Community Agriculture Alliance: Hayden’s railroad centennial |

Community Agriculture Alliance: Hayden’s railroad centennial

Laurel Watson

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first train to Hayden as well as Craig. To celebrate this, the Hayden Heritage Center is hosting a street festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday followed by events at the Hayden Granary, including an award-winning, multimedia presentation of the “Riders on the Orphan Trains” at 6 p.m. and a barn dance at 8 p.m. with the John Wayne Band.

The train was a major catalyst for the development of the area as it linked Northwest Colorado to markets across the country. The original plan hatched by David H. Moffat was for the railroad to continue west to Salt Lake City and become a transcontinental railroad with Denver at its center, thus connecting the vast wealth of coal, livestock and produce of Northwest Colorado to the rest of the world.

The locals understood the importance of the rail line to the area, and when the railroad reached a town, a huge celebration took place honoring the momentous event. In Hayden, the entire town showed up to greet the first train. Ranchers donated sides of beef and elk, which were cooked over a spit for the town to enjoy. Events including a baseball game took place. One of the far-reaching events that took place was a showing of local produce grown by town elder Ezekial Shelton. Everyone was so impressed with the range of produce that Shelton grew that the idea of a local county fair developed. The intent was for area residents to meet and discuss different crops and methods of growth that worked in the area as well as compare livestock methods. Land quickly was acquired so that an official Routt County Fair could be held the following year in 1914.

Moffat never attained the extent of his goal. By the time his line reached past Steamboat Springs, it was near bankruptcy with Moffat spending most of his wealth — more than $14 million. Moffat died unexpectedly on a trip to New York City seeking the rest of the funding needed to finish the line. The rail was laid to Hayden and Craig, where it abruptly ends. Although the line did not reach Salt Lake City as Moffat had desired, it did connect Northwest Colorado to Denver and thus enabled the development of the rich coal fields and opened the way for area ranchers to ship their cattle, sheep, dairy goods and produce to Denver markets. And although many of the early lines have disappeared, the Moffat line still is in use today for shipping coal.

Laurel Watson is the curator at the Hayden Heritage Center. She can be reached at

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