Museum of Northwest Colorado: Disappearing boom towns
Rough and ready, disheveled and a little more than rowdy are some images that come to mind when talking about boom towns. Moffat County tends to hold a little bit more of a kinder, gentler reputation when it comes to its history as a boom town. Perhaps the local population, settled and slightly behind the cutting edge of change, has a calming effect on the incoming oil and gas workers that find their way into this remote corner of Colorado.
This region is an old hand at the boom/bust cycle, and so the rituals of that recurring phase in the life of oil and gas development hold no surprises for local residents. During the first of the oil booms to hit the area, the Hiawatha gas field was discovered in 1926.
The first successful well, drilled in the northwestern corner of Moffat County, was completed in 1927, with more to follow. As future production proved to be a good bet, a small community quickly sprang up, aptly named Hiawatha. Soon the small hamlet boasted a blacksmith shop, a small warehouse, a cook shack and a barn with five horses in addition to a dozen boxcar shaped, tar-papered houses.
Travel in and out of Hiawatha frequently was challenging any time of year when the roads alternately ranged from gumbo mud to shifting sand and back to tracks deep with drifted snow. But despite transportation difficulties, the nearby Powder Wash Field soon opened up, and again the oil field workers were captivated by the arid beauty of the wildly remote region. Within a short time families inhabited a tiny town of clapboard houses set on neat tree-lined streets. A one-room school opened to accommodate the children, and that school operated into the 1990s.
These two little towns gave a different meaning to “boom town,” and certainly there couldn’t have been too much wild living in the middle of the sage-covered hills. Nature, with all her beauties and challenges offered a Spartan but quiet existence to area residents who by necessity were good neighbors to one another. Today, both of these little burgs have been obliterated by the sands of time, and quiet reigns again in place of children’s laughter and the sounds of oil field machinery.
The Museum of Northwest Colorado would love to collect any stories or memories by people who might have lived through the boom/bust cycle of these two tiny communities. The museum only has one photo of the area seen accompanying this article. If you have any information or photos you would be willing to share, call the museum at 970-824-6360, or come by Monday through Saturday with your information. Your story will help us document the fast-fading history of this isolated area and shed light on a different type of boom-town lifestyle.