Before Highway 14 (the Cache La Poudre and North Park Scenic ByWay) was completed through the Poudre Canyon in 1920, the only way to get to the upper Poudre Canyon from Fort Collins was via Livermore. In the early 1860s, George Pingree built a cabin on the riverbank of the Cache La Poudre River. Mr. Pingree trapped beaver and hunted wild game and was allegedly responsible for cutting a trail through the timber and down the gulch to his cabin site. The trail was two and half miles long and boasted a descent of 1,100 feet.
In the late 1860s tie contractors and lumbermen widened the trail as well as the road up the Poudre Canyon, and in the 1870s S.B. Stewart further improved the descent to accommodate increased wagon traffic. In 1879, Stewart and others incorporated the Cache la Poudre and North Park Toll Road Company to build a wagon road from the base of Pingree Hill to North Park (which at that time was part of Larimer County). Stewart took on the task of widening the trails used by the tie cutters and had reached Chambers Lake when silver fever broke out in North Park. He proceeded to the top of Cameron Pass and created two branches, one to Lulu City and one to Gould and Teller City.
The May 31, 1881 Fort Collins Courier reported “That the people of Collins have this splendid mountain road to the mines, is due to the energy of Mr. Stewart. With rare pluck, and under the most adverse circumstances, Mr. Stewart carried this work through to a successful termination.”
He built the Rustic Hotel in 1881 to service the toll road and proceeded to charge anyone using the road. The small (private) cabin on the northwest corner of Highway 14 and County Road 69 (known as the Pingree Hill road to locals) is thought to have been the toll house for the road.
Mr. Stewart charged $2.00 for each vehicle drawn by a horse, mule or oxen; loose stock was .40 cents a head and sheep were .20 cents a head. The toll was dropped in 1902 when the road became public.
With the steep descent down Pingree Hill, the road could be treacherous. In 1911 a new route was surveyed that created a gentler grade on the mountainside above the gulch, and the new route was completed by a crew of convicts in 1912. During this time there was much disagreement between Loveland and Fort Collins concerning their pet road projects — the Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Poudre Canyon Road. Politics won out and the convicts were sent to the Fall River Road, but when the snow got too deep they were moved back to the lower Canyon in February 2013.
The road was finally completed through the Canyon to Rustic in October 1920. It was not until 1979 that Highway 14 (many portions of which were the former Stewart Toll Road) was finally paved all the way to North Park and opened year round. Almost 100 years after the Stewart Toll Road was opened, the Highway was finally modernized!
Author and photographer: Sue Schneider, whose family owns a historic cabin in the Poudre Canyon. Sue is also a member of the board of Historic Larimer County.
This article first appeared in the Historic Larimer County newsletter from September 12, 2018