Craig Charles Merrill came to Northwest Colorado from Hartington, Neb., around 1904 and homesteaded land just west of Craig, where today’s Shadow Mountain is situated. In addition to his duties as cashier at the First National Bank of Craig, Merrill became actively involved in his new community. He joined the town’s baseball team, served a term as mayor of Craig and served as president of the Citizens Bank. In 1907, he married Elnora Green, daughter of pioneer homesteaders R.S. and Sarah Green.
Merrill’s ties to his adopted hometown lasted his lifetime. He died in 1957 while visiting his son Charles Jr. in Pennsylvania. Knowing his strong ties to Northwest Colorado, the family had his remains flown back to Colorado so he could be buried next to his wife, Nora, in the Craig Cemetery.
Around 1918, professional photographer L.C. McClure, of Denver, made a trip to Northwest Colorado to take photographs. His high-quality images documented numerous scenes throughout the region, including many homestead and farming scenes as well as photos of early residents of the area. One of the homesteads he photographed was Charles and Elnora’s place 2 1/2 miles west of Craig at that time.
In the early 1970s, when the new power plant south of Craig was in the planning stages, the land that was part of the original Merrill homestead was sold to be used for a temporary housing site for the construction workers. Named "Shadow Mountain," the site was owned by the Colo-Ute Power Plant and was intended to be used only through 1983, when the last phase of construction was completed.
As it turned out, instead of being dismantled at the end of the construction era, the trailer lots were sold off to individuals and the trailer park took on a more permanent appearance, as travel trailers and smaller mobile homes were replaced with larger modular homes and more landscaping. Today, the small residential area is facing major challenges as aging sewer and water lines, originally intended to serve in a temporary capacity, need to be replaced.
Charles Merrill, a newcomer to Craig in 1904, settled on his land to help build a new community. Seventy years later, newcomers settled again on that same land with the job of building a new power plant. Many of those construction workers ended up staying and becoming part of the community, just as Merrill did so many years earlier.
The Museum of Northwest Colorado continues to build its collection of historic photographs, including those of L.C. McClure. More of his photographs can be viewed at the museum’s website, www.museumnwco.org, under the “History” tab. If you have any photographs or stories to share, feel free to drop by the museum and visit with the staff. Remember, “history is now” and it’s “your story!”
Mary Pat Dunn is the registrar of the Museum of Northwest Colorado.