Traveling the Ghost Town Trail
Ghost Towns Along the Moffat Road in Colorado
with John K. Aldrich and Dick Oakes
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Let's take a historical look at the towns, several now ghost towns, that lay along the famous Moffat Road railroad grade, the "Hill Route" over the Continental Divide at Rollins (Carona) Pass, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
General John Q. Rollins, who improved on an old 40-mile army road across Rollins (Corona) Pass in Gilpin County, Colorado, built the town of Rollinsville, reasoning that anyone who wanted to use the road from Denver to Middle Park would travel through the town. His toll road eventually became the Moffat Road railroad grade.
Rollinsville had a stage station, a train station, an ice house, and its own post office. Nearby, Rollins built a gold stamp mill. General Rollins did not allow saloons, gambling houses, or dance halls in his town, yet Rollinsville did a thriving business as a supply center until the toll road over Berthoud Pass was completed, which was less difficult to negotiate.
That wasn't the end of Rollinsville, however, for the town lies on the Peak-to-Peak Highway between Black Hawk and Nederland and is very much alive today as a tourist stop. A few old buildings remain and some ruins along the railroad line east of town are evidence of the past.
About three miles west of Rollinsville, Colorado, is the site of what was the large community of Baltimore, just south of Colorado Road 16, where the lavish Baltimore Club saloon was before it closed and much of its furnishings moved to Central City. In 1896, Baltimore opened a post office, but it moved to Tolland in 1904. The a two-story hotel, and an opera house. The site is on private property. The remains of the town, which include the dilapidated city hall and some cabins (a few of which have been restored for seasonal use), are in a heavily wood area, with aspen trees growing through the roofs of some of the cabins.
Tolland, Colorado, went from mining town to stage station, then to railroad station with the construction of the Moffat Road over Rollins (Corona) Pass and later the Moffat Tunnel. Originally called Mammoth for Mammoth Gulch running from the north to the southwest of the town, Tolland was renamed by Mrs. Charles B. Toll for her family's ancestral home in England. Mrs. Toll operated a large hotel here and was the town's postmistress.
The post office in Baltimore, a little over a mile to the east, was moved to Tolland in 1904, when the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific arrived, and was active for 40 years. The railroad station still stands by the tracks as does the the old schoolhouse, and a few old cabins can be found scattered in among newer buildings.
About a mile further along the Moffat Road past where it angles back up the mountain from Colorado Road 16 in Gilpin County, Colorado, was situated the East Portal, an important construction town during the building of Rollins (Corona) Pass and later during the construction of the Moffat Tunnel. The Moffat Road over the pass was begun in 1909 and completed in 1909.
Because his railroad line over "The Hill" was so costly to operate (the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad budgeted up to forty-one percent of its operating budget for snow removal!), David H. Moffat lobbied the state of Colorado for funds to drive a tunnel under the Continental Divide. Bonds were issued and the project was started in 1923. When the Moffat Tunnel was completed in 1927, the construction camp was no longer needed. Today, there are several buildings and a lot of railroad equipment at what was once the town of East Portal.
Next to the tracks of the Moffat Road in Gilpin County, Colorado, lies what was once the bustling railroad settlement of Ladora. Railroad section crews lived here from 1903 to 1904 and loggers continued to live here until service on "The Hill" was discontinued in 1929, when the site became a ghost town.
Ten miles up the old Moffat Road railroad line from Rollinsville, Colorado, a railroad switching station and construction town sprang up called Antelope. During the building of the Moffat Road's "Hill Route," the town was especially alive. Antelope remained a construction headquarters even after the railroad construction moved on.
In Grand County, Colorado, on the western side of Rollins (Corona) Pass where there was abundant timber, John Newmand and W.H. "Bill" Wood selected construction camp site for the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad in 1903. The camp seemed ideal for the location of a railroad sawmill. When the railroad finally made it up the Moffat Road to the site in the Winter of 1904, not only had tents been erected but more permanent structures were being built. On December 29, 1904, the camp became the first officially incorporated town in Grand County, Colorado, with the name of Arrowhead (which was soon changed to just plain Arrow). Although upwards of two thousand people received their mail at the Arrow post office, the 1905 population figure was only a quarter of that figure.
With incorporation, saloons, restaurants, gambling houses, and sporting houses became legal, but the town did not become rowdy, largely because of Marshal Danby and his small wooden jail. Right away, half a dozen saloons sprang up but soon there were more than a dozen. Also, irate wives of railroad employees sent "saloon girls" back to their saloons from public dances. Arrow's two "modern" pressure-tank white gasoline street lights, located at the town's only two intersections, were turned on at dusk. Meals could be had in the Dining Room of the Denver Railroad News and Hotel Eating House for twenty-five cents, served on tin plates, with tin cups (for water from a bucket by the door) and iron eating utensils. Arrow became a popular final destination for special summer trips sponsored by the railroad.
Just a year later, however, the population was down to sixteen. In 1920, Arrow was destroyed by fire, leaving only the depot and Dining Hall standing. Arrow, with it's entire business district gutted, became an immediate ghost town. The site has since been re-timbered.
Corona Station and Hotel
The railroad construction town of Corona, Colorado, located at over 11,600 feet at the top Corona Pass (first called Boulder Pass) along the Continental Divide was the highest railroad station in the world. It was situated on an old Native American trail, the same trail it is believed the Mormons traveled on their way to Utah. The road was improved by the U.S. Army, then further improved in 1866 by General John Q. Rollins, for whom the pass and the town of Rollinsville were officially named. Because of the high drifts of snow, the pass was only open from around July to the first big snowstorm two or three months later.
In 1956, Governor Steve McNichols presided at the official re-opening of the four percent grade to vehicle traffic over Corona Pass, expressing the hope that the route would someday be paved. The Colorado Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service made additional improvements, and the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests put out a 24-page booklet titled "The Moffat Road: A Self-Guiding Auto Tour." The road crossed two of the original railroad trestles near Corona but those trestles, even if reached by 4-wheel vehicles, are crumbling and can no longer even be crossed safely on foot.
In 1979, a portion of the auto road over Corona Pass was permanently closed because of a cave-in of the "Needle's Eye," a tunnel that came before the trestles on a westward drive from the Moffat Tunnel's East Portal area. The tunnel reopened on July 3, 1988, thanks to the efforts of the Rollins Pass Restoration Association with the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado History Society, and Boulder, Grand, and Gilpin Counties. It was then closed once more when another rockfall hit the tunnel on July 15, 1990.
John K. Aldrich is a geologist, lecturer, and author whose "Ghosts of . . . " books and accompanying topo maps are a boon to hobbyists, explorers, and those interested in Colorado mining history. John's website: Columbine Ink