Building the Skyline Ditch

The Skyline Ditch, 1897 Harper’s Weekly

Most of my images are either postcards or photographs but early magazines sometimes have images that can’t be found anywhere else. What I’m posting today are some magazine images from two articles on the Skyline Ditch, both by H. A. Crafts. Crafts, an early newspaper editor in Fort Collins, was able to get two major national magazines to publish articles and photographs on this relatively small western water project. The articles ran in the June 12, 1897 edition of Harper’s Weekly and the October 14, 1899 issue of Scientific American, leaving us with a set of images and descriptions that would be hard or impossible to find anywhere else.

Called the Larimer River Feeder Ditch and the Big Laramie Ditch before finally being named the Skyline Ditch, the five-mile ditch moves water from the Laramie River watershed to Chambers Lake. Construction started on the Skyline Ditch in 1891 and water was flowing by 1894.

Below are some of the remarkable images, described in H. A. Crafts’ own words. I’ve used “HW” to denote words or images from Harpers Weekly and “SA” for words or images from Scientific American.

The 400 Foot Flume, 1897, Harper’s Weekly

“Many difficulties, however, were encountered in the construction of this alpine canal. In the first place, the seasons are short in that altitude [9,500 feet], and the work of construction could not be continued longer than the first of December. . . . The ditch must needs be constructed in many places along the steep side of the mountain, where the entire work was liable to slide out or the ditch to be filled with debris from a landslide from above. In other places it must be built through heavy timber; in others through solid rock. At one point it was found necessary to tunnel for a distance of 100 feet through solid rock, and at another point a flume 400 feet in length carried the ditch across a deep depression in the mountain-side.” (HW)

Wasteway, 1897, Harper’s Weekly

“During the summer months heavy showers of rain and cloud-bursts are frequent in these higher altitudes, when water comes pouring down the mountain-sides in tons. To obviate the danger of a break on account of a flood of water an automatic wasteway was invented. This is so arranged that water rising beyond a certain depth lifts the waste-gate and relieves the strain on the banks of the ditch.” (HW)

Intersection with Two and a-half Mile Creek, 1899, Scientific American

“At intervals for at least two-thirds of the distance around the flank of the mountain small streams were intersected. These were turned into the ditch to add their waters to the general supply. The principal of these streams was Two and a-half Mile Creek, the intersection of which with the ditch is shown in one [actually two] of our illustrations. The ditch was at first flumed across the gulch, and then the water from the creek was carried into it over a latticed apron. The apron was designed to both break the force of the water, for the better protection of the flume, and also to permit all floatage to be carried over the flume and discharged into the creek below.



Close-up or Two and a-half Mile Creek Intersection, 1899, Scientific American

“Our view was taken on June 25, 1899, and shows the snow banks up the gulch; the banks of the ditch on the left joining the flume in the center; the bridge across the gulch lying parallel to the flume, the automatic wasteway and the surplus water pouring over the apron.” (SA)

I’ve shared the images with Dennis J. Harmon, General Manager of the Water Supply & Storage Co., the company that controls the Skyline Ditch. He says there are no signs of the wooden structures today and was surprised that they ever existed.

Patricia J. Rettig, Head Archivist of the Water Resources Archive at CSU, says that the Skyline Ditch was enlarged in the 1920s and modified in the 1930s. It may be that these structures were eliminated as part of those changes.

If you know more about the early Skyline Ditch and these structures, please comment below. If you know someone who might, please pass the link on to them.

Thursday’s post will be a subject I know more about, Glenn Morris, one of CSU’s most notable athletes.