The county seat, Grand Junction (1881, 4,586 feet), initially promoted as Denver West, was named for its site at the confluence of the Grand (renamed the Colorado in 1921) and Gunnison rivers. Following the removal of the Utes in 1881, George A. Crawford and others founded the town as a rail hub for the Denver & Rio Grande. The earliest pioneers lived in tents before constructing log cabins from cottonwoods growing along the river bottoms. Gunny sacks served as doors and oiled paper for windows; roofs were made of sod laced with cattails and rabbitbrush.
A lumber mill opened in 1882 and C. W. Kimball's brickyard soon afterward, enabling more permanent buildings to spring up along Colorado Avenue, the first main street. The D&RG's arrival in 1882 enabled Grand Junction to blossom as the regional supply center for a farming, ranching, and orchard region. Colorado's first sugar beet factory, opened in Grand Junction in 1899, became a uranium mill in the 1950s and has since been demolished. The Prinster brothers' City Market grocery store, opened in the 1920s, is now a major regional chain, epitomizing Grand Junction's reign over a large western Colorado hinterland. Among Colorado cities, Grand Junction is second only to Denver in wholesale business.
Irrigation canals enabled Grand Junction, which boasts 354 days of sunshine a year, to become an oasis of green lawns, trees, and gardens. City fathers ordered the systematic planting of street trees throughout the city as sidewalks and curbing were installed. The city also honored its pioneer 1881 plat by establishing Emerson, Hawthorne, Washington, and Whitman parks. Newer parks include a riverfront greenway and Lincoln Park, with its 351-foot water slide, swimming pool, and golf course.
Brothers J. B. and W. C. Boyer designed many of Grand Junction's finer turn-of-the-century buildings, while Edward Chamberlin has done notable modern work. The oil shale boom of the 1970s is reflected in the new glass office buildings along Horizon Drive, which leads to the Walker Field Airport (1982). Newer luxury homes can be found at the base of Colorado National Monument and on the north side of town.
A diverse regional economic base, the D&RG, the Grand Junction Sentinel, the Museum of Western Colorado, Mesa State College, and three hospitals have sustained Grand Junction as the largest city in western Colorado. Despite economic ups and downs, its population has grown steadily, decade by decade. A 1927 city plan by Denver planner Saco R. DeBoer anticipated a “city of at least 100,000.” Grand Junction's 1990s boom may make that prediction come true for the metropolitan area.
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