Parker's Railroad History
Parts of the old railroad bed are visible on the north side of Hilltop Road and on the Sulphur Gulch Trail behind the PACE Center.
Believing adequate transportation was a vital prerequisite to social and economic development, John Evans was a tireless advocate for new transportation projects, especially those involving railroads. Because of early RR successes in Illinois, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him as the second Territorial Governor of Colorado. If ever an area needed a leader who would fight for adequate transportation, it was the rugged Colorado Territory of the 1860s. His first projects were a wagon road and possibly a rail line over Berthoud Pass. Then he fought for support of the Colorado Central Line to Blackhawk and Central City. A project that was to occupy the next eight years of his life was the Denver South Park & Pacific, which was incorporated in 1872.
Evans’s next project, taken up in 1881, was to occupy him the rest of his life. His goal was to build a standard-gauge RR and telegraph line to Fort Worth, Texas, and there link up with existing roads to New Orleans. The Denver & New Orleans RR was incorporated in January of 1881. The Fort Worth and Denver City RR in Texas also had hopes of building to Denver, and through negotiation, they combined forces. The D&NO would build to the Texas border, and the FW & DC would meet them there. This plan initiated a RR control war with the Union Pacific, Denver & Rio Grande, and the Santa Fe railroads. This tripartite group had divided up the Colorado and northern New Mexico territory, and resisted any efforts of other newcomers to infringe upon their business. Later the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroads joined their efforts. This control war was to continue and frustrate the D&NO at every turn for many years.
Construction on the new D&NO line began in March 1881. A wooden depot was built in Denver at 11th and Wynkoop streets. By November 17th 1881, track layers had reached Melvin, and by the end of the month, Parker. Track laying progressed on average one mile per day. A 378-foot trestle and seven miles of steady 2.0 % grade were necessary to reach the community of Bellview, (Later renamed Hilltop), southeast of Parker. By the close of the year they were just outside of Elizabeth.
On April 29, 1882 the rails reached Pueblo and on May 11th, regular service between Denver & Pueblo began. By December 1st, the track from Manitou Junction to Colorado Springs was finished. However money became scarce and building the D&NO stalled at Pueblo. In 1883, John Evans was not re-elected as director and the investors selected General Grenville Dodge of the FW & DC. The FW & DC continued to build northward and by 1884 they were 148 miles north of Wichita Falls, Texas. Even though the D&NO was stalled at Pueblo, the FW & DC continued on to the Canadian River.
By mid 1885, with the financial situation worsening, due mostly to the problems due raised by the tripartite, Evans thought a name change might help secure investors. The name was changed to the D&NO Railway Company. One week later, the Denver, Texas & Gulf Company, became the new name, with the same old directors. To help his situation, Evans began courting the New Colorado Midland RR and signed an operating agreement with them in mid-1886. Meanwhile, there were signs of discontent in the Tripartite. The Santa Fe was tired of its track-sharing agreement with the Rio Grande and set out to buy the D&NO. There were better days ahead.
On February 15th, 1887, Evans signed an agreement to build the 481-mile gap between Pueblo and Quanah, the rail head of the FW&DC. New money from eastern investors had been obtained. This new agreement authorized the formation of a new organization, the Denver, Texas & Fort Worth RR. The purpose of this railroad was to build from Pueblo to the Texas/New Mexico border, where connections were to be made with the FW&DC. Once the line was completed, the DT&FW and the FW&DC would operate as one line. Construction began and was progressing from both ends. In a January 24, 1888 interview, Gen. Mgr. C.F. Meek said, “We expect to be running trains into Denver from New Orleans by the middle of March.” He made arrangements for outfitting the road with Pullman cars, new rolling stock, and 70 new locomotives. When the rails were joined, Pullman vestibule, sleeper and dining cars would make a daily run between Denver and Texas. The last spike was driven on March 14th, 1888. The first excursion train, going the entire length, departed the same day. It was announced that freight service would begin immediately. The first freight car to travel the entire line carried a slogan “Picked in the tropics yesterday, to be eaten in the Rocky Mountains tomorrow.” The first regularly scheduled DT&FW passenger train to the Gulf left Denver on Monday, April 9, 1888 at 8:15 am. Superintendent Grover reported the completion of an extensive telegraph upgrade to double wire the entire DT&FW.
Parker, 23 rail miles south of Denver, was situated at the foot of the steepest grade on the line. It was therefore the permanent home of a helper engine for southbound traffic.
The DT&FW entered into a comprehensive traffic agreement on May 17th, 1889. This break in attitude towards the D&NO by the Union Pacific came about because of the need for railroad business to be channeled from outlying points towards the transcontinental railroads. Twelve railroads controlled by the UP were combined into a single system named the Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf Railway Co. This consolidation did not cover the FW & DC, but it remained under the UP control. The UP began immediate upgrades to the system and all was well for a time. On May 5th, 1893, after a wave of bankruptcies caused by silver panic that had destroyed major firms across the country, stock prices sunk to all-time lows. This caused the UPD&G to go down with the rest of the nation. In October 1893, the UPD&G was placed into the hands of receivers. At the urging of John Evans, the courts appointed Frank Trumball as receiver for the UPD&G.
By the summer of 1893, John Evans’s health was failing, and on the night of July 2, news of his impending death was given out. He died during the night.
The Colorado & Southern Railway was chartered on December 20th, 1898. A reorganization of management occurred with the intent for it to be a separate organization from the Union Pacific. The C & S made an agreement that would allow them to use the main line of the Santa Fe between Denver and Pueblo, saving time and money. This agreement marked the beginning of the end for the old D&NO line. Although it was announced that the old line would remain in service, the number of trains to traverse the old route was sharply reduced, as was the maintenance on the line. By 1900 unnecessary side tracks began to come up. Service on the old line, south of Falcon, became non-existent. The Falcon Depot closed in June of 1904. Business there would be handled by the Rock Island. Business along the Falcon line began to deteriorate as well as the road bed. Washed-out rail bed and trestles continued to be a problem. After the flood of 1935, line abandonment seemed to be the only course of action by the ownership, which was the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy. They had acquired 64% ownership on the line in December of 1908. A petition for closing the Parker Depot was granted effective April 10, 1931. The closure was permitted on the condition that shippers were allowed a telephone call from the depot phone at the expense of the railroad to the agent at Elizabeth to order cars.
The C&S surrendered its mail contract on Dec. 16, 1935 and Elbert trucker Grant Vail was awarded the contract to haul mail to Parker, Franktown, Elizabeth, Kiowa and Elbert. In 1936, a C&S petition for line abandonment was granted and track removal began on the Falcon branch. Scrappers completed rail removal operations to Hilltop on Oct. 27th and within two weeks had passed Mainstreet in Parker. Ed Patterson, a janitor at the Parker School purchased the old Depot, Section House, Tool House, two bunk cars, the water tank and other property for $175. Roy Woodbury, also of Parker, bought the stock yards for $50. 95% of the right of way was returned to adjoining land owners. 5% was set aside for highway construction projects between Parker and Hilltop.
Information for this brief was taken from Denver & New Orleans: In the Shadow of the Rockies by James R. Jones and Gulf to Rockies by Richard C. Overton.