than 40 miles from the nearest city-Colorado Springs. The first railroad was built from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek in 1894, a second in 1895. Railroads helped make Cripple Creek a prosperous mining town.

Coal Train Near Trinidad

This photo was taken about the year 1900 at a coalmine near Trinidad.

Coal Train Near Trinidad

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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In time railroads replaced horse-pulled carts in coalmines. The cars in this photo are filled with coal from a mine near Trinidad.

Locomotive Plowing Snow

This photo was taken in the mountains near Central City. The men are shoveling snow off the track.

Locomotive Plowing Snow

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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Winter snowstorms presented a major problem for railroads operating in the mountains. A heavy snow in December 1913, blocked the trains between Central City and Black Hawk for several weeks.

Their Own Words

“The winter of 1889-1890 was a very severe winter. The railroad was repeatedly being blocked with snow and at one time was completely shut down, being blocked with snow for a period of about seventy-five days, from early February to about the middle of April. The railroad shops were almost completely shut down for several weeks, only a few men retained to keep stationary boilers going and various equipment inside the shop from freezing.”

Source: George W. Champion, “Remembrances of South Park,” Colorado Magazine, 40 (January 1963): 27.