On the eastern plains of Colorado’s Cheyenne County a tiny ghost town is whipped by the relentless prairie winds. A cluster of abandoned buildings ranging from the picturesque schoolhouse, with its double-arched doorways (considered by some to be the most photogenic abandoned building in all of Colorado) to the collapsing William Smith General Merchandise store, to a handful of residential dwellings, trailers, and foundations mark the spot of Aroya.

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William Smith’s General Merchandise Store

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Fantastic wooden doors on the William Smith General Merchandise building.

 

Aroya got its start in 1866 when a Bohemian immigrant, and Civil War veteran, named Joseph O. Dostal came to Colorado to sell meat to hungry miners. Dostal picked a remote chunk of the plains 130 miles from Denver to establish his ranch. Though it has changed hands many times in the past 150 years, the ranch is still active, and still carries Dostal’s initials- The J.O.D. Ranch.

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The J.O. Dostal Ranch Crew circa 1870s or 1880s

 

Around 1870 the Kansas-Pacific Railroad reached the area near Dostal’s ranch.  A railroad construction camp grew and was named “Arroyo” being the Spanish term for “gulch.”  As the tracks were being laid, the Kansas-Pacific sent trains to the end of the line at Arroyo, and stagecoaches would bring passengers 130 miles from Denver, a three day journey at the time, to what was now christened “Arroyo City” although it was not much more than a tent camp on the line.

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A triple-engine Kansas-Pacific snow plowing team. The flat, treeless, and featureless expanses of the great high plains, coupled with high winds, and winter storms that butt up against the Rocky Mountains and double back over the plains make for enormous snowdrifts on the open prairie, some can reach 20 feet or more in depth! For a short time in the 1870s, Arroyo City was the terminus of the Kansas-Pacific.

As the tracks were laid further north and west, the terminus of the line also moved, and “Arroyo City” city faded into obscurity. Ranching and farming became the main profit making enterprises once the railroad construction boom had ended, and around the turn of the 20th Century, a small town with a general store, service station, lumber yard, hotel, and school sprang up about three miles from the old “Arroyo City” site. In honor of the old camp, this new town was named “Arroyo”, but the United States Post Office decided it should be called “Aroya” since there were already enough towns named “Arroyo” in the southwest.

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No one calls this Aroya dwelling home but rattlesnakes these days.

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This home marked the far northern end of Main Street in Aroya. A small cemetery which I was unaware of until later is apparently on a small rise just behind this house. If walls could talk…

 

The old schoolhouse, in which someone has situated an old deer mount in the window, was said to have held its last class sometime in the 1950s…or was it the 1960s?  There is no one around who remembers. Aroya became nationally famous in 1970 when a reporter from the New York Times just happened to pass through, and wrote a full-page story with photos lamenting Aroya’s demise, and how the population had just been cut in half- From two residents to only one!

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At first approach I thought I had a one-in-a-million shot of a big buck deer peering out of the schoolhouse window, then I realized it was a mount placed by someone with a sense of humor!

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A fall storm rolls into Aroya. The hand-painted metal “No Trespassing” sign was a welcome change in a world full of bright neon orange/white/black plastic signs we so often encounter.

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The double-arched doorways on each end of the Aroya schoolhouse are an architectural marvel.

Around 1980 the last permanent resident of Aroya, an eccentric artist named  Red Moreland finally moved along to the great unknown. Some of his creations, made out of the many iron relics he found scattered around the town, can still be found among the sun-scorched, blonde prairie grass, shrubs, and debris scattered about the town. His most famous creation- The Aroya Lighthouse, which was a welcome beacon to weary travelers on the “…endless waves of grain…” in the old days was moved to the Cheyenne County Museum in Kit Carson, Colorado.

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Moreland’s Service Station and the Aroya Lighthouse decades ago.

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Moreland’s Service Station. October 2019.

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Red Moreland’s home. It was built on the foundation of the old Aroya Hotel, and Red lived here until he passed away around 40 years ago. Moreland was Aroya’s last permanent resident.

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An Aroya house, consumed by trees and grasses. What appears to be a 1970s vintage Chevy Luv truck in red/white/blue paint looks like it was abandoned in the town after a joyride.

 

Aroya is a fun place to visit, if, for some reason you find yourself in this far-off seam of fabric in the quilt we call America, but beware-  Aroya is a rattlesnake paradise, and ample evidence in the form of shed skins can be found everywhere in the town. A few squatters and shady drifters who “don’t want to be found” call Aroya home from time-to-time, and they should be treated with the same caution and distance as the rattlesnakes. Luckily when I visited on a cold October day, neither were present.

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In this view you can see the impressive lineup of radio and TV antennas necessary for Red Moreland to keep in touch with the outside world from his remote hermitage on the plains.

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The sandstone remnants of a long-forgotten Aroya business. An abandoned trailer house of more modern vintage was just behind this structure and had clearly been used by a squatter recently.

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Comments
  1. johnrailtime says:

    Nice

    The JOD Ranch is still in operation.
    To the NW on the hill is the cemetery..
    The RR stopped here for the water, which was scarce.

    • J.D. Eberle says:

      It is sure a neat place to visit! I wish I would have been paying attention to the sign, and went and looked for the cemetery. I just snapped a photo of the sign so I could read it later. Just a good reason to visit again!

  2. Nannette Iatesta says:

    I am a multi-generational Coloradan living in South Carolina now. I love your work and so appreciate the fact that you have captured these one time thriving areas before there is nothing left to capture. Thank you for telling the stories of the almost forgotten eras of our beautiful state. There are lessons to be learned from the text and images.

  3. J.D. Eberle says:

    Thank You very much for the kind words. I truly enjoy what I do, and hope I can, in some small way, help others realize what a great place we have here and that Colorado’s history needs to be preserved and saved.

  4. BJ Van Roosendaal says:

    I remember Aroya fondly. Wrote to my Grandma Josie Bledsoe there – as Aroya was her mailing address (although she lived on the Bledsoe Ranch just north of Aroya). In the long past, she drove to pick up her mail in Aroya – this would have been in the 1950’s and 60’s. Think my Bledsoe cousins attended grade school in Aroya and their teachers name was Esther Bennett. Esther was also the Post Mistress, as I remember? Cousins, if you see this post please correct me if I’m wrong!! I also remember Wild Horse, CO – but don’t know if it is a ghost town or not?

    • J.D. Eberle says:

      I visited Wild Horse on the same trip as Aroya. Wild Horse is just about a ghost town now- The Post Office is still open, but everything else is closed. Looks like maybe one or two houses are still occupied.

      • Enoch Bergman says:

        We are down to five folks now. I’ve moved to Australia and both of my brothers reside in the big smoke (Greeley and Parker). Red used to visit us a couple of times a week and we used to go to Aroya to visit him. He brought us fantastically sized vegetables and gave us metalwork toys he had made. Sadly, one day he ran over our hound, named Mo. We had to change our refrain from “Eenie, Meenie, Minie, and a dog named Mo live in Wild Horse and run the Conoco” to “Eenie, Meenie, Minie, no Mo…”! My parents ran the Unicorn, later renamed Wild Horse Mercantile service station and my brothers are named Menan and Minian. Thank you resurrecting some memories. Cheers, Enoch Bergman

  5. DanielAmomi says:

    Thanks for helping people get the information they need. Great stuff as always. Keep up the good work!!!

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