Friday, January 15, 2016

Exploring Strasburg

Strasburg, Colorado. This was my second location of the day. It is a small, out-of-the-way town east of Denver on I-70.   Many people have heard of it, many people have driven by it, but few know the two hidden gems it holds for urban explorers and history buffs.
Strasburg was originally named Comanche Crossing.  And this little town has a rich and surprising history.
Most people remember the "Golden Spike" ceremony, just outside of Brigham City, UT, as the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States, but this is where Strasburg jumps into the picture.
Here is an excerpt from the Comanche Crossing Historical Society and Museum:
"On August 15, 1870, the last 10¼ miles of track were laid by two crews, one working from the east and one from the west in a record-breaking nine hours.
Fifteen months earlier, the golden spike ceremony had been held in Utah, to note the joining by rail of the eastern United States with the west. But the tracks joined at Promontory Summit connected only Omaha and Sacramento in a continuous chain. 
With the completion of the rails at Strasburg it became possible, at last, to board a train in New York and travel all the way to San Francisco by rail."
Strasburg(Comanche Crossing) is the actual location of the first TRUE transcontinental railroad in the United States.
The transcontinental railroad formed by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific had one small flaw, it had a "gap" in Omaha.  There was no bridge that crossed the Missouri River. Instead, passengers and freight had to disembark the train and cross the river on ferry before boarding another train on the other side.  Though back in those days the ferry was considered part of the rail line, but that still means the UP&CP railroad was not a true, continuous circuit. Instead, the honor of the first true transcontinental railroad goes to the Kansas Pacific Railroad. 
The Kansas Pacific Railroad completed the first transcontinental railroad at 3:00pm on August 15, 1870, at an obscure town then known as Comanche Crossing. 
This is from "The first rail crossing of the Missouri between Kansas City, MO, and Kansas City, KS, Hannibal Bridge, was finished in July 1869, It joined the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad and points east through the Kansas Pacific to Denver. From there, the Denver Pacific connected to the Union Pacific at Cheyenne. So, when the "last spike" was driven at Comanche Crossing in August 1870, the first truly transcontinental railway was completed."
The settlement of Comanche Crossing was shortly after renamed Strasburg in honor of a Kansas Pacific official. 
Wow!!!! I did not expect to find that information out as I was researching for my blog post on my exploration of this out-of-the-way town in eastern Colorado! 
With this information and history, you may find yourself asking, 'Why do we not celebrate this? Why is the May 10, 1869 celebration of the transcontinental railroad completion in Utah the one we celebrate?' Well, Cliff Smith, curator at the Comanche Crossing Museum, may have the answer.
Smith said the May 10, 1869 celebration in Utah was a political exhibition for former President Ulysses Grant.
"President Grant had taken office earlier that year and wanted that as one of his accomplishments. It's a fraud," Smith told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City.

Greg Smoak, a historian and professor at the University of Utah's American West Center, also had a comment on the subject. He states that the ferries at the time were considered part of the railroad, and that the railroad running through Kansas City did not play as significant a role as the rail line running through Utah did of carrying people and freight across the continent. 
Quite the interesting and controversial history to such a small little town, isn't it? Who knew that right here in our Colorado backyard was such an important little town.  For anyone wanting to visit this site for themselves, it is marked by a marker(imagine that!) placed by the Comanche Crossing Historical Society and Museum.  The Museum is also open to the public but it's hours only run July 1 through August 31. 
When I stopped by earlier this week, I had no idea the amazing history behind this town.  I had read online about some old train cars sitting around and that was the point of my visit.  Pulling up to the location, my group and I did not see any "No Trespassing" signs so we pulled right on up to the abandoned grain elevators and got out.  A few train cars and engines sit around, but be careful, there is an active railroad track that runs through the property.  We checked out the Farmers Elevator(which dates back to pre-WWII!) but there was no access to the inside, only to a smaller outside room and one of the grain bins.  As we were walking back to the car, a red truck pulled out from the grain silos and drove up to us and stopped.This was the first time I have been caught on a location by(whom we assume to be) the owner. Here is the transcript of what followed: 
"What are you guys doing here?" he asked.
"Taking photos of the train cars." I replied as I lifted my camera to emphasize my statement. 
"Is that your white car parked up there?" he asked. 
"Yes sir." I replied. 
He pauses for a moment, looking me over before he says, "ok. Have fun."
And drives off. 
"That was slightly terrifying!" exclaimed my buddy Zach(from Hanging Negatives Photography)
"Yes it was!" I replied back. 
Wow! I had not been expecting that! Needless to say, we gave the grain silo another look over but found no way in, so we left.  
For more reading on Strasburg, follow these links:

The owner driving up on us. He had been parked in between
the silos when we pulled up but the truck was unoccupied. 
Needless to say, when we saw him pull out we were all hoping
he would just drive by. Didn't happen. But we didn't have to worry.
Turned out he was totally cool with us taking photos. *phew!!*

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