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A Brief History of Lake City:
The Mining Era, 1874-1904

Transportation:  The Railroad

Upon opening of the San Juan region, three railroad companies announced intentions of constructing track from the Front Range to the San Juan region - the Denver, South Park and Pacific, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, and the Denver & Rio Grande.

The Silver World proclaimed in fall 1875: "Three railroads, contending for the San Juan trade, will spur each forward to the greatest measure of activity, and we are justified in hoping that, within two years, the whistle of the iron horse will wake the echoes of these grand old hills."*  The economic recession that began in 1874 and the prohibitive of cost constructing track into the mountains delayed the railroad from reaching Lake City for over a decade.

Local investors and businessmen anticipated construction of the Lake City Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande railroad as early as 1881.  Instead, the Denver & Rio Grande diverted capital to build the line west from Gunnison to Grand Junction.  The Lake City Branch was finally completed in 1889 from Sapinero Junction south.  The 38-miles line crossed 10 bridges; the largest was the 800-foot-long High Bridge that stood 113 feet high.

The Lake City Times heralded the arrival of the long-awaited railroad:

"The town has awakened from its long sleep; new people and new enterprises are coming in at a rapid rate; outside capital is coming to the rescue, and Lake City is on the eve of a prosperity such as it has never seen before.  Mines that have been practically untouched for years are now being profitably worked under the impetus given by ample shipping facilities and cheaper rates; the stores and residences that have been so long vacant are rapidly filling up, and the patient people who have endured the horrors and the hardships of business inactivity for years now wear the smile of gladness and joy."**

The railroad stimulated mining operations by providing efficient transportation for ore shipped to mills and smelters at Salida, Pueblo, and Denver.  The railroads also fostered mining by providing economical freight shipment, which lowered the prices of mining supplies and equipment as well as general goods and merchandise.  This reduced the cost of mining thereby extending the lives of many mines that had previously been unprofitable.

The Denver & Rio Grande line had other impacts.  It expanded the availability of building materials, such as architectural trim applied to Queen Anne style dwellings in Lake City during the 1890s.  The railroad bolstered the ranching industry by shipping cattle raised on ranches along the Lake Fork and by bringing sheep for summer grazing along the Lake Fork valley in northern Hinsdale County.  It also linked the isolated location with the rest of the state and nation, encouraging sportsmen and tourists to visit the upper Lake Fork.

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*   "Lake City - Its Early History," The Silver World, November 18, 1876, 3.

**  Lake City Times quoted by Frank Hall, History of Colorado, Chicago: Blakely Press, 1895, 159.
 Town of Lake City, PO Box 544, Lake City, CO  81235.  970-944-2333.  
The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad's Lake City line extended from Sapinero to Lake City.  Of the ten bridges on this line, the largest was the High Bridge:  800 feet long and 113 feet high.  Click image for larger pop-up view.
On the Lake Fork Spur of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.  The northern-most section of rail was completed in 1889, with the first train arriving in Lake City in August of that year.  Click image for larger pop-up view.