Frontier Town

By Peggy Hunt, The Senior Voice, May 2008

Some of northern Colorado’s earliest pioneers settled the little village of Masonville just west of Fort Collins, and it has an interesting history—from gold mines to dinosaur digs.

James Mason, for whom Masonville was named, arrived in 1885. He had come to Colorado in 1863 as an impoverished boy of 14. He crossed the Great Plains driving a wagon loaded with whiskey for miners at Central City. Later he hauled timber from the mountains to Longmont. One winter, he got caught in a snowstorm and couldn’t get out of the mountains for several days. He nearly starved to death.

 

james-mason

James Mason and his wife (Colorado Historical Society)


In the 1890s, prospectors found gold near Masonville, and it looked as if the peaceful ranch valley would become a boomtown. Locals built several buildings, including a hotel and general store. But the ore was low grade and the mines proved unprofitable. Prospectors gave up—except for one named Cal Carter. He believed there was a mother lode here and continued to search for it until 1936, when he died at age 91. Cal’s lonely grave is on a ridge just west of Masonville, and today you can still see evidence of the gold mines that disappointed so many.

You can also see the old hotel, now a private home, and the general store, later called the Masonville Mercantile. The town was a rough place during its gold-rush days, with gunfights and robberies. Once a gang attempted to rob the store in the middle of the night. The owner surprised them with blasts from a double-barreled shotgun. He wasn’t sure he hit any of the robbers, but he knew that one shot blew away the store’s pot-belly stove.

After the gold rush played out, different miners began stone quarry operations. The beautiful pink stones from here were used for many buildings in Fort Collins and nearby towns. Because of the quarry operations, archaeologists were able to find dinosaur bones dating back 140 million years. A few years ago, archaeologist Robert Bakker announced the find, and someone dubbed the dinosaur the “Masonville Monster.” Reporters tried to get Bakker to reveal the exact location of the find, but he refused. All we know is that the fossils are there.

Earlier in the 1860s, the B.F. Milner family settled in the valley as ranchers. Milner Mountain just east of Masonville and south of Horsetooth Rock was named for them.