Center of the Known Universe, Divide, CO

Midland Depot

By Beth Dodd:

 

 

Divide sits in the heart of Teller County at the junction of U.S. Hwy 24 and CO Hwy 67, but it is often overlooked as a place to get through on the way to get somewhere else. Back in the gold rush era, people were on their way to Leadville or Cripple Creek. Now campers and hikers trek to Mueller State Park, skiers buzz through on their way to Breckenridge, and gamblers head to the casinos Cripple Creek. However, the lucky few who call Divide home know it’s a great place to hang up your spurs and set a while.

Divide, said to be the first permanent settlement in Teller County, was started at the summit of the Ute Pass Trail around 1870. Several names were applied to the area including “Rhyolite”, “Belleview” and “Theodore” before “Divide” finally stuck. The original name was actually “Hayden’s Divide” after geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, the original surveyor of the area. Hayden worked in Colorado from 1873 to 1876. His report on Colorado was in part responsible for increased settlement in the newly minted state in the late 1870s, including what would one day be Teller County. In any case, the locals soon reduced the town’s moniker to just “Divide”.

“Divide” was chosen because the town sits at the summit of Ute Pass at 9,165 feet where two major watersheds divide. You can imagine it this way: Two raindrops fall from a cloud in Divide. One lands in Sherwood Forest and heads down the South Platte River. It moves down through Denver and across Colorado and Nebraska to enter the Missouri River and then the Mississippi River. The other raindrop lands in Tranquil Acres. It journeys down the Arkansas River to Pueblo and across Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas to join the Mississippi River. The two raindrops reunite in a bar in New Orleans to swap travel stories.

By 1871, the Spotsweed and McClellan Stage was using Divide as a place to change horses as they carried passengers to the mining camps of Tarryall, Fairplay, and Leadville to the east. Sixteen years later in 1887, the tracks of the Colorado Midland Railroad were being constructed through Divide. Boarding houses, saloons and restaurants sprang up to support the railroad workers. At one point, Mrs. Hays was boarding fifty men from the railroad construction crew at her ranch near Divide.

With the discovery of gold in Cripple Creek in 1890 and the creation of Teller County in 1899, Divide prospered with both the road and the train going through town to provide access to the booming gold camp. In the beginning of the gold rush, stage coaches and freight wagons connected the Colorado Midland Railroad in Divide with Cripple Creek. A second train, called the Midland Terminal, was completed by December of 1895 to provide rail access all the way into Cripple Creek. The old train tunnel on CO Hwy 67 on the way to Cripple Creek is from this train. The Midland Terminal connected Divide to Cripple Creek via Gillette, Cameron, Independence, Victor, Elkton, and Anaconda. The train made four rounds trips from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek each day. A round trip coach ticket cost $2.50.

Unfortunately, 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. The people of the town rapidly rebuilt, and the place looked the much same as it did before the fire by the following summer.

By 1902, Divide was a busy little burg with a dance hall, Neal Harkin’s Saloon, Ma Kelly’s Boarding House and Saloon, Dad Neal’s Butcher Shop, Lillian Stewarts’s Boarding House, the Carroll’s grocery store and post office, and other businesses lining the main street. Most of the locals made a living by raising livestock, harvesting timber for sawmills in Divide and Woodland Park, or freighting goods and people to and from the gold diggings in Cripple Creek or Leadville or down the pass.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, Divide had become a hub for cattle and sheep ranching. It was not unusual to see cowboys with large herds of longhorns or shepherds with crowds of wooly sheep pushing their stock through the town’s main street on their way to their summer pastures in South Park or Four Mile, or moving them back down the pass. Today’s Mueller State Park was created from the old Mueller Ranch, a large cattle ranch south of Divide that now attracts outdoor recreation enthusiasts from around the region.
Divide was also the farming capital of Teller County with “Pikes Peak” iceberg lettuce and seed potatoes being shipped on the Colorado Midland Railroad as far away as Chicago. You can still see terraces cut into the hills around Divide that were made to reduce erosion during those farming days. Coulson Lake, which you can see to the south of U.S. Hwy 24 as you come into Divide, was once used to cut block ice for packing and shipping produce from the nearby Colorado Midland Train Depot. In addition, Alf Coulson also provided ice for the Rock Island Railroad, raised dairy cattle, served on the school board, and was a county commissioner. The lettuce and potato industry declined in the 1930s.

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. However, another source claims that the first church and school were built in Divide in 1899.

The Midland Depot in Divide was an important center of activity back in those days because of its central location between Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs. The train moved passengers, gold ore, produce, timber and livestock. In addition, special excursion trips took tourists to hunt and fish in South Park, and to gather fossils in Florissant and pick wildflowers in Eleven Mile Canyon and South Park.

The Divide Depot burned and was rebuilt in 1904. The depot is unique in that it was built to serve two trains and had two ticket windows. The main line of the Colorado Midland Railroad ran east and west, and the Midland Terminal to Cripple Creek went south. The Colorado Midland went out of business in 1918, and the tracks west of Divide were quickly taken up. The remaining track of the Colorado Midland was combined with the Midland Terminal and continued to transport gold ore from Cripple Creek to the ore processing mills Colorado Springs until 1949, when the train became unnecessary because the Carlton Mill was built in Victor. In the years since, the depot has been used as an antique store and as a bar. Today, the Teller Historic and Environmental Coalition is in the process of restoring the building.

The Divide Volunteer Fire Department was founded the same year the train went out of business in 1949, and continues to serve the area today with fire fighting, rock rescue, and medical response. Another historic institution in the town is the Pikes Peak Community Club. It was founded in 1927 by Divide’s residents. In 1930, they built a hall to hold dances, meetings, and annual fairs. In 1952 the original building was destroyed in a fire after the New Year’s dance. The building was soon rebuilt and continues to be used for community events today.

Today Divide, nicknamed The Center of the Known Universe by the local chamber of commerce, is a thriving small community with about 4,000 year-round residents scattered in the surrounding hills. Local businesses serve residents and travelers commuting to and from Colorado Springs. It is also an important location for Teller County public services including the Teller County sheriff’s office, county jail, public works, health department, and animal shelter. The area is protected from uncontrolled development by the Divide regional growth plan. Tourism and outdoor recreation continue to be important, with Mueller State Park and the Pike National Forest and other outdoor playgrounds nearby.