Over 150 years ago, on October 27, 1870, civil war General William Jackson Palmer and his associates filed papers incorporating his baby railroad in the territories of Colorado and New Mexico. Thus, on paper at least, the Rio Grande, a narrow-gauge startup of a railroad had been born. Any outward symbol of its birth, however, would have to wait while Palmer and his associates like William Bell raised investor funds to begin building.
|Gen. William J. Palmer statue outside his namesake high school, August 1980|
With General Palmer astride his iron steed in statue above Colorado Springs' main thoroughfare, it's easy to forget that this man wasn't yet 35 years old when he was working the difficult task of convincing investors to part with their funds to raise capital. General Palmer was a former spy, adept at making others believe he was in their confidence. Often the difference between this man and a shifty crook like Soapy Smith is simply the ultimate intentions of the man's heart, to deprive for selfish improvement or for benevolent investment.
Thankfully, Palmer was a man worthy of his Queen, a nickname Mary Lincoln Mellen had already earned by the time she met her future husband. Palmer began to share his vision for the Denver & Rio Grande with his beloved in their correspondence. On January 17, 1870, Palmer wrote to her,
I thought how fine it would be to have a little railroad a few hundred miles in length, all under one's own control with one's friends, to have no jealousies and contests and differing policies, but to be able to carry out unimpeded and harmoniously one's views in regard to what ought and ought not to be done. In this ideal railroad all my friends should be interested, the most fitting men should be chosen for different positions, and all would work heartedly and unitedly towards the common end.
From there, he went on to detail an ambitious business plan with specific men to fill out all the critical functions of a railroad, informed by his work experience laying the route of the Kansas Pacific to Denver. Whatever idealism he held from that nearly rapturous dream, it obviously fueled his efforts for the next 18 months until driving the first spike for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad on July 28, 1871 between 19th and 20th Streets in Denver, much in line with Wynkoop. This places it right next to the Chop House Brewery (the former Union Pacific freight offices) near Coors Field in LoDo.
Dreams, like buildings, take a long time to build to make them last. Foundations are critical, and yet none but a few will ever see what the entire building and the day's occupants completely rely upon. Be thankful for the diligent yet incredible work of Palmer and those like him, founding the Rio Grande and the city of Colorado Springs, while these two entities, changing and growing and enduring all the while, still sustain Colorado and the west today.⚒