by Don Berger
In the late
1800's, new boom towns with names like Redcliff, Astor City, Gold Park
and Holy Cross City sprang up in the Upper Eagle River Valley as word
spread nationwide about
gold and silver
strikes. Thousands of hopeful prospectors came for a chance at a fortune.
One of these enterprising individuals was named Williams Edwards, who
in the mid-1880s bought a 156 acre site at the confluence of the Eagle
River and Brush Creek. He declared the parcel to be a town and named
it Castle. After a few name changes, Castle would become Eagle and would
serve for more than a century as the commercial hub for the surrounding
ranching and agricultural communities.
the town's early years were sometimes rocky. In fact, several times
it was sold for back taxes. In the early 1890's, the Town of Castle
was returned to the county treasurer for back taxes totaling $74.53.
It was then sold to A.A. McDonald of Leadville in 1893, who renamed
the town after himself. But, his fortunes soon faded and he was forced
to sell the Town of McDonald in 1896 for taxes of $210.42.
town's carousel of changing names include: Brush, Eagle River Crossing
(to freight and stage drivers), and Rio Aquilla, Spanish for "Eagle
the first business opened in the new town. Owned and operated by C.
F. Nogal, the general merchandise business was housed in a tent. The
enterprising Mr. Nogal also is credited with building the first hotel,
which he opened in 1891. With more and more people moving into
the surrounding countryside to farm and ranch, the growing community
decided a schoolhouse was needed. Thus, a school district was established
and the school house was completed in 1890.
mid 1890s, with the moniker Eagle firmly and finally in place, the town
had begun to take on the trappings of a full-fledged community. It had
its own newspaper, the Eagle County Examiner, and was becoming home
to a rapidly growing number of business. In 1899, for example, the Eagle
County Examiner contained advertisements for the following: Eagle Market,
a blacksmith, the Eagle Hotel, McGuire-Gleason Stage Lines, the Eagle
sawmill, a doctor, and the Eagle Sample Rooms, a saloon. In 1900, with
a town population of 124, the Methodist Church was built.
the first several decades of the town's existence there was an
ongoing drive to have Eagle replace Redcliff as the county seat. In
1921 the voters approved the measure and Eagle officially became the
There is a side story here, that of a fierce if friendly rivalry between
Eagle and Gypsum, which had also considered a bid for the county seat.
Rumor has it that a deal was eventually worked out between the neighboring
towns. Eagle would get the county seat but Gypsum would get the county
high school (Eagle already had its own high school). Rivalry between
the the towns continues to this day.
first electric lights appeared on July 5, 1927; however, even before
World War I, Broadway had taken on an appearance very similar to what
it is today.
The popular Lewis general store (now home to Norwest Bank) sold virtually
everything imaginable, from dry goods to hunting supplies.
its evolution, Eagle always maintained a cohesive community spirit,
one that often shone brightest at the opera house. Opened 31 years
after Eagle's founding the opera house was a social center of sorts.
Located where the present day Brush Creek Saloon stands, Eagle's opera
house was not unique in the region. Many of the mining camps had their
own often makeshift "opera houses."
The opera house wasn't the only source of socialization. Dances brought
Eagle kids to the elementary school farther up Brush Creek. They came
first in horse-drawn wagons or carts and later in the newfangled horseless carriages.
The town's two churches, one Methodist and one Catholic, were the scene
of lively social gatherings.
Men's social life tended to be less organized than the women's groups.
Pool halls, saloons and barber shops, often with gambling in a back
room, were popular gathering places for men. Here they could enjoy the
company of other men or, in the case of a saloon, watch an occasional
bare-fisted boxing match. Organized baseball was the era's most popular
sport, one which men and boys took as seriously as they do baseball
and football today.
In fact, baseball also served as an instrument to encourage valley-wide
camaraderie. Apparently, the Red Cliff Fellows, formed in 1901, was
the first team of the newly formed Eagle Baseball Association, headquartered
in Eagle. Other teams soon followed. Game results would be faithfully
published in The Eagle County Times, and people would take the trains
to attend games. Fourth of July celebrations also bonded the communities,
as did the annual Eagle County Fair and, later, Eagle Flight Days.
In the 1930's, the Depression had an impact
on Eagle as elsewhere in the country, but perhaps not quite as severe.
The community was self sufficient as far as food was concerned (owing
to the surrounding ranches and farms); some of the town's Depression-era
men rode the rails to California and other parts of the country to search
for work. Families had large gardens and much of their yield was canned.
late 1930's Eagle was regaining a modicum of prosperity as evidenced
by a pivotal event in 1939: a small landing strip was opened near the
town. Today, the Eagle County Regional Airport is one of the country's
fastest growing airports and is contributing significantly to the economic
vitality of Eagle and neighboring communities. Although most of
its young men went off to fight when World War II broke out, there were
still plenty around after the army opened a training base called Camp
Hale. These men would be trained for what would become the famed 10th
Mountain Division ski troops.
an omen, many of the troops who trained at Camp Hale would form the
nucleus of what would become the modern ski industry following the war.
People like Pete Seibert, founder of Vail, were instrumental in creating
the mountain resorts that now surround Eagle.
Today, despite its close proximity to nearby
resorts, the town of Eagle remains refreshingly traditional and tranquil.
Although its population is now over 3,000, it is still a small town
where everybody knows everybody, where tree lined neighborhoods serve
as welcome refuge from the stress of urban life.
Eagle also soars with a community spirit that enables well-planned growth
that preserves the town's character and charm. That spirit is infectious,
too. Whether at a town meeting, the Eagle County Rodeo, Eagle Flight
Days or a parade down Broadway, the people of Eagle exude a collective
pride that embraces locals and visitors alike.