I have too many Virginia Dale images to cover in one post. So, today I’m going to post an 1867 image of the Overland Trail and some images of the Virginia Dale stage station, including a few images I took this week. A couple of weeks from now I’ll post the rest of my Virginia Dale pictures, including images of the Virginia Dale church and the post office/gas station that seems to have become an Internet favorite.
Also, I know very little about the Overland Trail, the stage station, or Jack Slade, so this post will mostly be about the photographs, with just a little history. I hope you enjoy the images.
In July 1862 alterations were made to the Overland Mail service route, which moved it into Colorado and through Laporte, the Forks, and Virginia Dale. Mail service ran across the Overland Trail six days per week, with the coaches carrying the mail and up to nine passengers. In 1863, Indian problems forced all east-west traffic to follow the Overland Trail. According to one report, “it was not uncommon to see from fifty to one hundred wagons with their loads of merchandise and freight encamped at the [Virginia Dale] station.” No wonder the trail became so worn, as you can see in this 1867 stereoview image.
I was able to find a lot of information about this image. It was taken by John Carbutt, a Chicago photographer who was hired to take photographs for a number of railroads, as they expanded west. One of his repeat customers was the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR).
In October 1867, Carbutt received a contract to photograph the UPRR’s “Editorial Party Excursion,” given for members of the eastern press. Carbutt went with them all the way to the Colorado Rockies, where he stopped for one-month to take images for his own business. He called the series “Views of the Rocky Mountains and Vicinity,” and his stereoviews in the series were numbered from 286 to 315. This image is one of the stereoviews from his Rocky Mountain Series.
I showed the image to local historian Wayne Sundberg who said he thinks Carbutt was “probably looking east, coming into Virginia Dale. Table Mountain is just barely visible in the background. The stage station . . . would be out of view to the left, around the curve.”
You can see a horse and wagon on the road and a couple of men in the right foreground. Here is a close-up of that section of the photograph.
In 1868 the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad to Cheyenne, WY ended the transcontinental mail and passenger service by stage, although the stagecoach continued to operate for many years in regions to which the railroad did not run.
Now let’s move on to the Virginia Dale stage station itself. Below is a brief introduction to it and to Jack Slade, taken from the current information sign, as you drive onto the property.
“Established in 1862 by Overland stage agent Joseph A. (Jack) Slade, the stage station may have been named after Slade’s wife, Virginia. The bullet riddled station served as a refuge from Indian attacks for the travelers and local residents. Slade himself gained notoriety for the killing of Jules Beni, one time Overland stage agent at Julesburg. It is said that Slade cut off Jules’ ears after the killing, nailed one to a post in the corral, and carried the other on his watch chain. Slade was widely suspected of being in league with stage robbers during his tenure at Virginia Dale, and the mountain to the northeast became known as Robbers’ Roost, because of the thieves who hid there. Slade later led an outlaw gang in Virginia City, where his career came to a sudden and violent end in 1864, when he was hanged by the local vigilance committee.”
The Virginia Dale stage station was a “home” or “division” stage station, which supplied food and even sleeping accommodations to the passengers. Both horses and drivers were switched at these larger stations and a large barn, corrals, and a blacksmith shop were part of the original facility. The smaller “swing” stations were located about every ten miles, so that the horse teams could be switched out.
The stage station stopped operating in 1868, but the building continued to serve as a post office and store until around 1932, when the post office was moved to Highway 287.
The stage station went through a number of owners and changes. The Hurzeler’s built a house on the property, when they owned and operated the station as a store and post office. The house is still there, very close to and just west of the stage station. The original station had a front porch that was gone by the early 1940s. Both the following real photo postcard images were taken after the post office had closed and the front porch had been removed.
Shelby Fishback was a long time Fort Collins photographer, with a downtown studio, from around 1925 until the early 1970s. I’m guessing that this image was taken not long after the porch was removed.
This image of the station was taken after 1950. The windmill has been replaced with an electric light pole and the white clapboards have aged. Notice in both images, that the original logs are only visible on the west end of the building.
In 1936, Fred and Maude Maxwell, local ranchers, gained ownership of the property. In 1964, they donated the stage station and the Hurzeler House to the Virginia Dale Community Club. In 1985, the Virginia Dale Stage Station was added to the National Register of historic Places. Recently, the Club has taken on the restoration of the station and they have done a beautiful job. Below are four photographs I took of the property last week.
To get to the stage station, turn off 287 just north of the historic marker. (I think it is CR 43F.) Take the dirt road and follow the signs to the property. It is between one and two miles. You will come to a fork. Stay left and you will be fine.
The Hurzeler House can be seen to the left side of the image and the stage station to the right. There would have been a large barn in the left foreground. It was moved to an adjacent ranch at some point.
The log structure was built using “piece-sur-piece” construction. This construction method was described on the National Register as having “vertically notched horizontal timbers . . . placed into grooves of vertical timbers set at regular intervals.” Now that the clapboards are gone, it is easy to see the construction technique. This method made it easier to build large log structures without mechanical equipment.
The replacement of the porch is the latest renovation of the stage station by the Community Club. It is beautiful. My wife and I had the pleasure of having lunch on the porch, sitting in the shade on wooden benches and leaning against logs that are over 150 years old. The only thing that would have made it better was the arrival of a stagecoach and horses.
Below is the website address for the Virginia Dale Community Club. I’m sure they’d appreciate any help we can give them with this wonderful project. Donations can be mailed to:
Virginia Dale Community Club
844 CR 43F
Virginia Dale, CO 80536
Next Sunday I plan to post images of the Fort Collins YMCA. I hope you will take a look at them.