The article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise.
One of the oldest platted settlements in our region is the town of Erie, originally called Coal Park. In the 1860s, the area along Coal Creek as it meandered across the prairie was settled by a few hardy farmers. These isolated souls were connected only by crude wagon roads and by a stagecoach service along the Cherokee Trail, also known as the Overland Stage Route, which roughly followed today’s Highway 287. Homesteaders made good use of surface coal beds that dotted the plains and some ambitious folks earned a few extra dollars by gathering up the stuff and delivering it to customers by wagon.
In 1871, the Boulder Valley Coal Company opened the first coal mine in the area. The Briggs Mine brought in a wave of immigrant miners and merchants, and was followed by a good number of additional mines. Around the same time, the Union Pacific Railroad built a spur into town and Erie coal began its journey to chilly customers in Denver and east into Kansas.
According to historian Anne Dyni, author of a short book about Erie’s history, the town boasted over 100 homes by 1873. Among the early settlers were Henry Briggs, namesake of the Briggs Mine; Ransam Balcom; Reverend Richard Van Valkenburg; Judge Kattell; and John Wells. Most of these names will be familiar to anyone who has traveled the streets of Old Town Erie.
Soon, services popped up along Briggs Street – including a post office, grocery stores, livery stables, blacksmiths, hotels, and the inevitable pack of saloons. By 1881, the children of the miners had a new schoolhouse and this mark of civilization was joined by several churches. Once the family contingent began settling in, the booze joints were quickly surrounded by proper mercantile establishments, millinery shops and clothing stores.
For many years, the town was subject to floods from Coal Creek, sometimes due to cloudbursts miles away in Coal Creek canyon. The flood of 1920 washed away the railroad tracks and several homes. Townspeople even had to move their cemetery to a hilltop location just east of town, and today that tranquil spot bears witness to the history of its people and the periodic epidemics that swept through the region.
In the 1890s, the town welcomed its first local newspaper, the Erie-Canfield Independent. Canfield was another town from the period that sprang up around a coal mine called the Rob Roy. The Rob Roy later failed and the town vanished. Canfield was located near the intersection of today’s Jasper Road and 119th Street, west of Erie. The newspaper also went the way of Canfield and disappeared before the turn of the century. Around that time, the Erie Herald was established and lasted for 48 years.
As was the case with most mining towns in the region, the Erie area endured its share of labor strife. The most notable event occurred east of town at the Columbine Mine in 1927. There, six striking miners were mowed down and killed by machine gun fire and many dozens were injured.