New Castle, Colorado, named after the English coal mining town Newcastle upon Tyne, was incorporated in 1888. The mountains rich with coal surrounding the Town were the impetus for New Castle’s development into the bustling mining community it became in the late 1880s.
Shortly after celebrating its centennial, New Castle started growing rapidly and was identified in the 2000 census as Colorado’s 7th fastest growing community. Along with strong residential population growth, the Town has experienced significant commercial development as well, with the construction of a grocery store, bank, restaurants, convenience stores, doctor and dentist offices, health club, bowling alley, and other businesses. In 2004, an 18-hole golf course designed by award-winning golf course architect James Engh opened for public play.
Located on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains, 173 miles west of Denver, this town of 4,500 residents rests at 5,550 feet elevation. The Town is bordered on the north by 7,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands and 20,000 acres of White River National Forest lands. South of Town are 11,000 acres of protected Division of Wildlife properties. A large deer and elk population as well as black bear and mountain lion inhabit these mountainous terrains. The Colorado River flows through Town, presenting wonderful opportunities for trout fishing, white water rafting and kayaking, and wildlife viewing. World-class alpine and cross-country skiing and snowboarding, big game hunting, boating, snowmobiling, wilderness hiking and camping, mountain biking—all are in New Castle’s backyard.
New Castle offers one of the best public school opportunities in the state. Kathryn Senor Elementary School is located at the center of the Town’s fastest growing neighborhood. Constructed in 1997 for grades K through 4, the school has received high performance marks from the Colorado Department of Education. Riverside Middle School provides an excellent learning environment for students in grades 5 through 8. Coal Ridge High School, located between New Castle and its neighboring community of Silt to the west, opened in 2005. In 2006, voters approved a bond issue for the Garfield RE-2 School District that funded the construction of a new middle school (grades 5 through 8) adjacent to Kathryn Senor Elementary School, and the conversion of Riverside Middle School to a second elementary school for New Castle students. Which is now Elk Creek Elementary School, named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014. Video courtesy of : Ann Louise Ramsey
1887 Memories of the Meeker Massacre in 1879 were still fresh, and in 1887 County Sheriff Jim Kendall instigated a small battle near Meeker with Colorow’s followers. Kendall requested help from Colorado Governor Alva Adams, who sent seven brigades of the Colorado National Guard. Jasper Ward joined this group hoping to negotiate a peaceful settlement with his friend Colorow. Unfortunately as Ward was approaching the Utes for negotiations, a shot was fired by a Guardsman. More followed, and Ward, caught in the open, was killed. He was buried in Linwood Cemetery in Glenwood Springs.
1887 Four years after Ward built his cabin, New Castle had over 1000 residents. The sudden growth was due to the vein of high quality coal which lies in the Grand Hogback. While coal was mined in other areas of the 100-mile-long Hogback, the place where it intersects the Colorado River Valley gave the easiest access. Coal was important because silver mining was already well established in the Rockies. Coal was converted to coke, which was then used to smelt the silver taken from mines near Leadville and Aspen. There were several mining barons who amassed huge fortunes from the Rocky Mountain silver mines and the associated industries. Walter Devereux came to Colorado to manage the Aspen Mining and Smelter Company for James Wheeler. He became president of the Grand River Coke and Coal Company with mines throughout western Colorado. Devereux was active in establishing Glenwood Springs, and he built the Hotel Colorado in 1891. In New Castle he purchased mining property on Burning Mountain and a lot of land in town. It was his work, beginning in 1884, that led to the incorporation of the town in 1888. There were five mines in New Castle: the Consolidated, the Keystone, the Coryell, the B&M and the largest of them all, the Vulcan.
1888 The Town of New Castle, which had briefly gone by the names Grand Buttes and Chapman, was incorporated in February 2, 1888.
1888 Highland Cemetery, which was at the time north of town, was established the same year the town was established. Among the earliest burials were Civil War veterans who settled in the New Castle area after the war.
1888 In October of 1888 the Colorado Midland Railroad reached New Castle from Glenwood Springs, Aspen, and Leadville to the east. The railroad provided both convenient passenger service and, more importantly, a way to move large quantities of New Castle coal to the coke ovens in Cardiff and Redstone. Both the Colorado Midland and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company were in a race to reach the Western Slope. James John Hagerman, president of the Colorado Midland, planned a route from Leadville over the mountains to Basalt. At the same time he planned the line from Aspen to New Castle. The Denver and Rio Grande route was through the Colorado River Valley and Glenwood Canyon, and the tracks reached New Castle shortly after the Colorado Midland. The Colorado Midland tracks terminated in New Castle, while the Denver and Rio Grande continued its tracks west toward Grand Junction. Both lines shared the tracks west of town.
1891 Congress authorized the establishment of forest preserves in March 1891. In October the White River Plateau Timberland Reserve became the second national forest in the country.
1893 Conditions in the mines were difficult for the miners. They worked long hours in darkness underground, in poorly ventilated mine shafts which were sometimes only three feet high. They had to buy their own tools. In October of 1893 the Vulcan Mine company had failed to give workers their paychecks for two months. The workers walked off the job for two days and the matter was quickly resolved. In the meantime, at the Consolidated, miners were ordered to cover their lamps to prevent possible explosions. Though safer, the miners would have to work in near darkness. The miners struck and demanded more pay and adjustments in working conditions. In the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, owner of the Consolidated, held firm and told strikers their pay would be cut. After three months the owners made some concessions, but only hired back a fraction of the miners and at lower pay. The long period with no pay forced the miners, lucky enough to get work, back into the mine.
1896 On February 18, 1896, methane gas exploded in the Vulcan Mine. Forty-nine Miners were killed that day. Many of the miners are buried in Highland Cemetery.
1897 Mine explosions weren’t the only disasters to plague the town. Two competing railroad companies shared tracks between New Castle and Grand Junction, and trains raced to make the journey without stopping at switches to allow an oncoming train to pass. Accidents were not uncommon. The most noteworthy accident occurred on September 10, 1897. Westbound Rio Grande no. 506 and eastbound Colorado Midland 22 collided head-on at GraMid (named for the two railroads) just west of New Castle. Casualty reports were wildly divergent after the crash, but at least 20 people were killed. Frightful Railroad Wreck, Followed by Fire.
1899 After the Vulcan explosion, mining continued in New Castle’s other mines, but in 1910 the Consolidated, located in Ward’s Peak (Burning Mountain) caught fire. Attempts to quench it failed, and the mine was closed.
1903-04 Attempts at unionization were vigorously opposed by the mine owners, especially Perry Coryell, owner of the Coryell Mine directly south of town. Coryell also owned one of the town’s newspapers and the residential property along 7th Street known as Coryell Town. Strikes had occurred previously, but the 1903-04 strike, involving 200 miners, erupted in violence. In December 1903 four homes belonging to leaders of the United Mine Workers were dynamited. Coryell’s newspaper accused the miners of blowing up their own homes, as well as other atrocities. In May 1904, miner and union official John Lawson confronted Coryell in a Main Street barber shop. The argument spilled into the street and Coryell grabbed a shotgun and shot Lawson in the leg. Lawson survived and Coryell left the state later in 1904.
1905 Teddy Roosevelt had hunted in Colorado before he became president, but his April 1905 trip was special. President Roosevelt came first to Glenwood Springs, where his aides set up a Western White House at the Hotel Colorado. Then a special train brought the President to New Castle, where he gave a short speech, and the set off on horseback with his guides up Divide Creek. As it often does, snow fell in April in 1905. Toward the end of the trip, a blizzard kept the hunting party close to camp for several days. The President spent three weeks up Divide Creek, and the party killed 10 bears, which were displayed in New Castle. Rather than take the train back to Glenwood Springs, Roosevelt rode his horse, stopping to talk to farmers and ranchers on the way.
1908 With coal mines closing, the discovery of gold in East Elk Creek Canyon brought excitement to the town. The Grey Eagle mine opened about 10 miles from town, and soon John Higdon struck gold further up the canyon. Unfortunately the gold veins proved insignificant and the gold rush ended in 1909.
1910 Billy Griffith was a former Town Marshall, a popular baseball player and a saloon owner. On November 9, 1910 he was convicted in court of assault, unfairly he believed. The next day, November 10, he accosted Frank Sample, one of the people who had testified against him, on Main Street. Town Marshall John Rennix came to the rescue, and Sample was able to escape. Griffith had two pistols out, and he shot Rennix in the stomach. Rennix was able to get off a couple shots before collapsing, and he managed to wound Griffith. All this happened in front of the Trimble building, and Griffith ran inside and up to the second floor. Meanwhile William Davis and Town Councilor Hugh Miller had rushed to Marshall Rennix to try to help. Griffith started firing from a second floor window, and hit Davis in the head, killing him. A posse of nearly 40 men arrived from Glenwood Springs and fired into the building. No one, however, dared to enter the building until Griffith’s girlfriend, Lelia McMichael, volunteered. Inside she discovered that Griffith had turned his gun on himself and shot himself in the head. Rennix died the next day at the sanitarium in Glenwood Springs. Griffith, Rennix and Davis are all buried in Highland Cemetery.
1913 The Vulcan Mine had been closed after the 1896 explosion. In 1910 new owners, the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, opened a new entrance and resumed mining. On December 16, 1913, the Vulcan exploded again, killing 37.
1918 Three mine workers who were cleaning a small area of the Vulcan Mine were killed in an explosion on November 3, 1918. Following this accident, New Castle’s most productive mine was permanently closed. The Vulcan coal seam is still burning in Coal Ridge, south of the Colorado River, and the Consolidated Mine still burns in Burning Mountain. The heat from the fires destroys vegetation and melts snow along the long scars in the Hogback.
After Coal After the boom brought by coal mining, New Castle experienced a bust when the mines closed. While other towns experiencing a similar bust simply disappeared, New castle survived. There is fertile land surrounding New Castle which gave rise to farms and ranches. We had peaches, sugar beets, potatoes, along with cattle and sheep that were sometimes herded down Main Street. Nearby forests provided additional economic support. Trees were harvested on the Flat Tops and the Clinetops and trucked down the Buford Road and the treacherous Clinetops Road to the railroad depot on Main Street. The local saw mill, operated by William and Earl Rippy, was on the Flat Tops, near the present location of Triangle Park.
1932 The National Forest Service created the Flat Tops Primitive Area, which was the first protected wilderness in the country.
1938 Garfield County’s first public library was installed in a room at the west end of the New Castle School on Main Street.
1967 Garfield County built the first county library building in New Castle, designating it the main library in the county system. Little remains of the 1967 building following extensive rebuilding and expansion in 2012.
1971 Interstate 70, paralleling the Colorado River and New Castle’s Main Street, was completed through town in 1971. Full interstate access to the east was delayed, however, until 1992, when the “final link” through Glenwood Canyon was opened.
1982 May 2, 1982 is known in Garfield County as Black Sunday, marking the end of the oil shale boom. During the 1970’s the search for a method to profitably extract oil from the shale deposits in Northwest Colorado boosted the area’s economy and population. A large influx of federal funds supported the efforts of several oil companies. The evening newspapers on May 2, 1982, reported that Exxon, the largest employer in the area, was shutting down its oil shale operations. 2,100 people immediately lost their jobs. Other companies followed suit, and between 1982 and 1985, nearly 24,000 people left Garfield and Mesa counties.
1984 The new Town Hall and the Community Center were built in 1984, using Oil Shale impact funds granted to the town. The old Town Hall on 4th Street, became the town’s historical museum.
1989 For most of New Castle’s history, the land north of Mt. Medaris was farm and ranch land. In 1989, 101 years after the town’s incorporation, ground was broken in Castle Valley Ranch, marking the beginning of the housing boom which brought the population to 4,500 in 2010.
1994 Storm King Mountain is located just east of New Castle. On July 2, 1994, a lightning strike sparked a fire which grew to create one of the most disastrous wildfires in Colorado history. On July 6, 20 Hotshots from Prineville, Oregon, joined the attempt to control the fire. In the late afternoon, flames rushed uphill toward firefighters, eventually overtaking and killing fourteen. Hot Shot Park in New Castle is named in honor of the firefighters, and a memorial trail up the mountain begins at the terminus of Route 6, east of New Castle.
2004 Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Course opened in 2004. The course, rated among the top 20 in Colorado, was designed by James Engh.
2012 The original building in the Garfield County Library system, on Main Street in New Castle, was scheduled for remodeling in 2011. During the design and construction process, most of the original library was replaced and the floor space doubled from 5,000 to 10,000 square feet. The new library reopened on April 14, 2012.
COLOROW TRAIL The trail which traverses three miles of BLM land north of New Castle was built over three summers by the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers. It was named for Colorow, the Ute chief who remained in the area after his people were forced to a reservation. He befriended Jasper Ward, New Castle’s first white settler.
CORYELL LANE The short road on the west side of town recalls that this area was once a separate community called Coryell Town, established by Perry C. Coryell.
FAAS RANCH ROAD Honors Faye Fass, the owner who annexed the property which is now Lakota Canyon Ranch & Golf Club into the Town of New Castle.
HOT SHOT PARK The Town conducted a contest to name the new park near South Wildhouse Road. The winning name dedicated the park to the Hot Shot firefighters, who battled the Storm King fire in 1994. Fourteen Hot Shots lost their lives in that fire.
KAMM AVENUE Name for Fred and H.R. Kamm. Fred served as Mayor of New Castle in 1915; H.R. opened the dry goods and grocery store east of Ritter Plaza.
KATHRYN SENOR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL The School was named in honor of Kathryn Senor (d. 1993), a beloved teacher at New Castle School, as well as Rifle High School and Riverside school.
MATTIVI PLAZA The small plaza sits in front of the Mattivi Building, which once housed Pete Mattivi’s Phillips 66 gas station and Studebaker dealership and Mattivi Avenue. Mattivi (1905-2009) served as Garfield County Commissioner from 1957 to 1977, and as Mayor of New Castle from 1954 to 1969 and again from 1974 to 1981.
MT. MEDARIS The mountain in the middle of town was once New Castle’s northern border. It was named for Harry Medaris, the owner of the largest hotel on Main Street.
RITTER PLAZA The downtown park honors the Ritter family. J.W. Ritter (1859-1944), with his partner John McCrae, operated a store in the building to the east of the plaza. J.W. served several terms as Mayor, as did John C. Ritter (1896-1991). Mary Ellen Ritter (1875-1969) also served as New Castle’s only female Mayor.
RODERICK’S RIDGE Milton Roderick owned ranchland south of town and operated the ferry across the Colorado River. Since most of the miners working for the Vulcan and Coryell mines lived in town, they needed to take the ferry to get to and from work. Roderick’s Ridge is now better known as Coal Ridge. Roderick Lane is also named in his honor.
ROLLIE GORDON PARK Rollie Gordon moved from New Castle, Wyoming, to New Castle Colorado in 1948. He worked as a carpenter and owned property on both sides of 7th Avenue. In 1999 he donated the parkland to the town so a bridge to the Elk Creek School could be constructed. Rollie Gordon trail runs in both directions from the park along Elk Creek.
VANDEVENTER AVENUE Merritt Vandeventer (1846-1919) served as the first Mayor of New Castle from 1888 to 1890.
VIX RANCH PARK The large park on the north side of town honors the VIX Ranch, owned by the Rohr family, then by the Cline family. The ranch flourished north of Mt. Medaris before New Castle entered its period of growth in the later 20th Century.
WARD’S PEAK Named for Jasper Ward, the first settler in New Castle. The mountain on the west side of town is now known as Burning Mountain, for the coal seam fire burning in the old Consolidated mine. In fact the entire Grand Hogback burns in the New Castle area, but the burn scar on Burning Mountain is the only one visible from Main Street.
WHEELER LANE The short road commemorates Jerome Wheeler, who is more gloriously recognized in the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen. Wheeler owned silver mines in Aspen, built a tramway to carry the coal and invested in the Colorado Midland Railway. He backed Walter Devereux’s development of mining in Burning Mountain, tapping the Wheeler Vein.