Ute Pass History

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Ute Pass

Ute Pass is located in central Colorado along U.S. Highway 24 west of Colorado Springs. The pass includes the towns of Cascade, Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls, Crystola, Woodland Park, and Divide. It skirts the north side of Pikes Peak through the Fountain Creek canyon west of Manitou Springs, and climbs 3,000 feet to its summit in Divide at 9,165 feet. It is one of only a handful of access points into the Rocky Mountains along Colorado’s front range.

Ute Pass

A View of Ute Pass

Ute Pass was first used as a trail between the prairies and the mountains by the Ute people, who depended on the resources of both areas to support their nomadic lifestyle. In the 1860s, the Ute trail became a wagon road connecting Colorado City to the mining camp of Leadville. Travelers through the pass brought prosperity to the region.

Starting in 1888, the Colorado Midland Railway ran tracks through Ute Pass in to the mines at Leadville, Aspen, and later Cripple Creek. With the coming of the railroad, tourism flourished. Hotels, cabins, and small lakes were built to serve the crowds of summer guests and expanded the local economy that had previously relied on ranching and lumber mills. Mining declined over the years and the railroad stopped running, but tourism continued to flourish in the mountain towns. Today, the railroad tracks are gone, and the old wagon road is a four-lane U.S. highway.

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View of Cascade

View of Cascade

Cascade has drawn tourists since 1888, when the large, elegant Ramona Hotel was built. The Ramona was torn down in 1924, but the Pikes Peak Toll Highway, also built in 1888, and Santa’s Village North Pole amusement park, built in 1956, are still attracting visitors today. The Pikes Peak Hill Climb, the second oldest car race in the country, attracts thousands of competitors and fans to the area every July.

Cascade began as a camping spot for parties of Ute Indians and later freight wagon drivers and weary travelers who stopped to rest where the narrow red rock canyon of Fountain Creek widens into a valley. An early settler, Lucius French, ran a shingle mill there, and the Long family pastured their dairy cows in the meadow. Henrietta Browning also settled there. After she was widowed, she married Daniel Steffa and became one of the leading citizens of Woodland Park. Sisters Eliza and Caroline Marriot built the Eastholme Hotel and opened a post office in 1887. David N. Heizer, mayor of Colorado Springs, became involved with the community in the late 1880s and participated in the building of the Pikes Peak Toll Road, the Cascade House Hotel, and the Ramona Hotel.

After the completion of the Pikes Peak Toll Road in 1888, thousands of visitors rode the Colorado Midland Railroad to Cascade every year to take the carriage ride to the summit of Pikes Peak. The most famous of these travelers was Catherine Lee Bates, who was inspired to write the words of “America The Beautiful” after seeing the view from the top of the mountain.

Another prominent local resident was Thomas Cusack, who was known as the Billboard King of Chicago, having made his fortune as a sign maker after immigrating to America from Ireland as a boy. In 1895, Cusack bought a home in Cascade. In the 1920s he built an elegant mansion, Marigreen Pines, in memory of his wife, Mary Greene Cusack. He purchased the Cascade Town Company in 1920. He made plans to further the development of Cascade as a resort and tore down the aging and neglected Ramona Hotel. He died before he was able to build a new resort.

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Chipita Park

The community of Chipita Park was first known as Ute Park. In 1890, the Ute Pass Land and Water Company opened the Ute Hotel there. The company also built a number of summer cottages and a lake. Guests enjoyed live music and dancing, hiking, and other entertainment. The hotel burned because of a chimney fire on New Year’s Eve of 1899. The Colorado Midland Railway had a pretty red sandstone train depot just below the hotel, but it was closed and then torn down after the fire.

Ute Hotel in Chipita Park

Other local businesses included the Joe Sales sawmill, which cut trees from Bald Mountain and Manitou Park into lumber. William Wellington and Nathan Culver had ranches in the area. They grazed their cattle on Rampart Range in the summer and brought them back down to the pass for the winter.

In the 1927 Frank Marcroft bought the Ute Pass Land and Water Company and began to develop the area into a resort once again. The local community center is named for him. Marcroft changed the town’s name to Chipita Park. He built the Chipita Park Lodge, which served as a post office, store, and community gathering spot. This building is now a bed and breakfast.

Marcroft had a nine-hole golf course where Ute Pass Elementary School is today. There were also stables and tennis courts, and the lake was kept stocked with trout. Marcroft promoted the community on many trips to the prairie states, inviting people to visit or build summer homes in the cool mountains. After Marcroft died in 1941, the Chipita Park area became mostly residential again.

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Green Mountain Falls

Green Mountain Falls, in the lower part of Ute Pass, was ranched by George Howard in 1881. He and his friend Ogden Whitlock built the first house there. In 1887, W.J. Foster bought the valley in order to build a summer resort. He named the area Green Mountain Falls. The Colorado Midland Railroad was built through the valley around the same time.

Green Mountain Falls 1900

Green Mountain Falls 1900

Green Mountain Falls was built for tourists and enjoyed great success from the start. In 1888, the lake was excavated, the island and gazebo were built, the streets were laid out, and about 100 tent cabins were constructed on the hillsides. Hundreds of guests rented tent cabins each summer. The Green Mountain Falls Hotel and the Lakeside Hotel opened in 1889. A small train depot beside the lake brought visitors from across the country to relax in the cool mountain valley. In 1890, Green Mountain Falls was incorporated as a town.

A typical tent cabin had a wooden floor and a canvas top, and was furnished with a pot-bellied stove, beds, and a table and chairs. Prices were between $4 and $7 per week. On the other end of the spectrum of accommodations was the three-story Green Mountain Falls Hotel, which had 70 guest rooms, a large dining room, and parlor. There were wide verandas for sitting or strolling.

The lake was the center of activity and offered boating and fishing. Guests could also watch a baseball game, take a burro or hot-air balloon ride, hike to the falls, race boats, go to a Saturday night dance, listen to a concert by the Colorado Midland Band, or choose one of the many other amusements available.

By 1900, the town had several hotels, a train station, three grocery stores, a church, school, newspaper, an icehouse, blacksmith shop, and other businesses. A fire department was created in 1908 after the Green Mountain Falls Hotel burned. Ice cutting and ranching were also important enterprises in early Green Mountain Falls.

The Brockhurst Ranch was run by Henry Brockhurst, who lived there most of his life. His grandmother came from Scotland to homestead the ranch in 1887. Henry and his wife, LuLu, began dude ranching in 1936. The Brockhursts donated the ranch to the Woodland Park Lions Club to become a home for emotionally disturbed boys in 1962.

Today, most of the vacation homes in Green Mountain Falls have been converted to year-round homes, but many historic buildings and Victorian houses remain. These include the Church in the Wildwood, built in 1889, the Hotel Outlook that originally was a manse for the church, the Lakeview Terrace Hotel, and the gazebo on the island in the lake, which was restored in 2008.

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Crystola is a small community just east of Woodland Park once known as Trout Park. The early residents there were cattle ranchers. The Benedict family and their associates claimed the area as their own in the 1860s. The Sharrocks, Scotts, and Talcotts moved into the area in the early 1870s and ended the Benedicts’ sole possession of the area, although the Benedicts destroyed the Sharrocks home twice before they gave up harassing the newcomers. In 1873 George Sharrock opened a roadhouse known as the Junction House to serve the steady stream of travelers through the pass. The Scott family also took in guests at their Silver Springs Ranch.

Lookout Mountain Above Crystola 1920

Lookout Mountain Above Crystola 1920

The local ranchers shared their section of the pass with a colony of spiritualists in the 1890s. Henry Childs, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, built a home there in 1876. He also began to run a small ranch and lumber mill. He and his wife, Catherine, consulted their crystal ball regularly and held séances in their home with visiting spiritual mediums.

After one medium, Professor Kimball, revealed that there was gold in the area, Henry Childs founded the Brotherhood Gold Mining and Milling Company in 1897. A number of people were convinced to invest large sums of money. In 1899, the company was reorganized as the Crystola Brotherhood Town, Mine and Milling Company and built an ore-processing mill. The oracles proved untrue, and the mill was never opened. Although many people searched for gold in Ute Pass and several gold mining companies were formed, no gold was ever found there. The real wealth for Ute Pass residents was in the commerce passing to and from the gold and silver mines in Leadville, Aspen, and Cripple Creek.

The Crystola Town Company built a railroad station, grocery store, and post office to accommodate a growing population of spiritualists. Shares in the community were sold across the country. Soon the town also had a school and a water system. After Childs died in 1910, he willed that his land should be used to form a school of spiritualism. The Rev. Hiram Vrooman worked to carry out Childs’ wishes. Vrooman sponsored summer lectures, sold lots, and rented camp sites for more than 15 years, but Crystola failed to grow. Eventually, the hotel, grocery, and post office burned, and the lumber from the mill was used to build a barn.

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Woodland Park

Woodland Park is the business and population center of Teller County, although Cripple Creek is the county seat. Many of the town’s first residents made a living in lumber, tourism, or ranching. Woodland Park was first called Manitou Park when it was founded in 1887. It was then briefly known as Belmont in honor of Dr. William Bell, who owned the Manitou Park tourist resort to the north and was the founder of Manitou Springs. The city was incorporated as Woodland Park in 1891.

Woodland Park Rodeo 1923

Woodland Park Rodeo 1923

The Colorado Midland Railway rolled through Woodland Park on its trek through the mountains. The town had a passenger and freight depot as well as a railroad dining room prior to the start of dining-car service on the trains around 1892. During the 1890s when thousands of people migrated to Cripple Creek to join the gold rush, the trains and stagecoaches brought a tremendous amount of commerce through the growing town.

Several hotels in Woodland Park accommodated tourists and other travelers. The 15-room Crest Hotel was the first hotel in town. It operated from 1889 until it was torn down in 1910. The wood was reused to build houses in town.

The Woodland Hotel with its witch’s-hat tower had 42 bedrooms, a large dining room served by two kitchens, and two parlors. On opening day in 1892, the hotel impressed its guests by serving drinks with ice cubes. It later served as a tuberculosis sanitarium before it was eventually torn down in 1939. It is thought that Winfield Stratton, who went on to become a millionaire in Cripple Creek, was one of the carpenters who built the hotel.

Five sawmills in and around Woodland Park produced tons of lumber and railroad ties for use in Colorado Springs and other cities and in Colorado’s mines and railroads. It was common to see large stacks of lumber piled throughout the center of town waiting for shipment on the train. The heavy harvest of timber in the area contributed to the creation of the Pike Forest Preserve, later called the Pike National Forest, one of the nation’s first forest preserves.

Cattle ranching, rodeo, and later dude ranches were also part of the local scene. Pioneer rancher Lewis Spielman and others organized the Woodland Park Rodeo Association around 1920. Events in 1922 included baseball, a parade, a rodeo, and dancing in the pavilion by the lake. The rodeo was discontinued after a few years but started again in the 1940s as the Ute Trail Stampede, which was held for three days every summer. In 1949, the rodeo was moved from the grandstand by the lake in Memorial Park to Bergstrom Arena in the middle of town south of U.S. Highway 24. The rodeo eventually ended, and the old Bergstrom Arena and Woodland Park Saddle Club were torn down in 2008.

Woodland Park and the Ute Pass area were home to many dude ranches. These included the Skelton Ranch, Paradise Ranch, Brockhurst Ranch, the Rosebud, and the Wildhorn Triple B. Paradise Ranch was at the eastern edge of Woodland Park. The Snell Family, who owned the ranch, put on a rodeo every Sunday. All meals and the rodeo were open to the public, with locals competing against the ranch wranglers. According to Betty Merchant, who barrel-raced at the Paradise in her youth, “No one growing up in the Woodland Park area could fail to remember the influence Paradise Ranch had on the area.” In 2015, the main lodge–the last remaining building–was razed.

In the 1930s and ’40s, Woodland Park was a hot spot for gambling, dancing, and illegal liquor. The most popular gaming houses included the Crystola Inn, the Ute Inn, and the Thunderhead. The Woodland Park Public Library was housed for many years in a building that was originally a casino. Raids by federal agents and a crackdown on gambling eventually quieted things down.

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Divide is at the summit of Ute Pass at 9,165 feet. The early economic activity of the little town focused on freighting, lumber, cattle ranching, and the railroads. While cattle and sheep ranching were important businesses for early Ute Pass settlers, only in Divide was commercial agriculture ever successful on a large scale. Large herds of cattle and sheep, as well as iceberg lettuce and seed potatoes for market, were raised and grown there.

Divide 1905

Divide 1905

“Pikes Peak lettuce” was packed in ice that was cut locally at Coulson Lake in Divide and shipped by the carload as far away as Chicago. Terraces left from growing these crops remain today on the hills around Divide. The lettuce and potato industries declined in the 1930s. Old-timers claim that the climate in the area changed and that produce will no longer grow there as it once did.

Divide was also an important transportation hub. Herds of cattle were driven through town on their way to South Park and Four Mile, while shipments of raw timber moved down the pass to mills in Woodland Park. The Spotsweed and McClellan Stage stopped there to change horses before continuing on to Leadville. After cowboy Bob Womack discovered gold in Cripple Creek in 1890, Divide served as one of the main access points to reach the gold fields in Cripple Creek and Victor.

Divide was also a railroad town. The Colorado Midland Railroad, which carried passengers and freight through the mountains from Colorado City up Ute Pass to Leadville, Aspen, and Glenwood Springs, reached Divide in 1887. Many of the railroad construction workers stayed at boarding houses in Divide while they built the tracks.

By 1895, the Midland Terminal Railroad had been built to connect the rail line through Divide with Cripple Creek. It hauled ore out of the gold camp to mills in Colorado City. However, in 1918 the rails of the Colorado Midland Railroad were removed west of Divide after the railroad went out of business. The Midland Terminal continued to move gold ore down the mountain through Divide until 1949, when the train became unnecessary because the Carlton Mill was built in Victor.

A fire destroyed much of Divide on November 1, 1898. George Sadler’s merchandise store and warehouse, Harkin’s drug store, residence, and outbuildings, Kelly’s saloon and boarding house, the Hardy House, and Creswell’s Saloon all burned to the ground, and many people slept in the streets that night. The town was rebuilt by the following summer.

The town’s first church services were held in a local saloon. Dr. Bonell, an Episcopal priest, played the piano at dances following the services and collected money to help build a church. The Little Chapel of the Hills was built around 1905 and is still in use.

Today one of the last remaining Colorado Midland Railway train depots still stands in Divide. Built in 1904, over the years it was used as an antique store and as a bar. Today, the Teller Historic and Environmental Coalition is in the process of restoring the building.

Another historic structure in the town is the Pikes Peak Community Club building. The Pikes Peak Community Club was founded in 1927 by Divide’s residents. In 1930, they built a hall to hold dances, meetings, and annual fairs. It was rebuilt in 1952 after a fire following the New Year’s dance. The building continues to be used for community events today.

Jump to:    •  Cascade  •  Chipita Park  •  Green Mountain Falls  •  Crystola  •  Woodland Park  •  Divide