John Evans, the second governor of the Colorado Territory from 1862-1865, was born in Waynesville, Ohio, on March 9, 1814. In 1838 Evans graduated with an M.D. from Clermont Academy. In the 1860s, Dr. Evans traveled extensively throughout Colorado on horseback and by stagecoach. The Governor was well aware of the significant timber, agricultural and mineral resources of the area and the need for adequate, reliable transportation into the "back country." Dr. Evans, like his predecessor William Gilpin, saw Denver as the future hub of the railroad industry. Dr. Evans secured federal land grants and county bonds to create a Union Pacific line from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Denver, a route that opened on June 24, 1870. Dr. Evans continued to be the main financier of Denver's railroad empire until his death on July 2, 1897. The Denver, South Park and Pacific, among other lines, were all made possible by John Evans' vision and capital.
As early as 1868, now former Governor Evans and his associates had commissioned a survey for a railway line from Denver to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Dr. Evans and 2 of his associates formed the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railway on October 1, 1872. Unable to generate adequate funding, no construction was accomplished by this firm.
Then, on June 16, 1873, Dr. Evans formed a new company under the charter of the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad. Grading was begun south of Denver on August 1873. After numerous delays the first rails were spiked down on May 18, 1874. The DSP&P would soon use much of earlier right-of-way surveys through the South Platte River Canyon. (Early newspapers and timetables would use the Spanish spelling of "Cañon.")
The South Park line would be built to the same three-foot (narrow) gauge that earlier had been adopted by William Jackson Palmer's Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. This narrow-gauge, it was believed, could better cope with mountainous terrain, with its ability to use a smaller right-of-way, sharper curves, lighter rails and smaller, less expensive equipment. It was thought that a narrow gauge line could be constructed for about one-third the cost of a standard gauge line.
The first construction attempted by the new DSP&P was from Denver to Morrison, a small quarry town 16 miles (25.8 km) southwest. The road's construction company, the Denver Railway Association, completed the DSP&P's line to Morrison quite rapidly. By late June 1874, the line was in operation.
Also, by 1874, rich gold and silver strikes were being made near Leadville and elsewhere. Plans were soon formed to continue from Denver to the Arkansas Valley and Leadville, some 150 miles (241.5 km) distant. The Morrison line would soon become a branch as the mainline continued south from Bear Creek Junction, near the present day Denver suburb of Ft. Logan. Here, the DSP&P erected a two-story, wood-framed depot. By the 1890s the location would become known as Sheridan Junction.
Track laying crews followed grading and bridge builders as they advanced slowly through the narrow defiles of the Platte Canyon throughout 1877-78. The line through the Platte River Canyon was considered an engineering marvel in its day.
The summer of 1878 saw the arrival of the railroad's first locomotive. After the rails reached Dome Rock in Platte River Canyon a special run was made behind the new locomotive. Fourteen cars of invited guests were taken to the then end-of-track at Dome Rock on June 7, 1878. Buffalo (Buffalo Creek) came next along with Pine (Pine Grove) and the track laying progressed as far as Bailey's (Bailey), some 47 miles (75.7 km) from Bear Creek Junction by late autumn 1878. The line was officially opened to Bailey's on October 11th.
As the South Park railhead advanced, horse-drawn freight and stage lines met it. Leadville was now "booming" with passengers and tons of supplies bound for the thriving mining camps.
By early 1879, DSP&P tracks had reached Webster and by March of 1879 track crews were busy on the four percent grade up Kenosha Hill (Kenosha Pass). The summit, at an elevation of 9991 ft (3045 meters) was reached on May 19th and then it was an easy, sweeping, downhill run to the floor of the Great South Park. Work was now being pushed 24 hours a day with torches being used to light the way at night.
The future division point of Como (and ending point for this essay) was reached in June of 1879. The mainline trackage was rapidly pushed across South Park's flat valley. By October the South Park trackmen had reached Weston on the southern end of the park and by February 1880 trackage had reached the Arkansas River and Buena Vista. Some 36 miles (58 km) from Buena Vista, Leadville would be reached first by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. A joint operating agreement allowed DSP&P trains to operate into Leadville, via Buena Vista, until the DSP&P completed their Leadville branch, via Breckenridge, in 1884.
The Denver, South Park and Pacific would construct a line into Gunnison via the Alpine Tunnel. At an elevation of 11524ft (3513 meters), the Alpine Tunnel was prone to snow blockages and cave-ins. It was a continual source of trouble and expense for the railroad. However, despite initial and then continuing difficulties with the tunnel, the first train into Gunnison arrived on September 1, 1882. Although the DSP&P would later construct several branch lines in the area, trackage would not continue past Gunnison. After the Leadville branch was completed in 1884, the railroad would grow no more.
Although the period from the early 1880s to the early 1900s would generally be good for the railroad, operations through the troublesome Alpine Tunnel would end in late 1910. 1915 was the year in which it became clear trains would not run again through the Alpine Tunnel to Gunnison. The first recorded rail removal was in November 1918 while the 1920s saw the abandonment and removal of various branch lines. Although operations continued into Leadville and Climax into the early 1940s, it had become clear for some time that the end was approaching. The last run on the South Park Line was made on August 25, 1943.
Chappell, Richardson & Hauck, Colorado Rail Annual No. 12
, Colorado Railroad Museum, Golden, CO, 1974
Ferrell, Mallory Hope, The South Park Line
, Hundman Publishing, Inc., Mukilteo, WA, 2003Biography of John Evans
, The Territorial Governors Collection at the Colorado State Archives
While dates attributed to the archival photographs may be quite accurate, all should be considered an approximation or "best estimate."