Mile High Station

By Carter-Birken, Pamela | Humanities, September/October 2010 | Go to article overview

Mile High Station


Carter-Birken, Pamela, Humanities


COLORADO DENVER ALMOST DIDN'T BECOME DENVER. Prospectors were not striking it rich panning for gold. Leaders of the infant mining town at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River felt they needed bigger, heavier equipment to dig deeper and get the ore out. What they needed, they determined, was the railroad.

Denver pinned its economic hopes on becoming a stop along the Transcontinental Railroad. Equipment, tools, and other supplies could arrive from the East while cattle, grain, coal, and gold ore shipped out. But, in 1865, the Union Pacific Railroad announced it was too hard to runnel through the high Rocky Mountain peales hugging Denver, and opted for the terrain of Cheyenne, Wyoming, a low point in the Continental Divide. When the news hit town, Denver's population plummeted.

Those who remained turned desperation into determination. Roch/ Mountain /Vt7i>s editor William Byers and Governor John Evans united in their conviction that if the railroad wouldn't come to them, they would come to the railroad. Byers and other town leaders established the Denver Pacific Railway and Telegraph Company in 1867 to build a 106-mile rail line to Cheyenne, and grading began the next spring. In 1870, the track between Denver and Cheyenne was completed, providing access to the nation.

Within ten years, thirteen railroad companies were operating separate depots in Denver, creating a chaotic haphazard system. New York financier Jay Gould had created a single unified train depot in other American towns, and with the assistance of local businessman Walter Cheesman, he proceeded to do likewise in the Mile High City. The station was built on the edge of town but didn't remain an outskirt for long; the city came to meet it. In the early days, hotels, warehouses, and stockyards thrived in proximity to the rails. Later, banks, stores, and other businesses filled in to form the downtown Denver of today. Within a few years of Union Station's 1881 opening, sixty passenger trains were passing through Denver every day.

Denver Union Station: Portal to Progress, a film by producerdirector Jim Havey, tells the stories of Byers and Evans, Gould and Cheesman, and of moving tons of freight and thousands of people daily. The film was distributed by Colorado Humanities to 1,700 Colorado elementary schools and public libraries.

Denver's ambitions didn't end with the station. Competing to attract conferences and conventions, the city built a bronze arch just outside the station, lit with over two thousand lightbulbs. …

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