Early Fremont County Economic Activity

The first permanent white settlements in Colorado were made in conjunction with the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858-59. Cañon City, with a relatively mild year-round climate, was the last place wagonloads of supplies could reach before heading toward the mountains and mining camps.

Sustained growth awaited the arrival of the post-Civil War “Resurrectionists.” The Civil War period from 1861 to 1865 reduced the population from over 700 residents to less than 25. However, with help from the Homestead Act, post-Civil War veterans received the script and other benefits that encouraged them to homestead. Many arrived in Fremont County to ranch, farm, and pursue other activities.

Florence, founded as Frazierville in 1860 around a 2,000-tree apple orchard, was also an important economic hub. It became an active railroad center because of local coal mining, oil production, and precious ore processing. In the 1880s, Florence developed a substantial business district that remains largely intact.

Mining activity included gold and silver ore processing for area camps in Cripple Creek and Leadville, local coal mines and limestone quarries supported John D. Rockefeller and Jay Gould’s Colorado Fuel & Iron Company in Pueblo, while early railroads tied the mining, processing, and supply chain together.

Agricultural heritage was stimulated by demand from area mining camps. The early development of irrigation works and water storage facilities helped improve production. Wagonloads of shade and fruit trees were imported and tracts of irrigated land were sold. This resulted in extensive orchards (especially apple) by 1868. The fruits and vegetables grown in Fremont County were a major local industry.

Cattle ranching began in Fremont County in the 1850s with herds from Missouri, Kansas, and Texas.
Building materials provided by local lumber mills, brickyards (using local clay), stone quarries, and cement manufacturers supplied area mines, mining camps and the development of cities.

The first oil well in the west was drilled in 1862 on Oil Creek six miles north of Cañon City (now Four-Mile). It led to the 1881 founding of the Florence Oil Field. These were the first commercial oil wells in the west and the second oldest commercial oil field in the U.S.

The first Territorial prison was built in Cañon City, opening its doors in 1871. The penitentiary consisted of a two-story building containing 42 cells. Less than six months after receiving the first prisoner, there were 23 prisoners held here. The original penitentiary had no surrounding wall until prisoners built one in 1875 to prevent escapes. A new Administration Building was built in 1877, with Cañon City’s main road running directly in front.

The first ethnic colony in Colorado was settled by Germans in the Wet Mountain Valley in 1869. Later, Jewish immigrants from Russia settled in Cotopaxi in 1882. Both were short-lived.

Tourism facilities like Soda Point Hot Springs Hotel in 1873, Skyline Drive in 1905, and the Royal Gorge Bridge in 1929 were constructed.

Pre-Hollywood era silent film activity included two motion picture production companies attracted by the area’s scenic vistas, varied topography, and sunny days. Tom Mix was among the early actors who frequented the area in the 1910s.