Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 193 – Tom Moses’ Trips – Breckenridge 1884, second part

Part 193: Tom Moses’ Trips – Breckenridge 1884, second part 

The Palette & Chisel, Vol. V, No. 3, March 1928. Tom Moses’ Trips. Breckenridge, Col.         Continued

As we passed Pueblo we left behind us a very hot, dusty and uninteresting town; the odd-shaped smelter stacks, and tons of ore on all sides awaiting the refining process.

On reaching Colorado City we found a real city. Lots of wealth had settled here, and beautiful homes had sprung up. We felt that we ere in the mountains, as Pike’s Peak appeared to be within a few miles. There was plenty of snow to be seen on the Peak. The trip from the Springs to Denver was interesting; quite a number of small lakes and pretty summer homes, and the grand old Peak always in sight.

Arriving in Denver we saw Pikes Peak in all its glory. The foothills were only fifteen miles away, but we thought we could walk to them in half an hour. We changed our minds about going to Georgetown, deciding on Breckenridge. As we had checked our tent and equipment to Georgetown we had to wait in Denver until we could have returned it. In the meantime we saw Denver – all of it. I met an old friend from Sterling, and had a nice visit with him. He had lived in Denver a number of years. We all fell in love with the city. It is beautifully situated, rather hilly but well laid out; fine buildings, very ornate homes, built by men who had more money than taste. We all attended the theatre, the famous Tabor Grand, and we found it all we had expected it would be, nicely decorated and fine woodwork. The Drop Curtain was very good: an old ruin with some poetical feeling that pleased everyone. It was painted by an old friend of mine, Mr. Robert Hopkins, of Detroit, Michigan. This is a favorite subject of his, he having done a similar one in Detroit.

Image of Tabor Grand Opera House drop curtain in Denver, Colorado. Undated image pasted in Thomas G. Moses’ scrapbook. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin.
Interior of Tabor Grand Opera House, Denver, Colorado.

An early start the following day, with all our camp equipment, which had returned from Georgetown in good condition. We crept along toward the foothills by the way of the fertile valley southwest of Denver. We soon entered the canyon, and our real mountain climbing began. Up through the Royal Gorge we hurried while the track was level, the raging torrent that swept past us a sight, and Young wanted to bet that he could swim across it. No one took his bet, so his bluff stood.

The wonderful rock formation was beyond our wildest imagination. While we had seen many photos and magazine cuts of this exact spot, we were very much surprised by the color. Even through this wild gorge there were many pretty little cottages perched high on the rocks in the small canyons that cut into the big canyon. The railroad company was very good to the hardy settlers by placing stations every few miles, where they stopped on signal. We were steadily climbing until we reached Como for a rest and dinner, which was relished by us all. After a brief rest the engine again started with only two cars; the rest of the train went another direction.

A railroad cut on Boreas pass created passage for The Denver, South Park and Pacific narrow gauge railroads to connect the bustling gold rush towns of Breckenridge and Como.
Current remains of the now unused track running to Boreas Pass.

We soon found ourselves creeping slowly up the steep grade. We could see three tracks below us; over each one we had traveled in reaching the height of two thousand feet above Como. On reaching Boreas, the top of the Divide, the water-shed between the East and West, we found plenty of snow, a small yellow flower, growing through the snow, and a good supply of mosquitos. The sun was very hot. We four gathered a lot of snow-balls, went into the coach and started to “pelt” the passengers. Everyone thought it was good fun excepting a crazy fool, who drew a gun, and threatened to use it, until he was hooted at and hissed by the passengers. He was an old crab who never had any pleasure in life, and was dead sore at the world in general.

At this point we could see a hundred miles north and the same distance south, and it was certainly some sight. A beautiful blue haze spread over the whole picture.

View from Boreas Pass.
Boreas Pass in Colorado.
Boreas Pass, otherwise known as the Continental Divide. Thomas G. Moses traveled here in 1884 on a sketching trip.

On leaving Boreas we proceeded to descend very rapidly. Going up we only crept, so slowly that Young got off the rear end, and ran along side of the train ahead of the engine, crossed in front of it, and waited until the rear had caught up to him, then jumped on, only to get a good line of talk from the conductor, who informed us that he thought we were all crazy. We were out for a good time, and we were having it.

We didn’t have to go down as far as we were at Como, for we found Breckenridge nestled in a beautiful valley, with a small river running through the centre of it. On our arrival we got busy very quickly, as it was well along in the day and we had to get our tent pitched before dark. We took the tent poles, tied everything to them, and the four of us started for a spot several hundred feet above the town. We should have gotten a couple of burros for this work, but we had to be careful with our money. We had the tent pitched very quickly, some pine boughs cut and laid for our spring bed, over which we laid our four army blankets, two over and two under us. The delicate odor from the pine was very refreshing. We must have made a mistake in cutting the boughs and twigs, for they were more like branches and trunks. We enjoyed a good supper. All we had to get in town was fresh bread and butter, and milk.                                            To be continued

Tabor Grand Opera House exterior in Denver, Colorado.

Historical note about the Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver: Located at 16th and Curtis Streets, the Tabor Grand Opera House opened in 1881 by Horace A. W. Tabor, who made his fortune in silver mines in Leadville, where he opened his first opera house. It survived the emergence of movies with a remodel in 1921 when it was renamed the Colorado Theatre. The name didn’t stick and by 1930, the name returned to the Tabor Theatre. In 1945, talk began of demolishing the opera house, but it lasted until its final demolition in 1964. The theater’s famous drop curtain went into storage with the Central City Opera House Association because it was too large to display. It eventually disintegrated and was thrown out.

The High Line railroad that went to the Boreas Pass.
Image from to 1880s of the railroad that Thomas G. Moses would have traveled to Boreas Pass.

Historical note about Railroad to Breckenridge, Colorado: Known as the High Line, the Denver South Park and Pacific Railroad first chugged over Boreas Pass and into Breckenridge during 1882. The train to Breckenridge hauled mail over the pass, transported mining products, and introduced luxury items such as fresh ice cream, oysters and wine from Denver. Passengers like Moses also arrived in Pullman cars, with their posh interiors and gas lighting. However, the Boreas Pass was one of the highest and most foreboding railways in the nation at an elevation of 11,481 feet. The steep grade, winding track, and unpredictable weather required expensive track and train maintenance. It was a significant contributor to the area’s growth as it opened up this remote area to many visitors, such as Moses, Maratta, Young, and Morange. At the time the town was home to three newspapers and a cemetery. The town also managed three fire companies to protect the numerous, and vulnerable wooden buildings. How ever they were not enough to prevent tragedy. In 1884 a major fire destroyed a number of buildings along Main Street and Ridge Street. The line eventually closed and only glimpses of the journey remain to travelers.


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