When the idea of building the first standard-gauge railroad into the mountains of Colorado came about, it was the Colorado Midland Railway that proved it could be done. Organized in 1883, it took several years before the railroad could line up all the financing for its construction and in 1887, service began.
The operating headquarters of the new railroad was in Colorado City (now part of Colorado Springs since 1917). South of Fountain Creek and west of where 21st Street is today, the Colorado Midland built their shops, office buildings, yards and a fourteen-stall roundhouse.
Built between 1887 and 1888, the massive curved roundhouse stood over twenty five feet tall with large arched doors in front of each stall to accommodate any size steam locomotive. Although in later years, stalls eight and nine were heightened and squared off at the top to allow larger locomotives to be used. A sixty-foot wrought iron turntable was installed to switch locomotives to the right track or stall.
When the railroad was started it had a great future. Operations began with trains to Newcastle, just west of Glenwood Springs, for connections with the Rio Grande to Salt Lake City and beyond. It operated until 1917 when financial troubles caused the company’s failure. The by now aging stock and track and nationalization of the railroads by the U.S. government contributed to the line’s loss. The other Midland, the Midland Terminal, continued to use the Divide-Colorado City portion for hauling gold laden ore. In 1921 after the war, the Colorado Midland just never could get started up again and the Midland Terminal bought the entire operation.
The last straw came with the opening of the Carlton Mill, between Cripple Creek and Victor, in 1948. It was no longer necessary to haul ore to Colorado Springs and all passenger service had already disappeared. The Midland Terminal was abandoned and permission to scrap the railroad was granted in 1948. Left standing in the Old Colorado City yards was the shop buildings, office headquarters and the old roundhouse.
In the 1950’s Van Briggle Pottery was looking for a larger production facility. They moved into the desolate roundhouse that was now just a reminder of the two railroads it once served. In 1969, Kenneth Stevenson became the principle owner and the family held the business until 2008 when they decided to downsize and move to a smaller building on Tejon Street.
In the meantime, the massive roundhouse had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
In 2009, the Stevenson family sold the roundhouse to local real estate developer Griffis/ Blessing, Inc. and renovation of the building began. The old roundhouse was now on the fast track and would become an upscale retail center with hopes that at least part of it would become a restaurant. The building was completely gutted down to its rock walls and the 1887 beams holding it together. The old arched doorways have been glassed in and all the other glass on the sides and back of the building is new. State of the art air-conditioning and lighting has been installed.
In the next few days, the roundhouse will stimulate the local economy even more with the opening of its last tenant, the Colorado Mountain Brewery. With full steam ahead, construction officially started in February 2012. This will be the second location of this popular brew pub; the first is located near the Air Force Academy. Paul Dehner, director of development/operations, said that “the design choices of the interior will reflect a balance of modern state of the art and historic.” Historical highlights of the interior include some limited edition Van Briggle pieces and a 12 foot wide by 8 foot tall museum quality mural of the historic roundhouse recreated from a rare 1890’s photo from the Old Colorado City Historical Society’s collections. An additional 17 rare railroad-themed images, also from the Society, were selected to carry out the rich railroading history.
The restored Midland roundhouse turns 125 years old this year. Thanks to the foresight and efforts of many people, this treasured landmark will hopefully be preserved for another 125.
Photo courtesy of Don Kallous.
Photo courtesy of Don Kallaus.