Trail Historian Eric Swab: The Vanishing Toll Road

“Subject, however, to the right of the grantor herein and such others as he may wish to ride on horseback over the same, if he shall so desire.” These sound like the words of a man who is reluctant to give up property he has enjoyed. They are the words of General William Jackson Palmer (1836-1909) included in the Deed by which he sold the “Bear Creek Cañon Toll Road” to the City of Colorado Springs, in 1907.


For those of us who have hiked the Bear Creek Trail, it may not be easy to think of it as a road. Even more surprising is that it was once owned by General Palmer. 


Trail History
Before there was any formal effort to build a trail or a road in Bear Creek Cañon, there was surely an informal or “social” trail into this attractive valley. In 1873, the need for convenient access to the United States Army Signal Corps station on the summit of Pikes Peak, prompted the construction of a formal trail to the summit. 


From the July 14, 1874 letter from Sergeant Henry Fenton, a Signal Corps observer, to the Chief Signal Officer, we learn who built the trail. In 1873, Mr. William W. Allen agreed to build the trail for $200, without having any idea of a route. He and Mr. Edward Copley set out together to find a route. They followed Bear Creek to its headwaters, crossed a saddle and dropped into the Ruxton Creek drainage to Lake Moraine. From there they climbed the southeastern face of Sackett Mountain to Windy Point, then followed along the west side of the southeast ridge of Pikes Peak to its summit.


At the same time Mr. Woodward received instructions from the Army Signal Corps to install a telegraph line to the summit. He was to be paid $1,400. He immediately sold that responsibility to Matt France (1830-1900) and Company for $200. Messrs. Allen, Copley and France joined forces and incorporated the “Bear Creek and Pike’s Peak Trail and Wagon Road Company” (BPTWR), each would share 1/3 of the proceeds from the enterprise. Mr. Allen sold his interest to Mr. Copley, so Copley and France built the trail. On September 6, 1873, the newspaper reported the trail’s completion. The El Paso County Commissioners authorized the BPTWR to charge a toll of 50 cents one way, and $1.00 for the round trip. 


There were actually two trails from Lake Moraine that reached the summit. The first was the one mentioned above to serve the Signal Corps Station. It is identified on the current “Pikes Peak Atlas” as the “Historic 1873 Pikes Peak Trail (Obliterated)”. It was always a trail, never a road. The second went southwest from the lake over Dead Lake Divide (aka Seven Lakes Divide), to Seven Lakes.


This second route probably started as a trail. In 1889, Civil Engineer, David McShane (1830-1907), began enlarging the natural dam at Lake Moraine, a project he completed in 1891. At the time Mr. McShane was engaged in other projects in Seven Lakes area, so there must have been some sort of road from there to Lake Moraine.


Approaching Lake Moraine from Bear Creek, in 1891, Herbert I. Reid (1860-1941), Julius C. Plumb (1852-1901) and Frank W. Howbert (1858-1945) formed the Bear Creek Canyon Toll Road Company, (BCTR) to build a toll road along Bear Creek to Lake Moraine, then continuing southwest to Seven Lakes. BCTR hired Mr. John Brazleton to supervised a labor force of ten teams of twenty men each to build this road. It was hoped the work would be finished in 30 days and cost an estimated $25,000. This was considered by some a better way to get to Seven Lakes than the Stage Road running through South Cheyenne Cañon.


About the same time, a road was built from Dead Lake running north on the west side of the ridge between Boehmer Creek and Lake Moraine. This trail connected with the 1873 Signal Station trail near Windy Point. 


Three resorts sprang up along the Bear Creek Cañon Road.


Jones Park
Surrounded by Mounts Kineo, Arthur, Garfield, and Runs-down-fast Mountain, is a place on Bear Creek Cañon we now call Jones Park. In the past it has also been called Mariona Park and Rosemont Park (not to be confused with the town of Rosemont that once existed 3.5 miles to the south). Its broad grassy meadows filled with wildflowers made it a popular destination for resident of Colorado Springs. Seven pioneers homesteaded the area. The first was Joseph C. Jones who took up 160 acres in 1873 intending to build a hotel and restaurant. Instead of taking the normal 5 years to prove up on his homestead claim, he paid $200 and received a patent on August 15, 1876. Mr. Jones, made an effort to make his property attractive, with a vine covered gate, and birdhouses hung in the trees. To attract anglers, he developed ponds and stocked them with Greenback Cutthroat Trout from the South Platte drainage. Little did he realize, 140 years later, his improvements would lead to the closure of the Bear Creek Cañon Trail. Joseph C. Jones died in 1882. His cabin burned sometime before 1894. Little is known about his success as a hotelier.


In the 1880s six more pioneers filed homestead claims in Jones Park. Perhaps the most renown was Frank Loud (1852-1927), a Colorado College professor of Mathematics and Astronomy. He built a log cabin himself during his spring break. Concerned about meeting the requirements of occupancy to prove up, Loud attempted to visit the property weekly. He and his family stayed in the cabin throughout his summer vacations. When he wasn’t there, he made the cabin available to the students of the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. When the Forest Service attempted to establish tree nurseries on Pikes Peak, Mr. Loud let them use the cabin as a headquarters and barracks.  


In October of 1890, Edith W. Corliss (1872-1946) took up 158.2 acres in Jones Park. She built a 3-room log cabin which was later enlarged into an 8-room hotel, that became known as Bear Creek Inn. Edward L. Romyn (1868-?), one of the hotel’s managers, rebuilt an old trail that connected North Cheyenne Cañon with Jones Park, providing greater access to the Bear Creek Cañon. 


Lake Moraine
Edward Copley built a single-story log hotel at Lake Moraine called Lake House. It provided a stopover for travelers on their way to and from the summit. During the summers of 1874 and 1875 it was managed by Mr. Loren C. Dana (1849-1922) and his wife Mary. Some of Mr. and Mrs. Dana’s experiences at Lake House survive in a letter he wrote to Manly Ormes in 1913. Lake House was connected to the telegraph line running from the Signal Station on the summit to the Corps’ office in Colorado Springs. Loren and the Signal Corps observers played checkers by telegraphing their moves to each other. Loren remembers a time when both observers at the signal station were sick and were taken to Colorado Springs for treatment. Mr. Dana was asked to stand in for them at the summit for nearly a month. During that time Mary was left alone at Lake House. Fortunately, she knew Morse Code and could operate the telegraph key, so she and Loren were able to stay in touch.


During the winter Loren’s responsibilities included gathering wood for heating and cooking, and hunting game for their food. He was often able shoot deer standing in the door of the Inn. Repairing the telegraph line was another of his tasks that nearly cost him his life. One winter day, having heard nothing from the summit for several days, Loran realized the telegraph line must be broken. With the temperature at ten below zero, Loren set off with his dog and the tools and supplies to repair the line. He told his wife if she heard a clicking on the telegraph key, she was to send a message to the observers at the station that he had repaired the break and was on his way to the summit. On reaching timberline he was facing blizzard conditions making progress very difficult. He did find and repair the break. Noticing his dog was nearly exhausted, he realized that he was also. He stopped to rest and nearly fell asleep.


His wife, heard the clicking of the telegraph key caused by the repair, and notified the observers that her husband was on his way. The observers knowing of the blizzard conditions, realized Loren might be in trouble. They started down the trail and found him nearly unconscious. They managed to get him back to the station and thawed out, but it was several days before he was well enough to return to Lake House.


Seven Lakes
One reason for building a road from Lake Moraine to Seven Lakes was to provide a more gradual ascent to the summit of Pikes Peak. This road still exists, but is not open to the public. It is used by the Colorado Springs Utilities Department to access Lake Moraine and Ruxton Park where a hydro-electric power plant is operated in the warm months. Another reason to build the road was to provide a more convenient access to the Seven Lakes Hotel. By 1878, this hotel had been built by Quincy King and David L. Welch (1835-1898). Dr. Mayo G. Smith (1816-1901) purchased the King/Welch property in 1880 and 1881. It was a popular resort for anglers, hunters, for people wanting to rest before continuing to the summit, and for those simply wanting to enjoy the beauty of the mountain. 


There were several reasons for the closing of the hotel in 1890. Two other more convenient routes to the summit were built, resulting in the loss of visitors. The “Pikes Peak Trail” climbed from Manitou, up Engelmann Canyon following the route which would be taken over by the tracks of the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railroad (The Cog). In 1888 a carriage road from the town of Cascade to the summit was completed. In 1916, this was converted to the Pikes Peak Highway by Spencer Penrose (1865-1939). Colorado Springs was also planning major construction projects to capture and divert water from the South Slope to the City. This would involve the construction of dams and tunnels causing disruption of the natural beauty of the area.


The Vanishing Trail
In 1903, William Jackson Palmer purchased the Bear Creek Cañon Toll Road, which brings us back to the beginning of this article and the sale of the trail to the City of Colorado Springs. Approximately ten years later the city closed the upper part of the trail from Lake Moraine to Seven Lakes. This land being part of the City’s South Slope Watershed. In 1973 the Greenback Cutthroat Trout was declared endangered. In 2016, the Forest Service closed most of the remaining Bear Creek Cañon Trail, to protect the Greenback Cutthroat Trout.

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