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April 2009

Crystal, Colorado: Turning Rock Creek into Crystal River

Frontier Diary
By Willa Soncarty
Registrar, Frontier Historical Society and Museum

The Crystal River district is one of those vast, rich, but until recently little known countries, that, walled in with high mountains, has for ages kept its treasures hidden from the outside world.
-- Avalanche Echo Special Edition, May 1893

In 1879, the first prospectors from the town of Gothic crossed what would become Schofield Pass in search of personal wealth. What they found was an area containing vast resources.

The survey party of Dr. Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden was the first to officially map and document the region. This party of topographers, geologists, naturalists, scientists, botanists, entomologists and artists, and a photographer named William Henry Jackson, followed a stream named Rock Creek in 1873, recording the natural world from the foot of Mount Sopris to Schofield Pass and beyond. This area would later become known as the Crystal River Valley.

The Hayden Survey provided information for the prospectors who came six years later. Their primary focus was to locate veins of gold and silver. However, also found were vast deposits of marble, slate and coal.

Those who sought their fortunes also established towns along Rock Creek. Schofield was the first in 1879, followed by Elko, Crystal City, Marble and Clarence. Stores and business came with the mining operations. In 1886 a weekly newspaper, the Crystal River Current, began publication in the town of Crystal (the name being shortened from Crystal City). The appearance of the name "Crystal River" in the paper’s name prompted residents along Rock Creek to throw aside the creek’s name. Through common local usage, Rock Creek became known as Crystal River.

As the 19th century progressed, mining continued as the Crystal River Valley’s prime industry. With John C. Osgood developing his coal mines at Redstone, Placita and Coal Basin, a railroad was needed in the Crystal River valley. In 1898, Osgood revived a defunct railroad project, the Crystal River Railroad, in the effort to connect Redstone with Carbondale. With this new venture, the railroad’s officers petitioned the Department of the Interior to officially change the name of Rock Creek to Crystal River.

After three years of review, the General Land Office of the Department of the Interior found valid reason for the name change. Citing at least 10 streams bearing the name Rock Creek in Colorado, and that for nearly 15 years the name Crystal River had supplanted the name Rock Creek locally, the change was officially made on Nov. 22, 1901. Rock Creek was found no more. Crystal River appeared on official maps from that moment forward.

"Frontier Diary" is provided to the Post Independent by the Frontier Historical Society and Museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Winter hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday and Thursday through Saturday. For more information, call 970-945-4448.

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