Travel ads for tourists state that getting around Denver by light rail can be quick and easy. But for Globeville residents, light rail is neither quick nor easy. The station at 41st and Fox is close to the Sunnyside neighborhood and requires transportation or a mile-long hike to the parking lot. The station at 38th and Blake Street also calls for a car or a long, hazardous trek along an underpass using narrow disintegrating sidewalks. But Globeville was once on the main line of affordable, accessible transportation: The Interurban.
The Denver & Interurban Railroad
The headline in the Denver Post proclaimed “Beautiful Boulder Is Now Within 55 Minutes of Denver,” and the story that followed described clean, efficient passenger service on low-cost, electric trains. The article was an enthusiastic report of the inaugural run of the Denver & Interurban Railroad on June 23, 1908.
In 1908, Colorado was experiencing phenomenal growth in people, businesses and small communities along the Front Range. Because roads were primitive and few people owned automobiles, any new method of transportation was received with enthusiasm. The Denver & Interurban was worthy of some excitement, providing service every hour between Denver and Boulder with stops in Globeville, Westminster, Broomfield, and Louisville. During the summer months, the route included the resort of Eldorado Springs. The Denver Post continued, “the electric cars can attain the speed of a mile a minute…and passengers are not annoyed with cinders, smoke and dust.” The fare was fifty cents.
The route became known as the “Kite Route” because, when seen on a map, it looked like a kite on a string. The line operated from the Denver Tramway’s Interurban Loop at 15th and Arapahoe Streets, one block east of the Central Loop, which made it easy for passengers to transfer from any of the city’s streetcar lines to the Interurban. From there, it traveled to the 23rd Street viaduct, past the Interurban shops at 36th and Fox and east on 45th Avenue to Washington Street in Globeville.
In 1999, I interviewed Ed Wargin. He was born in 1908 and grew up with the Interurban. Wargin remembered, “You could always tell when they were coming down 45th Avenue. They had a real shrill whistle. We used to put pennies on the track and it would flatten them as it went by.”
The station was a small building at 5125 Washington St., rented from owner John Bohte for $25 a month. Wargin recalled, “We’d buy our tickets at the station. It was a storefront kind of a thing with a big old pot-bellied stove.”
The ticket office was the building on the right, next to the fence.
Globeville was at the edge of the Denver city limits and was the place where the switch was made from the tramway connector to the overhead electrification system, the pantograph. It was also the scene of the line’s only major wreck, when two cars collided on Labor Day 1920, killing 12 and injuring 214. The holiday may have contributed to the disaster; the cars were overloaded and the motormen called in to handle the extra crowds were inexperienced. The wreck was front page news for weeks and made an indelible impression on young Wargin.
“On Labor Day weekend, my dad and I had gone fishing at a lake, just about where the Westminster shopping center is now, and we rode the Interurban to get there. Dad said they weren’t biting so we might as well go.
“We started walking toward 80th Avenue and dad kept saying, ‘Hurry, hurry, I can hear him coming.’ But I couldn’t walk as fast as he could and we missed the train. We saw him go by. So we waited for the next car at Westminster and this lady came over and said, ‘Are you waiting for the Interurban? Well, there won’t be any because there was a big wreck at Globeville,’” Wargin recalled.
“It was a terrible, terrible wreck. Two cars had crashed into each other and it looked like they were all made of toothpicks—they were made of wood in those days. Anyone who had a car took people to the hospital. Dad had an angel. We were almost on that car and we missed the train.”
The cars involved in the wreck were restored, but the Interurban suffered financially from the settlements awarded to the survivors. This tragedy, along with the affordability of automobiles and the popularity of intercity bus lines spelled doom for the Kite Route. The Interurban leadership struggled to organize their own bus line, and ceased operating its electric train cars in 1926.
Maybe one day soon our light rail will be as convenient as it was 100 years ago.
Mary Lou Egan is a fourth-generation Coloradan who loves history and is working on a history of Denver’s Globeville neighborhood. Her blog http://globevillestory.blogspot.com contains tidbits about the community. You can reach her at email@example.com