Vail travel: ‘Ruby of the Rockies’
Twenty-four miles south of Carbondale and eight miles south of Redstone on CO 133, travelers cross McClure Pass. It is not near any of the larger Colorado cities, and at only 8,763 feet it is one of the lowest passes in the state. You would never think about any of that when you take in the view to the southeast from near the summit, especially in the fall. The Elk Mountains to the east and south present a spectacular scene. The pass separates the Crystal River drainage that flows north and the Gunnison River drainage that flows to the west. Both rivers eventually make their way to the Colorado River.
While most miners were scouring the mountainsides of Colorado for gold and silver, George Yule, a mining engineer, found something a little different. In 1895, his marble quarry, dug into the east side of nearby Treasure Mountain, produced its first shipment. Ten years later, the Colorado Yule Marble Company formed from a stock issue of $2.5 million. The Yule Quarry produced stone used to construct the Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington, D.C., and the Colorado State Capitol building, as well as many other buildings and hundreds of statues.The town of Marble incorporated in 1899 to meet the demands of Yule’s mining business. It sits in a valley at 8,000 feet near the headwaters of the Crystal River, about six miles south of McClure Pass on County Road 3. At one time, the remote Colorado Yule Marble Company employed nearly 1,000 people. Though it terminated its full-time operations in 1941 and has restarted mining, 50 residents still call this scenic area their home.
Redstone is a small community on the Crystal River at the base of McClure Pass. John Cleveland Osgood founded this town when he developed a significant mining empire in the area in the late 1800s.In 1892, Osgood’s coal company merged with an iron and steel manufacturing company in Pueblo to form the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I). CF&I, the largest employer in Colorado at the time, supplied most of the metal materials used in the construction of the railroads in the West. At this time, the coal mining town of Redstone became a center of activity. Not only did mining take place in the area, but the company also produced high-grade coking coal in its beehive coking ovens.Osgood, who employed 550 people, carried the reputation of both running a profitable mining enterprise and of working to improve the living conditions of the miners. He believed that if workers and their families enjoyed good living conditions they would be happy and would not strike. Osgood constructed the twenty-room Redstone Inn for the bachelors who worked for him, and 84 Swiss chalet-style homes for the married men. These structures had indoor plumbing and electricity, a true luxury for the times. The town of Redstone also had a school, a modern bathhouse, a theater and a library.Coking ovens still line the south entrance to the town of Redstone. Though these ovens are technologically obsolete, they now appear on the National Register of Historic Places. The town of Redstone is itself a historic district because it is considered a rare, intact example of an industrial company town from the late 1800s. Original buildings in the town include worker’s cottages and Osgood’s large estate.
After building his empire, Osgood built his private residence, called Cleveholm Manor, upstream from the town of Redstone. The Tudor-style home, known locally as the Redstone Castle and located on 150 acres, was built for the princely sum of $2.5 million ($52 million in today’s dollars), and includes towers, turrets, and designer windows. Completed in 1902, it consisted of 42 rooms, servant’s quarters, a guardhouse and carriage houses.In 1903, during a stock war, John D. Rockefeller took over Osgood’s mining company and ousted Osgood. The company shut down and the mines and coke ovens closed. Osgood dropped out of sight until he returned to Cleveholm Manor in 1925. He died soon after. Some say that his spirit still lights up cigars in his old home, and that the smoke can be smelled in its rooms.The home, which has changed owners eight times, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Colorado Preservation, Inc., the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Redstone Historical Society, and the Redstone Historic Preservation Commission have all worked to preserve Redstone Castle.
Rick Spitzer is the author of “Colorado Mountain Passes: the States Most Accessible High Country Roadways,” which is for sale at The Bookworm of Edwards for $21.95. Parts of the book will be serialized in the Vail Daily every Sunday this summer. E-mail comments about this article to email@example.com or visit http://www.spitzerphoto.com