Starks and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad
Many longtime residents of our community may remember a Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph newspaper article from 1969, in which Bill Crosby, a resident of Manitou Springs who was interviewed for the article, made mention of an official of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad deciding to build Manitou’s other incline. What was largely unknown until now is the notoriety of this unmentioned businessman who had the idea and vision, or lack of vision according to some, to develop the Red Mountain Incline Railway. Benjamin McClellan Starks, who was also known as B.M. Starks, was the general manager of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which was headquartered in Louisville, Ky. At the time the Red Mountain Incline was constructed in 1911, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad was the premier railroad of the South and had already grown to a 6,000-mile system serving 13 states. It is well-documented that Starks and his wife, Millicent, frequently vacationed in Manitou during the early 1900s and his hometown newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, occasionally described his visits to Manitou both before and after the opening of the ill-fated Red Mountain Incline. On one of those visits in 1910, it was reported that the Starks family vacationed for several weeks in Manitou, which more than likely was a business-related trip to establish the Red Mountain Incline Railway.

On one of his visits to Manitou, Starks was inspired by the beauty of its imposing and scenic mountains. Whether it was the name and the surrounding mountainsides that reminded him of the hilly terrain surrounding Manitou, a wayward station point along the old L&N Railroad line, or whether it was the prospect of competing for tourism revenue with the Manitou Incline Park & Incline Railway, which had opened in 1908, Starks decided to construct his own mountain funicular railroad incline with the backing of the L&N Railroad in 1911.

In 1911, the L&N survey crew started its work and located the right-of-way line for the proposed Red Mountain Incline. However, the presence of granite rock formations on Red Mountain posed a logistical nightmare for the construction of an incline. According to Mel McFarland, a local railroad historian, “several construction companies looked at the project and made bids for its work. When the cost was presented, Starks backed out. Additional local investors, many from Manitou, took up the slack. The plan saw some revisions, and permission was received to cross Midland property.” 

Weir, Rupp and Sandford
In 1911, a group of investors proposed the construction of a scenic incline railway that ran from Ruxton Avenue in Manitou to the summit of Red Mountain, a distance of 3,200 feet and at a cost of $50,000, which at the time was a considerable sum of money. Construction started in August 1911 and was scheduled to start operation at the beginning of the 1912 tourist season. 

The new owners implemented several design and engineering revisions to the railway line, including the construction of a high, rickety-looking trestle extending over a dip in the hillside, which later helped contribute to the incline’s demise. The trestle would have spanned over a portion of the present-day Intemann Trail, which runs east to west about midway up the face of Red Mountain. Another construction obstacle involved the disinterment and relocation of a gravesite located within the railroad right-of-way on the north side of the Red Mountain summit overlooking downtown Manitou. That grave site belonged to none other than our town’s favorite daughter, Emma Crawford.

The Red Mountain Incline included a high, long, steep bridge as part of the line, and a big, electric light sign was mounted on its side, which proclaimed the name of the railroad, “RED MT. INCLINE.” The letters of this sign were roughly 12 feet high and one of these letters is on display at the Manitou Springs Heritage Center. It was the first truly big electric light advertisement in the area.

Unfortunately, the Red Mountain Incline’s grades were too steep and it proved to be too frightening for most people. The precarious bridgework was perhaps the most terrorizing part of the ride since it was high above the ground. Many refused to ride down on the cars and walked the steep trail down from the pavilion.

In late 1913, the Red Mountain Incline went into receivership. Unable to keep paying passengers and the partnership’s inability to sustain financial setbacks, the Red Mountain Incline closed from the end of 1913 until 1919, when a new company assumed ownership.

Other Investors
After several years, the Red Mountain Incline was purchased by another company and rehabilitated to make it less terrorizing. The following year, the Gazette-Telegraph dated Oct. 3, 1920, reported that “the Red Peak Scenic Incline at Manitou was sold twice yesterday. Stockholders in the corporation which operates the attraction filed a deed of trust showing the $100,000 had been borrowed to cover ‘bonded indebtedness’ to provide means for extension and improvements on the property.”

The new company endeavored to eliminate some of the more frightful parts of the ride by rendering them less terrorizing. Despite the “improvements,” customers still stayed away and the railway soon ceased to operate. It never attracted enough passengers, and the trestle became more precarious. The Red Peak Scenic Railway Company finally ceased operation in 1922.   

On or about July 22, 1925, the ill-fated incline was eventually sold to Canton O’Donnel, a Denver investment banker, and newspaper accounts stated that O’Donnel had no plans to operate the incline. The track and pavilion were later dismantled. The line was offered to the Colorado Midland Railway for scrap, but they decided it wasn’t worth the financial effort. The incline structure was eventually torn down and the mechanical plant on the summit of Red Mountain was dismantled in 1927. Also, in the 1920s, the incline’s station on Ruxton was removed and an advertisement painted on a rock survived for many years after the incline’s demise. 

Today, the public and manitoids alike can still enjoy the views from atop Red Mountain, which has since been acquired by the City of Manitou Springs and developed into the Red Mountain Open Space. Occasionally, rusty metal pieces from the incline structure and equipment have been found on the slopes of the mountain. And the foundations of both the dance pavilion and power plant still exist on the summit of Red Mountain for our enjoyment and study.

I invite you to see the Manitou Springs Heritage Center’s exhibit, “The Red Mountain Incline—Manitou’s Other Incline,” which opens March 17, during the Third Friday Art Attack. Learn more about the people involved with the incline and see several incline artifacts and equipment recovered by the Heritage Center; including a 12-foot-high letter “M” from the Red Mt. Incline’s famous lighted sign.

by Michael Maio, Manitou Springs Heritage Center