Railroad in Mancos has rich, smelly history

When the Rio Grande Southern Railroad was completed through Mancos in 1891, the section house was the lone building still sitting in the Noland pasture. The depot was a revamped barn just to the north of it. George Bauer and Ed Ptolemy had sold land to the railroad with the conditions that there be a modern depot and a $10,000 hotel. Tourists and all others had to wade through mud or dust just to make their way away from the barn/depot.

Charles Kelly and the Wetherill brothers did their best to accommodate people and take them to lodging uptown or out to the Wetherill ranch. Still, the conditions were deemed a disgrace for people to be dumped off at a barn/depot that smelled like cow manure. In 1895, Bauer and Ptolemy firmly reminded the railroad of the two conditions.

The new depot was finished on Feb. 14, 1896. It was much closer to town and was a building the town could be proud of. The second story contained living quarters for the station manager, Henry Norton Sprague, and his family. Henry stayed in Mancos until 1900 and moved to Vance Junction where his son, Wilbur died. Henry brought the body of his son back to Mancos and buried him in the Cedar Grove Cemetery.

Aiding in getting the new depot was the Mancos Times, which was first published on April 17, 1893. Articles appeared every so often that berated the railroad for making those living in Mancos second-class citizens. The publisher (after the first six months) was Muldoon Kelly, who got his nickname from having been one of the publishers of the Solid Muldoon in Ouray.

Mancos was incorporated in 1894, and that in and of itself aided the town in having a new depot. George Bauer became mayor. One of the trustees was Henry Sprague, the railroad depot manager. Two other familiar names that also became trustees were Charles Kelly and David Lemmon.

About this same time, the rates for travel on the RGS were reduced but were still considered higher than they should have been. A ticket to Durango cost $2.40. That was not too bad, but the same amount had to be paid to come back to Mancos. One could purchase a 500-mile ticket for $22.50, making going to Denver or Salt Lake and back quite an expense for most people.

Even early on, the railroad became a boon for ranchers who loaded hundreds of cattle and sheep onto boxcars. Another important item that kept much of the railroad busy was lumber. Thousands of tons of lumber were loaded on at the Millwood Junction and at Gradens. The largest sawmill, however, was at McPhee.