Beloved, yet plagued with tragedy, this narrow-gauge railway is an integral piece of Boulder County's mining history. Named by a Greeley schoolteacher for the Rocky Mountains' apparent likeness to the Swiss Alps, the Switzerland Trail of America was built in 1883. Originally running from Boulder up Fourmile Canyon to Sunset, tracks were later laid to include Ward and Eldora.
Towns that were fortunate enough to merit a stop along the railroad gained a sizable advantage over those left out. Transportation methods before the railroad consisted of horse-drawn wagons and carriages moving slowly along rocky, dangerous roads. The presence of the railroad vastly improved quality of life. Not only could towns use the railroad for supplies, and mines use it for shipping
ore, but people could use it for business or pleasure. The railroad was faster, safer, and more cost-effective than horse-drawn transportation, but taking the railroad came with its own set of dangers.
Crashes and derailments were not uncommon for the Switzerland Trail. Although the narrow gauge railroad was easier to build through the rough terrain of the Rocky Mountains, narrow gauge train cars derailed much easier than standard gauge cars. Landslides, avalanches, floods, falling boulders, and snow drifts were all hazards to the railway. Consequently, the Switzerland Trail only made an acceptable profit from 1907-1911. The railway's operators petitioned the state to allow them to cease operations in 1917, claiming to be $1,000,000 in debt. After many public opinion meetings and hearings, the final blow to the railroad was dealt in 1919 when a flood damaged 700 feet of track in Fourmile Canyon.
The Boulder train depot on 30th Street still stands today. The only other evidence of the Switzerland Trail's existence is its old roadbed, long-closed mines, and the presence of towns that the railroad helped solidify. Though the tracks and engines were scrapped and sold off, the Switzerland Trail's legacy lives on.
Did You Know?
Although originally built to support mining camps, tourism became a major source of income for the Switzerland Trail. Called "excursionists," tourists would often venture from Boulder into the mountains for sightseeing, glacier-trekking, and flower-picking. In 1917, 10,000 excursionists travelled on the Switzerland Trail!
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