(WOODLAND PARK, Colo.) — Nestled amidst the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, most people know Woodland Park as a picturesque pit stop for travelers en route to the mountains. However, beneath its tranquil veneer lies a rich and vibrant history, steeped in the traditions of the Wild West.
From Utes to Railways
Before cowboys and loggers, it was the Ute Tribe that initially inhabited this mountainous land. The Utes were the first to use the Ute Pass, using teams of oxen to bring up supplies.
“Then later on the wagon trains came up the pass and then eventually it was the train. And the train changed the whole game,” said Pat Hyslop, Ute Pass Historical Society board member.
The Colorado Midland Railway, constructed by John J. Hagerman, sealed Woodland Park’s destiny, officially achieving town status in 1891. The town drew its name from the dense woods enveloping it.
The town’s allure grew rapidly, especially with its strategic location along the Colorado Midland Railway, providing easy access to supplies before the mining town of Cripple Creek.
Donna Finicle, the Ute Pass Historical Society President, notes, “Even today, it [Woodland Park] is a center for tourists. Tourists come through here and they resupply as they go to all those beautiful places in the mountains. So we’re still a service center up here.”
A haven from tuberculosis
During the early 1900s, Woodland Park also became a haven for those seeking relief from tuberculosis. The elevated altitude served as a barrier against the spread of the disease.
John J. Hagerman, who built the Colorado Midland Railway, himself arrived in Colorado with tuberculosis, expecting his days to be numbered, yet he went on to live a number of years after his move.
“I was doing the history of all the early little businesses in this town, and almost every single business had someone in the family that had tuberculosis… People don’t understand how it affected Colorado, we were the place to come if you had tuberculosis,” said Hyslop.
Pikes Peak Lettuce and Lumber
The Conor M. Jones lumber industry fueled Woodland Park’s early economic prosperity. Local forests supplied the town’s five sawmills with the timber needed for lumber and railroad ties, contributing to the construction of mines and railroads across Colorado.
The significance of this industrious logging led to the establishment of the Pike National Forest to preserve these invaluable woodlands.
Despite the high altitude and dry weather Woodland Park boasted a flourishing agriculture industry, famous for producing the nation’s finest potatoes and lettuce. These commercial farming endeavors lasted well into the 1950s, known for their prized “Pikes Peak lettuce.”
Dude Ranches and the Wild West
With the decline of the agriculture industry, the tourism sector started to ascend.
During the early 20th century, Woodland Park witnessed the rise of two major attractions: ranching and rodeos. Cattle ranches and the allure of dude ranches lured visitors seeking an authentic Wild West experience.
Paradise Ranch, in particular, garnered fame for hosting public rodeos, featuring not only thrilling equestrian events but also baseball games, parades, and Kaleb Moore’s iconic afternoon dances.
“People would come here and look for that relaxation and entertainment, which is in the form of wine, women, and song… And so we did meet some of those needs here in town,” Hyslop said gambling and bootlegging were a part of the city’s appeal.
The spirit of the Wild West prevailed in Woodland Park until fairly recently. Larry Black a resident of almost 60 years recalls when he first moved to Woodland Park, “Horses were everywhere… There were riding stables here and people would ride their horses through town.”
“My understanding is that the town fought not to have the roads paved because everybody did ride their horses… But CDOT insisted since [U.S. Route] 24 is a highway that they had to pave. So that I think I don’t think it happened till the seventies that they actually paved the roads.” said Hyslop.
City Above the Clouds
Throughout its history, the undeniable beauty of the city with its panoramic views of Pikes Peak has earned it a few mottos, ‘Scenic Sylvan Reesort,’ and ‘Mantelpiece of the Pikes Peak Region,’ before coining the term ‘City Above the Clouds,’ a few decades ago by longtime resident Cal Elder.
The historical society finished its award-winning documentary: Dude Ranches in the Shadows of Pikes Peak, which is available for the public to buy at the Ute Pass Historical Society Museum. Their second documentary coming out soon: The Mighty Midland and the Towns It Built, will be about how tuberculosis brought in much of the population we see today.
The Ute Pass Historical Society’s mission is to preserve and share history offering insights into the city’s vibrant past through documentaries and museum exhibits, ensuring that the legacy of Woodland Park endures for generations to come.