Frontier Diary: Drivers celebrated opening of the Buford Road
Frontier Historical Society
Close to 1,000 people attended the Buford road celebration 29 miles above New Castle Sunday. About 250 cars made the trip over the road and stopped at Clark’s camp at noon for a picnic lunch.
— Glenwood Post, Aug. 27, 1931
Celebrants at Clark Cabin on the newly completed Buford Road dined on barbecue canopied under a beautiful blue summer Colorado sky. It was Sunday, Aug. 23, 1931, and as auto travelers picnicked and listened to a speech given by Congressman Edward T. Taylor of Glenwood Springs, they marveled at the accomplishment made by the U.S. Forest Service in creating the road. The Buford Road, however, was the culmination of many attempts made in the almost 50 years previous to connect the Meeker and White River country to its Garfield County neighbors.
Garfield County resident Frank Stobaugh officially started the movement to create a shorter route to the Meeker country. In November 1887, Stobaugh presented a petition to the Garfield County commissioners signed by a number of interested citizens. The petition respectfully requested a sum of $1,000 “be used in building a road up Elk Creek, by the shortest route from New Castle to Meeker.” At that time, Meeker was an economically isolated settlement in Garfield County, with goods freighted in from Rawlins, Wyoming, 154 miles distant. Citing economic benefits to both communities, the petitioners pressed that New Castle’s booming growth through coal mining development and the Colorado Midland Railway’s arrival, allowed goods needed in Meeker to be transported over the newly proposed road at a distance of only 48 miles.
The commissioners agreed. Road viewers N.B. Nelson, George Ferguson and W.P. Mansfield then surveyed a road described as starting one mile northwest of George Ferguson’s house in what is today the town of Silt, northerly through the gap in the hogback, thence northeasterly to the west fork of Elk Creek near A. Sants ranch, then up the west fork of Elk Creek about 3 miles hence in a northerly direction over the mesa to the Carbonate Trail, thence westerly over the Carbonate Trail to the wagon road on Dry Creek. This shortcut road over the Flat Tops was approved July 9, 1888.
While the Garfield County commissioners were in the road approval process, Walter Devereux of the Colorado Land and Improvement Co., chief developer of the town of New Castle, with funding from the Colorado Midland Railway and private subscriptions, created a toll road connecting New Castle and Meeker in June 1888. The toll road’s route is unclear but presumably it took a route over the Flat Tops. The Carson Stage Line, which suffered a marked decline in business when the railroads connected Glenwood Springs and Aspen just months before, found new life by transporting settlers, mail and goods over the new road. At a distance of 41 miles versus the 56 miles to Meeker by the Government Road, the toll road was seen as an improvement, though deep winter snows and spring mud made the road rough and unpredictable.
The stage line ceased service to New Castle from Meeker on March 23, 1891, dealing an economic blow to the town. Three years later, a corps of engineers for the White River Railroad surveyed a rail route from New Castle to Meeker, again taking advantage of the shortcut over the Flat Tops. The rail line never materialized. In 1907 the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad made plans for an electric rail line again utilizing the shortcut. Again, no rail line was built. Interest in a dependable shortcut to Meeker and to the recreational opportunities of the Flat Tops and White River area never waned, but money was short on both ends of the line.
U.S. Congressman Edward T. Taylor, member of the House Appropriations Committee, possibly obtained government funding for construction of a road from New Castle to Buford, because in 1928 the U.S. Forest Service began construction of the road. The construction was a monumental task, taking three years to build 36 miles of unpaved road. When completed, hunters, anglers and campers with greater ease accessed and enjoyed the recreational opportunities of the Flat Tops area of the White River National Forest by automobile. Those wishing a scenic day trip could drive the loop from New Castle to Buford to Meeker to Rifle and back to New Castle in one day. Reforestation by planting Engelmann spruce, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine trees along the road in the late 1930s helped replace those that were removed during the road’s construction.
Today the Buford to New Castle Road continues to provide access to recreational pursuits such as hunting, fishing, hiking, dog sledding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. With the joining of two communities geographically and socially, the economic benefits on both end of the road have been immeasurable.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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