Tuesday, May 16, 2017

the 1st thing I learned about Otto Mears is that he built toll roads in Colorado, charging $5 to cross a remote road he built in 1881, later he built the famous sceneic Rio Grande Railway... and some other amazing things

Otto Mears was an early pioneer of road and railroad construction in this area. He charged $5 for a wagon team, and 10 cents a person, to pass over the bridge.

upper left of the top photo is his toll booth.

the same bridge today

 Given its location, there was no way to sneak around it.

the road cost a thousand dollar a foot to make.

It's still the shortest way from Grand Junction to Durango (left side of the map, West side of Colorado)

Otto Mears was born in Russia in 1840, his parents died when he was very young, so he was passed between a series of family members moving to England, then sent to New York, out to California – and finally arriving in San Francisco in 1851.

No one was there to meet him, his Uncle had left for Australia... so as an eleven year old only speaking Russian he supported himself selling newspapers. Later he worked in stores in the California Gold County where he also learned to be a tinsmith. He was robbed of his savings and moved to Sacramento where he learned about mining and speculation in mining stocks.

He served 3 years in the army under Kit Carson and while in the army he assumed the extra duty of making bread and was paid a pound of flour for every pound of bread he made. He sold the extra flour to the Indians and by the time he was discharged, he'd pocketed $1,900. So he opened a store and he constructed the first lumber mill in SW Colorado.

To satisfy the demand for flour, he planted 200 acres of wheat and he brought in the first mower, reaper and threshing machine,  then built the first grist mill as well.

 By harvest, the price of flour had dropped from $20 per 100lbs to $5. He decided to freight his crop 100 miles north to the Arkansas Valley where gold had been discovered. There were no roads over Poncha Pass and his wagons floundered in the mud and rough terrain, spilling the wheat. A lone rider came by on horseback and suggested that Mears build a toll road across the pass.

 Taking the suggestion to heart, and after he sold the wheat for $12 a hundred, he continued onto Denver and obtained the charter to improve the road over the Poncha Pass and built his first toll road. Eventually Otto Mears build over 450 miles of toll roads in Colorado, allowing the vast area to become economically viable.

His routes over Poncha Pass and Marshall Pass were purchased for road beds by the Denver and Rio Grande railway

Mears eventually turned his interest to building narrow gauge railroads. The trains were mostly used to carry supplies and transport ore from the mines. The first was a line from Silverton to Red Mountain. Following that he built the Rio Grande Southern from Ridgway to Durango.

the Rio Grande Southern, 1890

 In 1893, Mears lost control of the Rio Grande Southern railroad. The repeal of the Sherman Act caused a silver crash that closed the mines and reduced the value of his investments. He had to sell much property and lost control of his railroad holdings

Mears became involved in railroad and manufacturing ventures on the East Coast, and one of his most successful railroads was the Chesapeake Beach Railway, which ran between Washington DC and southern Maryland.

He brought the first telegraph to Fort Garland, learned to speak Ute, befriended Chief Ouray, negotiated the Brunot Treaty of 1873, was chairman of the Board of Capitol Managers overseeing the construction of the state Capitol, was a state representative and newspaper publisher.

The dome of the Colorado State Capitol building was originally covered in copper. After the weather tarnished the copper sheathing, Mears suggested covering the dome with gold. He persuaded the Colorado Mining Association to donate 200 ounces of gold for the project, and by 1908, the dome's first gilding was complete.


and now a lot of those roads and trails are off roading awesome

Start at the 7 minute mark for more about the area with the bridge, and the roads, made by Mears


  1. Incredible work...This guy didn't seem to give up...Impressive for sure!

    1. He sure didn't, I did though, I had to move on and post something else instead of reading more about him! Incredible life story!