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Cañon City

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The county seat (1859, 5,343 feet) lies in a broad valley where the Arkansas River emerges from the Royal Gorge. Born as a supply camp for the upper Arkansas River mines, Cañon City led an up-and-down adolescent career during local gold, coal, oil, tin, and zinc booms. The D&RG, which demanded and received $50,000 in bonds and town lots before building to Cañon City, made the town a rail hub.

Cañon City was a contender for the Colorado state capital until it backed Denver's bid in exchange for the state penitentiary site. Its citizens reckoned that the state prison would be better attended than the other possible second prize—the state university. Furthermore, prisoners, who would provide cheap labor, building stone, and road work, were thought to be more productive than professors and students.

A fairly well-preserved main street and residential areas reflect past economic booms. The Downtown Historic District, 3rd to 9th streets between Main and Macon streets (NRD), contains eighty brick and stone commercial buildings, some by local architects C. C. Rittenhouse, D. A. Bradbury, Dryden and Helm, S. S. Nichols, D. G. Scott, and Smith Patton. Street-level modernization has marred many Main Street landmarks, such as the Central Block (1901), the Burrage Building (1888, C. C. Rittenhouse), and the Wilbar Building (1895).

Writing Credits

Author: 
Thomas J. Noel

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