Rail connected Bookcliffs with Grand Junction

The mining ghost town of Carpenter is nestled partway up the Bookcliffs north of Grand Junction on 27 1/2 Road, about 12 miles from downtown Grand Junction.

Early-day Grand Junction resident and prospector George Smith discovered the vein of coal that became the Book Cliff Coal Co. in 1884 and, a little later, the site of Carpenter.

Four years later the Book Cliff Coal Company caught the eye of banker T. Carpenter, who came to Grand Junction in 1883 and established the Mesa County Bank. Carpenter purchased the mine and changed the name to the Grand Valley Fuel Co.

Carpenter knew that for the company to succeed he needed to replace the horse teams and wagons then used to transport the coal to town. He needed a railroad.

By 1889 Carpenter had incorporated the Little Book Cliff Railroad and had completed the line within five miles of the city, but the construction of the last five miles was slow. Carpenter was having difficulty acquiring property within the city for the right of way he needed to construct his Book Cliff Depot. It was to be located on some 10 acres west of First and Main streets on Rice Avenue.

In 1890 the Denver & Rio Grande completed its line westward. That was good for Carpenter because when the Little Book Cliff was completed it would have a direct connection to the Rio Grande line for shipping coal to market.

The Little Book Cliff Railroad connecting the mining camp of Carpenter to Grand Junction opened May 9, 1891. The rail yard included the depot, shop, engine house, coal yard and water tank. There was even a telephone line that ran along the track, making communication possible between the terminal and the mines.

In addition to coal at Carpenter there was a sandstone quarry. It was used to build structures at Carpenter and other places in the valley, among them the Catholic Church in Fruita.

In the late 1890s, towns such as Glenwood Springs and Colorado Springs had become popular resorts because of the mineral springs in these locations.

Carpenter had a vision of his town becoming one of these areas because of a spring that Smith had discovered when prospecting for coal. Carpenter envisioned not only bottling the water but building a bathhouse, large lawns, trees, a lake for boating and bathing, and a dance pavilion.

In the summer of 1891 Carpenter took Grand Junction residents on the first excursion to the Bookcliffs. After that initial ride excursions were offered on a regular basis for a round-trip fare of 25 cents. When the tourists arrived at Carpenter they would picnic, explore the mines and listen to Carpenter tell how this area was going to be a great resort.

A couple of years later the coal business was booming, and coal from the Little Book Cliff was being shipped to Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Rico, Silverton, De Beque, Ridgway, Rifle and Glenwood Springs.

In 1896 Carpenter moved on to the gold rush in Alaska, leaving William Phillips to manage the mines. Carpenter lost interest in the Book Cliff Mines and in 1899 sold the area to Isaac C. Wyman, of Salem, Mass. The mine was then incorporated as the Book Cliff Railroad Co.

When Wyman died in 1910 he left the Book Cliff Mines to Princeton University. Williams continued to manage the mines until his death in 1915.

A fire in 1923 was the end for the Book Cliff Mine. The fire burned for months before being sealed.

Nearly all of the structures that made up Carpenter — eight houses, an eating house, store buildings and bunk houses for the miners and their families — were removed.

In 1972 the city of Grand Junction removed the last of the rails for the Little Book Cliff Railroad to make way for the construction of North Eighth Street near Bookcliff Avenue.

All that remains in Carpenter today are a few eroding foundations and the fields of wildflowers once filled with people who had traveled on the Little Book Cliff excursion train to enjoy the beauty of the rainbow of color they provided in the desert landscape.

Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.


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