History Mills cut a swath through local industry

Mills cut a swath through local industry

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By Rob Carrigan, robcarrigan1@gmail.com

Railroad building and general development in the Denver and Colorado Springs area has made logging here, at least a century-old tradition. Early mills in the Black Forest and at Husted, Perry Park, and on Cherry Creek, date back to days of Pikes Peak Gold Rush in the early 1860s.
General William Jackson Palmer's construction and planning of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad accelerated the process. Interestingly, if you look at early 1900-era photos, you will notice the level of logging operations along the Palmer Divide in the denuded mountainsides.
Palmer established the Colorado Pinery Trust in 1870. Logging in the Black Forest, or Pinery, reached its height in the summer of 1870 and eventually more than one billion feet of lumber was removed to provide ties for the Kansas Pacific, Denver and Rio Grande and New Orleans Railroads, and lumber for projects along the tracks.
Black Forest, a very prosperous land, thick with trees in the mid-1800s; and railroads, with a need for lumber to supply growing towns along the tracks, were soon dotted by sawmills on the landscape.
Those who owned saw mills prospered, especially General William Jackson Palmer, who once owned most of Black Forest known at that time as the Pinery.
“General Palmer bought a huge amount of land out there. He bought it for $2 an acre,” Judy von Ahlefeldt, author of “Thunder, Sun and Snow: The History of Colorado’s Black Forest,” said.
In 1860, Robert Finley came to Black Forest and brought in the first sawmill operation. The sawmill industry lasted well into the 1960s. The sawmills also operated in outlying areas of Black Forest, including Spring Creek, Husted, Table Rock, Eastonville and Monument. In 1970 von Ahlefeldt moved to Black Forest and remembers a sawmill that was still up and running.
In her book von Ahlefeldt talks about the different sawmills. Jerome Weir and business partner Judd bought the Finley mill in 1863. According to an article in the Douglas County News dated June 23, 1966 the very first post office in Eastonville was located in the Weir sawmill. In 1865 Calvin Husted started his mill on Monument Creek near Husted while Philip P. Gomer established Gomer’s Mill northeast of Eastonville on Kiowa Creek.
Gomer’s Mill was a major supplier of timber to the Kansas Pacific Railroad which was located north east of Black Forest according to von Ahlefeldt’s book. She goes on to say that Palmer was director of construction for the railroad but had plans to start his own railroad and would need timber for that. In 1869 he formed the Colorado Pinery Trust Company and purchased more than 43,000 acres of land in Elbert and El Paso Counties.
Another big mill operation came in 1917 and that was the Edgar Lumber and Box Company. A majority of the saw mills according to von Ahlefeldt’s book were located in Black Forest.
H.C. Blakely owned a saw mill north of Monument, possibly in Palmer Lake, in 1875. Someone by the name of Huddle owned a mill in Monument in the early 1900s, according to von Ahlefeldt’s book, but no details are given. Rogers Davis, museum director for the Lucretia Vaile Museum in Palmer Lake, said one well known family from Monument owned a saw mill.
“The Schubarth family had one but no one knows specifically where it was,” Davis said, adding that Schubarth most likely had a portable saw mill.
“Schubarth had a portable set-up. He would go where the timber was,” confirmed Jim Sawatzki, local filmmaker.
Sawatzki said a well-known saw mill in the area was owned by D.C. Oakes.
Oakes saw mill was northeast of Larkspur. He was one of the earliest sawmills,” Sawatzki said. “Wood from his mill built some of the early structures in Denver. He was a very early pioneer, an interesting figure.
According to the Larkspur Historical Society Daniel Cheeseman Oakes set-up his saw mill in 1859 in Douglas County in an area called Riley’s Gulch. His saw mill also housed a post office and was washed away in the flood of 1864.
In her book von Ahlefeldt lists a G.W. Higby mill and in “History Colorado, Volume Four” authored by Wilbur Fiske Stone he mentions a J.W. Higby who bought 1,640 acres near Monument and erected a number of sawmills. Wood from his saw mills provided 50,000 railroad ties for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Company. It is not known if the two were related or not.
When white men began to settle the region in the late 1850's the Black Forest became an important center of activity, primarily as a source of scarce timber. The first of what would be several dozen sawmills was constructed in 1860. Lumber and mine props were supplied to build Colorado Springs and Denver. Logging in the Pineries reached its height in the summer of 1870 when over 700 teamsters and 1,000 lumberjacks and tie hacks were employed, mostly for railway work. More than one billion board feet of lumber were removed to provide ties for the Kansas Pacific, Denver and Rio Grande and New Orleans Railroads.
"The larger area traditionally known as the Pineries extended from Divide, (in Teller County), through the present planning area and east along the Platte-Arkansas Divide to a point where the Ponderosa Pines thinned out. Altogether the Pineries encompassed a 1,000 square mile area. Although the origin of the name is not clear, that portion of the Pineries north of Colorado Springs became known as the "Black Forest" by around the turn of the century.
"Arrowheads and charcoal pits provide evidence that the planning area was occupied by Native Americans at least 800 years ago. The first known inhabitants were the Ute and Commanche Indians. The dense Ponderosa Pines provided them with protection, fuel, and timber for lodgepoles. These tribes were displaced by the Kiowas around 1800. Almost 40 years later the Arapahoe and Cheyenne tribes joined forces to drive out the Kiowas and become the last Native Americans to inhabit the area," according to History information from the Black Forest Preservation Plan, a document first developed in 1974 by the El Paso County Planning Commission, and updated several times since.
"Although lumbering continued sporadically through the 1950's, farming and ranching had become the dominant activities by the 1880's. A wide variety of crops were raised including, cattle, sheep, alfalfa, wheat, corn, hay and beans. Potatoes, however, were the agricultural product for which the Black Forest area became most renown. Agricultural productivity was subject to boom and bust cycles with crops often ruined by drought, floods, hail, blizzards, or grasshoppers. The drought of the 1920's and the Depression of the 1930's combined to eliminate most types of agriculture in the planning area. By the 1920's the area was mostly consolidated into large ranches. Some of these remain today," according to Black Forest Preservation Plan information.
Several towns and settlements dotted the planning area at one time or another during its history. The largest and most long-lived of these was the Town of Eastonville. Eastonville (actually located just to the east of the planning area) was begun in the early 1880's as a stop on the C & S Railroad. Its population peaked at about 400 in 1910 and was already in decline when the railroad ceased operations in 1935. Today only a few remnants of the once thriving townsite remain.
"In the forest itself, modern subdivision had a fitful start in the 1920's when Dreamland and Brentwood Country Clubs were organized. Although these ventures were not particularly successful, they did represent the beginning of what would become a significant summer home market in the planning area. A boom in year-round subdivisions took place in the late 1950's and early 1960's. Most of the planning area was zoned for five acre minimum lot sizes in 1965," the plan notes.
Primarily in response to plans for a major transportation corridor through the eastern portion of the planning area, residents and County staff initiated work on a comprehensive land use plan in the early 1970's. The result of this effort was adoption of the Black Forest Preservation Plan in 1974. While this plan recommended rural-residential uses for most of the planning area, it also delineated several large areas for mixed urban uses. The largest of these was in the southeast where the new "city" of Latigo would later be proposed.
The Black Forest Fire in June of 2013, and related mitigation efforts, re-focused attention on the nearby logging operations.
Bob Olson, who lives in the Black Forest area himself, set up his modern answer on Jim Maguire's property on State Highway 105 in Monument, in the form of his WoodMizer portable sawmill. The mill looks something like a big bandsaw and automates some of the complicated setup with its high-tech operation. Logs from a house lot down on Old Ranch Road, areas in the burn area, and locations in Woodmoor, as well other areas, all contributed to a week's cut and mill process. The Maguire property milling operation was abuzz once again in 2013.
Other sawing operations have been working on Jim Maguire's property since that time.
And continued plans for buildings produced the from lumber are ongoing.
A stage stop log cabin 18 feet by 16 feet, dedicated to recalling the losses suffered by some in the Black Forest Fire, was one of those structures. Some salvageable, but slightly burned logs, originated in the burn area and 44 timbers, seven inches by 10 inches, were milled for the structure.
"This place is part of an old homestead," says Maguire. "And a stage at one time was the only way of getting here before the rails."
Then, of course, the rails were among the main reasons for the lumber operations.

Photo Information:
1. The D.C. Oakes Sawmill in Huntsville, near Larkspur (Douglas County), was one of the earliest sawmill operations.
2. D.C. Oakes was one of the founders of Denver, and may have been of the most hated men of his time by the gold prospectors who failed to become rich taking his advice from his “Pike’s Peak Guide and Journal.”
3. Charlie Shubarth's  steam-driven tractor was probably used to also power a portable sawmill in the Monument and Palmer Lake areas.
4. Higby's Store in 1900, was owned by Gene Higby, and he also owned a sawmill at this time. Higbys owned several mills in the area in early days of Monument, Larkspur and Greenland.

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