The Lower Poudre Canyon: Stearley’s Cabins, Picnic Rock, and a Little History

I started our trip up the Poudre Canyon with an earlier post, The Poudre Canyon – Ted’s Place. Now we are going to move up the lower canyon a few miles.

Resorts have been part of the lower canyon since 1908, when the Poudre Canyon Fishing and Summer Resort was opened, complete with 12 tents, bedding, and a chef. As far as I know, no photographs of the Fishing and Summer Resort exist.

The next lower canyon resort I can find mentioned in the Colorado Historic Newspapers is Stearley’s Cabins. Here is what the July 7, 1911, Fort Collins Weekly Courier had to say:.

“A party . . . spent several days this week outing in Poudre canon at the Stearley cabins. They were exceedingly well taken care of by the genial host, Fred Stearley; they report the time of their lives and regretted when the hour came to leave.”

Fred Stearley was a local boy, growing up on his father’s ranch in Laporte, Colorado. He attended Colorado Agricultural College, graduating in 1903. Stearley worked a number of jobs, including managing the new telephone systems for the Colorado Telephone Company, but by 1911, he had started his own business, shown below in a circa 1915 real photo postcard. I’ve also included a close-up of the cabins on the left side of the image.

Stearley’s Cabins, Poudre Canyon, c. 1915
Close-up of Stearley’s Cabins on Left Side of Image, c. 1915

Though I’m not positive of its exact location, I beleive it was on the south side of the road, about one-mile below Gateway Park. Stanley Case, in The Poudre: A Photo History, indicates that Stearley lost the property to back taxes around 1926. It changed names frequently and in 1992 was called the Gypsy Terrace Bed and Breakfast.

Mark Miller and his family spent time at Stearley’s Cabins in 1916. They recorded their visit in their family album. Here are the two images, one outside the largest cabin at the resort and another inside the cabin at meal time.

Miller Visit to Stearley’s Cabins, Exterior, 1916
Miller Visit to Stearley’s Cabins, Interior, 1916

When Barbara Fleming and I were researching the Poudre Canyon for our book, we came across a story that was new to me; an early attempt to build a rail line through the Poudre Canyon and North Park, eventually terminating at Salt Lake City, Utah. We couldn’t use the story in our book because there weren’t any vintage images of this trans-canyon event but I can tell the story here, using two photographs I took in 2014.

In the 1880s, railroads were trying to find ways through the Rocky Mountains. Two railroads decided that the Poudre Canyon might provide a path through this enormous barrier. In October 1880, The Denver, Salt Lake and Western Railroad, a subsidiary of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, sent in a team of surveyors to identify the best path through the canyon. The DSL&W soon abandoned the idea and did nothing with the survey.

Not to be outdone, the Union Pacific, who controlled the Colorado Central Railroad that served Fort Collins, began grading a track bed through the canyon, in February 1881, using the survey stakes left by the DSL&W. They also didn’t get far but, by the time they quit, they had graded about three-miles of track bed, cut a short tunnel, and built a trestle. If you look carefully, you can still find hints of their work along the canyon road.

Remnants of the Railroad Tunnel, 2014

Above is the most obvious remaining feature, the remnants of the railroad tunnel. By my measurements, it is approximately 1.7 miles west of Ted’s Place, on the north side of the road. You will need to get out of your car and walk a short distance to see it. Not much remains of the tunnel and, I’m not sure you would recognize it as a tunnel, if you weren’t looking for it.

According to Stanley Case, in The Poudre: A Photo History, in 1913 the water company added a second water pipe from the water works to Fort Collins. They used the rail bed, where they could, as the path for the new pipe. During this work, they “daylighted” the tunnel, with a large piece of equipment they were using to run pipe.

The new water pipe also left the other hints to the location of the rail bed, rock work that was done when the new pipe was laid. Here is a photograph of a long stretch of rock work about two-miles from Ted’s Place, also on the north side. It can be seen from the road.

Water Line Rock Work Along Unused Rail Bed, 2014

On May 1, 1882, during the construction of the rail bed, Tiger Jim Wilson was fired from his job. Tiger Jim got his gun so he could shoot the man who fired him. Here is what the May 4, 1882, Fort Collins Courier reported on the event:

“A fatal shooting affray occurred at Walsh’s camp in Poudre canon, on Monday night. It seems that a bad man calling himself “Tiger Jim,” went up to the camp on Monday and soon succeeded in raising a row, and during the melee shot young Swede called “Buckskin Joe,” through the right lung. . . . The men in camp succeeded in capturing Jim and held him until Marshal Morgan arrived at the place and took him.”

Picnic Rock, c. 1900. (Fort Collins Archive H15971)

Though no one is positive, it is thought that the killing took place at Picnic Rock, one of the earliest landmarks in the lower Poudre Canyon. As early as 1887, Picnic Rock is mentioned in the society pages as a meeting place. It was a place for fun, romance and, at least, this one murder.

This is an early photograph of Picnic Rock, probably from around 1900. It is from the Fort Collins Archive, since I didn’t have one this early in my collection. In 1938, this rock was deemed dangerous and explosives were used to remove it. So now, the namesake rock is gone, though Picnic Rock remains a favorite recreation area in the lower canyon. It is located about two-miles from Ted’s Place on the south side of the road.

On October 14, 1882, the Fort Collins Courier reported, “Tiger Jim was sentenced today by Judge Elliot to ten years in the penitentiary at Canon City. The sentence is severe but well earned.”

On Sunday, I’ll post some photographs of beet pilers, which succeeded beet dumps in the 1930s.

Scroll down to the bottom of this post and click the “Poudre Canyon” category to see all of my Poudre posts.