Posts Tagged ‘Plains Ghost Towns Colorado’

My last photo blog about the ghost town of Aroya, Colorado led to a number of people mentioning, relating memories, and asking about Wild Horse- Another small eastern plains town just a few miles down the road from Aroya.

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Storm clouds and high winds welcomed me to Wild Horse in mid-October 2019. The only sign of life I found in town was a American flag flapping proudly and a car parked in front of the Post Office- the only remaining business in this tiny Cheyenne County town. The majority of the remaining buildings, seen here, at Wild Horse sit on the south side of Highway 287.

I visited Wild Horse on the same trip that I visited Aroya, and found a place, much like Aroya, that has seen its best days vanish in the rear view mirror. Wild Horse stills clings to life, though just barely, straddling Highway 287 in Cheyenne County, a little over two hours southeast of Denver.

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These buildings sit on the north side of Highway 287 which runs straight through the center of Wild Horse. A school house built in 1912, and the Post Office are adjacent to these structures.

Wild Horse is a cluster of old storefronts and shops and residential dwellings. With exception of the Post Office, every business and service in Wild Horse are but a memory. A quick drive up and down the streets of Wild Horse reveal that maybe four or five people still live there, but during my visit on a blustery October afternoon, I saw no one stirring.

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The Antelope Bar at Wild Horse.

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Another Shot of the Antelope Bar.

Wild Horse was originally an outpost for the U.S. Cavalry in the late 1860s, named for a pack of wild horses a cavalry detachment guarding railroad surveyors noticed at a water hole in the area. The Kansas-Pacific Railroad set up a section house at Wild Horse to house workers while tracks were laid from Kit Carson to Denver. 

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An old storefront in Wild Horse.

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It is rumored that this  building was the Wild Horse Dance Hall in more prosperous times.

Wild Horse boomed in the early-1900s, having a number of businesses, including a lumber yard, three saloons, a pool hall, a barber shop, hardware store, the two story stone Albany Hotel, and even a newspaper “The Wild Horse Times.” Sheep and cattle ranching, as well farming, and the railroad accounted for the majority of commerce centered at Wild Horse.

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An old postcard shows an image of Wild Horse during its peak years in the early-1900s.

A huge fire in 1917, which started in one of the town’s two creameries when a wood stove toppled off its shoring burned down most of the business district, spelling the beginning of the end for Wild Horse. The depression coupled with the dust bowl epoch of the 1930s further weakened what remained of Wild Horse, then the railroad went under. Today, one hundred years on from the great fire, Wild Horse teeters on the very edge of existence.

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An image taken shortly after the great fire of 1917 which obliterated much of Wild Horse. 

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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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Just a few snapshots of the ghost buildings of New Raymer, Colorado, a small community a couple hours east of Denver and still home to many. The old service station is worth the trip alone!

 

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