A Wolcott surprise | VailDaily.com

A Wolcott surprise

Dick Hauserman

Special to the DailyIt is hard to believe that the small town of Wolcott, at off-ramp 157, was a thriving town a century ago-one of the largest cattle-shipping centers in the western United States.

Editor’s note: Dick Hauserman is well known as one of the founders of Vail. But he also has made the trip from Denver to Vail in excess of 1,000 times, which was the inspiration for his book “On the Road to Vail and Beyond” published earlier this year. Following is an excerpt from the book aimed at making frequent I-70 travelers say “Oh, I didn’t know that!”It is hard to believe that the smallest town, so to speak, is Wolcott, at off-ramp #157. Wolcott at one time was one of the largest cattle shipping centers in the western United States. In the early 1900s, its heyday, it shipped 2,000 carloads of cattle each year to the slaughterhouses in Kansas City.The town, first named Russell, was settled in 1886. The name was changed in 1889 to Wolcott, honoring a popular Colorado state senator.Being ideally located on the railroad and the main access to Steamboat Springs via State Bridge on the Colorado River, Wolcott became the focal point in the area for the transportation business. From 1886 to 1906, a Concord stage drawn by six horses left Wolcott daily for Steamboat Springs. In addition, 30 to 40 wagonloads of supplies made the trip every day.

Wolcott’s prosperity was growing nicely when cattle ranching made its appearance. Stockyards were built to handle the cattle brought in. There were five livery stables, three dance halls, a school that went to the eighth grade, a hotel, a merchandising store, a saloon, and the usual blacksmith shop.The good times came to an end in the late 1920s, when the Moffat Railroad built a tunnel under the Continental Divide with a direct route from Denver to Steamboat Springs and Craig. Because of this, economics soon caused the cattle market to crash and banks foreclosed on their loans.The Moffat Tunnel idea was started in 1910 and construction commenced in 1922. The first train passed through the tunnel in 1928.However, the sun was rising for the sheep ranchers. They had the opportunity to acquire thousands of acres of grazing lands and ranches at rock-bottom prices from the banks.Wolcott’s fame diminished. When the highways came through in the 1940s, only a hotel, some cabins, and a store remained.

The sheep ranchers enjoyed their expansive grazing lands for many years. Fortunately, the present heirs held onto the land until recently. There is no telling how many times those rock-bottom prices have doubled. Now there are three golf courses, hundreds of high-quality homes, and an International Sporting Clay Gun Club. The smallest town on Interstate-70 west is now owned by one of the sheep rancher’s heirs, who has turned tiny Wolcott into a very busy social and gourmet attraction. It is called the Wolcott Yacht Club.A Surprise West of WolcottOn the right side, about two miles west of Wolcott at mile marker 152, is the site of a “I didn’t know that”-another unusual feature along the way.

A small triangular outcropping of red sandstone about 300 feet high can be seen just to the right of I-70. This outcropping is bisected by a diagonal path from the upper right corner down to the highway. At the top, still noticeable, a huge drum or winch was used to lower large blocks of red sandstone from the quarry above to the railroad tracks below, bordering I-70 on the left. Some of the blocks of stone were used to build the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver in the late 1880s and the residence of Colorado legend Molly Brown, Denver socialite and survivor of the sinking of the Titanic.There are many stories about the quarry, but a transcript titled “The Memories of Eagle County in the 1880s,” authored by Amy M. Browson, authentically tells what happened to the quarry.The quarry started out as an ambitious operation but was short-lived. The project was halted by an outbreak of smallpox among the workers. Many died, while others fled. Afterwards, no one could be persuaded to go near the place. The entire quarry venture was ended. More than a hundred years later, the evidence of its existence still remains in the Brown Palace Hotel, a magnificent edifice in the heart of Denver.There is also a wooden cross about 10 feet high near the sheer cliff in front of the outcropping. It was placed there in 1962 as part of Easter sunrise services.

Since the quarry days, there have been several owners of the property, including Leonard Horn, a prominent Eagle County rancher and daredevil cowboy. Leonard died in 1985, but his generous spirit and risky cowboy antics are still remembered.At the front edge of the sheer cliff is a balanced rock measuring 8×10 feet with a 2-foot crevice separating the rock from the cliff. Rita Dittrick, whose father worked for Leonard Horn, says that just standing on the rock is breathtaking and frightening for most people. Leonard would ride his horse to the back side of the quarry and then jump to the rock over the crevice to pose for pictures on the balanced point.The property is now part of the land holdings of Magnus Lindholm, the local developer and Swedish shipping magnate. He is considered the largest landholder in Eagle County and is well-known as a developer of the sprawling village of Avon and the person who brought the huge Wal-Mart, with its very large flag and flagpole, and the Home Depot box structures, to the little town. Vail, Colorado