A Special Place On the Shore of Grand Lake, Colorado
Researched and written by Steve Batty
My family has been coming almost every summer to Grand Lake since 1908 when Jay Adams invited the Battys and Keesters, from Jay’s former home in Alma, Nebraska. That first fall, the Battys, and Keesters purchased two adjoining lots on the south shore of the lake and had a duplex log cabin built by local craftsmen the following year.
I’ve been spending some part of almost every summer at the family cottage since I was a year old. I’m now 72 and usually refer to the Grand Lake area as “My Mountain Paradise”. This includes the area from Mount Baldy to the Rabbit Ear’s Range (now named The Never Summer Range) on the west side of Middle Park.
Now that I am in the fall of my years, I actually stop to smell the wild roses in June while walking parts of the lake shoreline. As a child and young man, I was more concerned with the destination than the journey, particularly the journey around the lake. Now, on my walks from the family lake cottage to town for coffee, I stop at Point Park and marvel at the beauty of our Mountain Paradise. I invite you to join me sitting on one of the many park benches or the large rock with the Bureau of Reclamation marker in it.
From there, looking east, you will see Baldy flanked on the left by Mt. Cairns and the right, Mt. Wescott. At some time after Reverend Craig purchased land from Joseph Wescott, Baldy was officially named Mt. Craig. As a note of interest, at the west end of the lake, Cairns owned lakeshore on the left, Craig in the middle and Wescott on the right. The same as the mountains named for the three men.
The old-timers knew the south shore of the lake as Echo Mountain before being renamed Shadow Mountain sometime in the 1940s. My father frequently referred to it by its original name. He once told me, he and cousin Dorothy used to row the Old Mary-Ann out from shore and shout at the mountain just to listen for the echo. One of the favorite summer past times of the early Lake guests and cabin owners was to walk the path around the lake. The lakeshore owners eventually built benches where the walkers could stop, rest and visit. Now, most of the walking path is gone, except from the end of Jerico Road to the footbridge over the east inlet. It also went from Grand Lake City, across the footbridge to what is now Point Park and into Grand Lake Village. So, if you are now in the Park, you might be standing on or at least very close to where the County Commissioners walked to their death that fateful day on July 4th 1883.
Some of the special natural events, which happen on the lake, are best viewed from the park. For some reason, the finest red morning sunrises seem to happen in September and early October. I have many beautiful sunrise photos where both the east sky and water between are the deepest most vibrant red you could imagine. Above photograph by Cissy Fry Wilson – Reflections of a mountain paradise
Sunrise photograph below contributed by Rebecca Hofmeister.
Another early morning event are the little spiffs of clouds, which seem to be escaping the lake. According to “The Legend of Grand Lake” written by Joseph Wescott, they appear to represent the spirits of the dead Ute squaws and papoose Indians who drown in the lake during the battle between the Ute braves and the combined Arapaho and Cheyenne war party.
As summer afternoon rain showers begins to wane, frequently can be seen a rainbow to the east stretching from the north shore across the lake to the south shore. If your timing is good, you might see a double or even a triple rainbow. Photograph contributed by Dr. Robert Wilson
Some of the other early morning visitors to the park might be a lone black bear heading south to his hiding place on Echo Mountain or a large bull moose munching on the tall grass on the south side of the outlet. And, if you are very still and quiet you might even glimpse a beautiful red fox slinking along the edge of the lake looking for breakfast in the tall grass of the meadow to the west.
One of the old Indian names for the lake is Red Lake. This appears to be caused when there are clouds just above the Rabbit Ears Range to the west a few minutes before dusk. This beautiful early evening event is best seen from the front porch of the Grand Lake Lodge. What you see from that vantage point are two pink lakes, Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake.
For additional photos associated with Grand Lake’s Point Park click on the associated name.
…………… ……..NOW FOR THE REST OF THE STORY ……………………..
Let’s take a look at who either inhabited the Point Park area or claimed ownership to it over the years. The first would have to be said were the Native Americans and in particular the Ute. There is a ton of information out there about the Ute tribes.
Febr. 2020 – Here is a wonderful Ted Talk by a Ute telling their story of the creation of the earth and all it’s people, including the Ute. The Ute did not have a written language so all history was passed down by storytelling. Ute Wisdom, Language and Creation Story on Ted.
Another native American tribe who used to come to the Grand Lake area during the summers were the Arapaho. They were primarily plains Indians on the east side of the continental divide. The Arapaho would have traveled by foot then horseback over Flat Top Mountain, down the North Inlet to Grand Lake. There were probably three important reasons for their annual move from the Front Range to Middle and North Park. 1) The temperatures were much more moderate in the summer, 2) the abundant game for hunting and fishing, and 3) the hot mineral and therapeutic water pools at the present day Hot Sulphur Springs. Here is a good article I discovered later in my research. 1914 Treck through RMNP with two Arapaho braves. Another interesting document of sacred sites and more in RMNP.
Next would have been Spain followed by Mexico claiming the land and waters but never settling the area. Middle Park, including Grand Lake, was not part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 from France. It did not include any land west of the Continental Divide. I have not been able to pinpoint exactly when the area west of the Continental Divide was claimed by the United States but I’m guessing it might have been associated with obtaining California from Mexico.
According to the poem “The Legend of Grand Lake” written by Joseph L. Wescott following a talk with an old Ute Indian brave, this story starts around the time Wescott was born in Nova Scotia in 1838. He eventually migrated to the United States in 1850 at age twelve. He might have heard of the great gold rush to California in 1849 but was much too young to get involved. In 1859 gold was discovered on Clear Creek west of Denver and in this one, he could find his fortune.
I have not found any record of his entry into the territory of Colorado but he did enlist in the Colorado Infantry/Cavalry regiment sometime after July 1st 1861. In November of 1862, the infantry regiment became the 1st cavalry regiment. The regiment’s one major Civil War battle was in New Mexico at Apache Canyon also called Glorieta Pass New Mexico March 28th, 1862. After that battle, most of the regimental battles were with the Indians in Kansas and Colorado. The records show he enlisted as a private in the 1st Cavalry Company G in 1862 but that does not mean he was not in the Colorado Territory volunteer infantry until the formation of the Cavalry in November of 1862. It does imply that he owned a horse.
Another important date in 1862 was on May 20th when President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Homestead Act to encourage the migration of settlers into the western states and territories. This law allowed settlers to homestead 160 acres of public land for a small fee and residence and improvements on it for the following five years.
Sometime after Wescott was mustered out in late November of 1865 he needed to travel to Hot Sulphur Springs, in hopes that the hot mineral baths might cure his rheumatism. It appears that his attempt to homestead in the Hot Sulfur area was thwarted so he traveled to Grand Lake and settled in an abandon log cabin at the west end of the lake in 1867. In the 1880 US Census (Colorado’s first as a state) he listed himself as a miner. I can only guess but I’m pretty sure he also fished or trapped fish, hunted the abundant animals, prospected for gold and cut, chopped and split lots of firewood.
In 1881 a meander survey was accomplished all the way around the lake. That same year, a second meander survey was done of the land around the lake. In 1882 Wescott filed with the land office for a quarter section (160 acres) of land at the west end of the lake on either side of the Grand River. After five years he proved it up in 1887 and was given the original patent for the 154.32 acre plot. At some point in time, he subdivided his land into lots and named the area Grand Lake City.
A few side notes. The only “Main Street” in the area is from Jerico Road east to the original center of Grand Lake City on the west end of the lake. It was also very common in those times to add the word “city” to the original name of the town to make it sound larger, i.e. Lulu City, Grand Lake City, and Teller City. Also, the standard lot width at that time was 25 feet. That standard had been established years before in NYC. Check it out in the town of Grand Lake. Most older buildings on Grand Avenue are on 25 foot lots or multiples of 25 feet.
As GL City began to grow, a couple hotels (Adam’s Grandview House, and the Lake View House) were built, a general store along with a few permanent residential log homes. At some point in time, newer residents decided they wanted to have their stores and homes on the more sunny and warmer north shore of the lake.
The first US census to include the new state of Colorado was taken in June of 1880. That census shows that Grand Lake had a total of 32 residents residing in 9 dwellings. Most of the men were listed as miners, as was Wescott, with a logger, stonemason, farmer, sawyer, a couple of housekeepers, two hotel keepers, lawyer, fisherman, and a retail grocer. The 1890 census was mostly destroyed and no data is available for Grand Lake.
By 1883 the prospectors and miners realized the gold and silver ore grades were too low per ton. The area was not going to be getting a railroad or reducer located nearby because the one county commissioner supporting the projects had been killed in the July 4th, 1883 shootout. After all the commissioners were killed, the miners packed up their few personal belongings and left and the towns soon became ghost towns. Following the miner’s departure, the only mining support town left was Grand Lake. If it was going to survive, it needed to make the transformation to a summer resort destination. For a short 1895 view of Grand County history follow this link – Early Grand County History.
In July of 1893, Wescott sold to Reverend William Baird Craig a 20-acre tract of land on the north side of the Grand River (outlet) along the west shore of Grand Lake. In October of that same year, Wescott sold to Jarvis W. Davies approximately 2.5 acres of land north of the Grand River along the west shore of Grand Lake now known as Point Park. In 1908 Reverend Craig sued Davies for his tract of land saying that he had a prior claim to it. Davies hired Hot Sulphur Springs attorney David P. Howard to represent him in court. The case drug on until it was finally settled in 1921. By that time both Joseph Wescott and William Baird Craig had passed. I’m not sure why Wescott died but it could have been due to a hard life and age. Craig, on the other hand, was killed in Denver in an auto accident.
A couple more reason why it took thirteen years to finally settle the suit could have been the fact that the District Court in Hot Sulphur was only held twice a year. If one of the parties asked for a continuance it was another six months before the court was held. The poor roads and snow could also have been a serious factor in delaying the decision. The district court finally settled in favor of Craig and Howard appealed the decision but lost again. I’m not sure just how long this went on but Howard finally asked Ralph W. McCrillis, a Denver attorney, to lead the charge.
In 1921 the case was finally settled in favor of Jarvis Davies. Davies told his two attorneys they could have the property because he did not have the funds to pay their fees. The three finally agreed on a 50/50 split. Davies retained half ownership and the two litigators split the other have. Eventually, McCrillis bought out Howard’s share.
For a more complete version of the litigation between Davies and Craig go to this online document, From Summer Home to Public Playground: The Evolution to Point Park, Grand Lake, Colorado by Michael Weeks Ph D. This document has many old photos and maps to help explain the McCrillis/Davies property and litigation.
For the next twenty years, the Ralph McCrillis family and Jarvis Davies were blessed to enjoy their Mountain Paradise on that little triangle of land now called Point Park. Ralph’s son Edwin or Ed has written a short brief titled Ed’s Grand Lake Tales, telling of many of his adventures at Grand Lake throughout his youth. I found it a joy to read. You too can share in Ed’s tales by clicking on the above title.
The future Point Park area was the summer home for the McCrillis family and Jarvis Davies until the Colorado-Big Thompson project started in 1938. A good source about the project can be found by clicking on the project name above. The effect the project had on the McCrillis/Davies lake property was that the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wanted some of their property. See Michael Weeks’ document about the Park to see the area the BLM wanted. In short, McCrillis and Davies sold their property to the Feds in 1944, and never returned to the lake.
On your next visit to the Lake, be sure to find your way to Point Park and take in its beauty. During the summer months, it is covered with blue lupine. In September, as the lupine seed pods are popping, the aspen will be showing their golden colors. If your timing is just right you might get to witness the red sky in the morning or glass-like lake surface reflecting the mountains and clouds. No matter what time of the year you are there, take a few minutes to revel in Our Mountain Paradise.