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About Estes Park, Colorado
Joel Estes was a Cattle Rancher, hunter, Gold Seeker, Explorer, but most of all a family man. He and Patsey raised 13 children in St. Joseph, MO. He came to Colorado first in 1832, then to California in 1849 where he and his son sold their claim for $30,000.
He traveled the Oregon Trail in 1855, and finally when Gold was discovered in Colorado in 1859, he brought his wife, 6 children still at home, and a herd of cattle to Denver. The huge crowds made them decide to travel north along the Platte River to Ft. St. Vrain. He took his son Milton on a exploring trip to the mountains through what is now Lyons, following the North St. Vrain higher and higher till they came over that hill and discovered that beautiful blue valley now known as Estes Park. They built 2 cabins and moved the family up there.
William Byers, Editor of the Rocky Mountain News, stayed with the family on his attempt to climb Longs Peak. In his later article for the paper, he wrote that no human would ever reach the top of Longs Peak and the Estes Family was so kind to him, he called it Estes Park. In 1866, Joel sold the entire park for a team of oxen and went back to St. Joseph. Patsey later described their time in Estes Park “was like living on the front doorstep of heaven.” —Bio Info Courtesy Colleen Estes Cassell, OldEstes.com.
Major Stephen H. Long discovered Longs Peak on June 30, 1820 while on an expedition to ascend the Platte River and explore the headwaters of the Red River and Arkansas River. He did not ascend the peak named for his discovery.
Major John Wesley Powell and his party were the first to reach the summit of Longs Peak at 10 a.m., Aug. 23, 1868. Williams Byers was in the group; he returned to Denver to continue publishing The Rocky Mountain News. Byers brother-in-law, Jack Sumner, was guide for the ascent.
Estes sold his park to a Welshman Griffith Evans. In the late 60s, Evans began building a ‘dude ranch.’ Alexander and Clara MacGregor founded the MacGregor cattle ranch in 1873.
The Earl of Dunraven first visited Estes Park on December 27, 1872 and returned again in 1873 and 1874. He fell in love with the pristine area and acquired all of Estes Park to turn it into hunting and a resort. On July 1877, he opened The Estes Park Hotel; it was an instant success. The hotel burned in 1911.
The Elkhorn Lodge, considered to be the oldest, continuously operated hotel in Colorado, was built in 1874. The property consisted of several thousand acres and was deeded to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Freelan Oscar, F.O. Stanley came to Estes Park in 1903 with a life- threatening resurgence of tuberculosis. In 1908, F. O. Stanley and B. D. Sanborn acquired vast acreage from The Earl of Dunraven. Stanley built the luxurious Stanley Hotel that opened in 1909 and constructed the Fall River Hydro-Plant to provide electricity for the hotel and Estes Park.
Stanley was also responsible for partially funding the paving of the Big Thompson Canyon Road (US 34) and the road construction of the St. Vrain Road (US 36) in 1907. To transport guest over these roads to his hotel, his automobile company, the Stanley Motor Carriage Company (see book), built a 12-seat model known as the “Mountain Wagon.”
He was President of the new Protective and Improvement Association and first President of the Estes Park Bank. In 1908, Stanley purchased the remaining land from Dunraven (most of the valley) and gradually gifted it to town. Stanley Park (the man-made Lake Estes), fairgrounds and present high school campus were gifted between 1936 and 1941.
In 1907, Stanley established the Fall River Fish Hatchery and introduced Wapiti Elk from Yellowstone National Park in 1913.
Stanley developed an important and deep relationship with naturalist Enos Mills. Mills ran the popular Long’s Peak Inn south of town. Stanley encouraged and financially supported Mill’s
Stanley developed an important and deep relationship with naturalist Enos Mills. Mills ran the popular Long’s Peak Inn south of town. Stanley encouraged and financially supported Mill’s campaign for protection of the North-Central Rockies. In the end, Stanley’s financial support and Mills efforts achieved the establishment of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915. They were both present at the dedication.
Authors James H. Pickering, Carey Stevanus and photographer Mic Clinger have published a wonderful new book “Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, Then & Now.” Ninety eight historic photographs are compared today with the evolution of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Vintage Estes Park Photos
Estes Park Sign on U.S. 36 overlooking Estes Park