On July 1, 1894, the very first passenger train arrived in Cripple Creek, the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad. A dedication ceremony was planned for July 4th with the driving of a golden railroad spike which had been made with gold from Cripple Creek mines. However, this dedication ceremony was never held as a nationwide trainmen strike was in process, shutting down many railroads. Despite never being dedicated, the train continued to run between Florence and Cripple Creek. For some time, as it was the only railroad, it kept steady business. According to an article in the Florence Citizen on January 15, 1914, “in the early history of the road, it proved to be one [of] the best paying lines ever constructed in Colorado.”
The railroad line ran 40.3 miles in total between Florence and Cripple Creek. The Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad Company was incorporated on April 17, 1893. The board consisted of Eben Smith of Leadville, James A. McCandless of Florence, William A. Johnson of Florence, George A. Ross-Lewin of Denver, and A.B. Raeder of Denver. Construction began on January 1, 1894 and was completed in just 6 months. Construction was a feat considering the difficult terrain that rose from an altitude of 5,197 feet in Florence to 9,396 feet in Cripple Creek. The highest point of the railroad reached about 9,740 feet west of Victor. According to a financial statement from the Florence Construction Company, the original construction costs reached $731, 948. More money was later spent on repairs and washouts as the line traveled though an area prone to flash floods.
Almost immediately after the trains began running, the company suffered an accident. The return train to Florence on July 2nd experienced a wreck just one day after its triumphant arrival in Cripple Creek. The train rounded a curve when the rear coach left the track. The cars were pulled off the track into the gulch below. The engine was the only part of the train to stay on the tracks. Miraculously, only one person out of around 60 passengers died. One brakeman suffered a few broken ribs but other than him, the rest of the passengers only suffered some small cuts and bruises. It was determined the malfunction occurred in the rear coach and not the tracks.
The line suffered a few washouts here and there through its years of operation, but the tracks were always able to be repaired and the company continued on. By the 19-teens, business had taken downturn and the end finally came in the form of a flood. On July 21, 1912, clouds gathered in the hills around Adelaide, about halfway up the canyon. A cloudburst happened and a wall of water washed down the canyon taking out twelve bridges and much of the track. Trees were uprooted and sand and silt covered large portions of the ground. The track was never rebuilt and in 1915, any remaining pieces were taken out. On August 30, 1918, Phantom Canyon Road opened to the public, following the former route of the once prosperous Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad.
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.