Grand Junction History

While our timeline begins in the 1880s when Grand Junction was founded, the region has a history well beyond that of Grand Junction. Traces of Paleo Indians in Mesa County date to 11,000 B.C.E., and Archaic Indians to 8,000 B.C.E. Fremont Indians were here about 700 to 1200 C.E. the area.  Additionally, the Ute people occupied territory in Colorado and Utah well before Spanish padres, mountain men, and surveyors came to explore and record the region. Colorado became the Centennial State in 1876. Three years later, an Indian uprising near Meeker led to the removal of Ute Indians from the northern two-thirds of Western Colorado to reservations in Utah. White settlers arrived in Mesa County in 1881.

Grand Junction History

The 1880s

The 1880s was a decade of beginnings. Planners and visionaries in 1881 saw the promise in this broad valley. The arid Grand Valley was a desert, but it was traversed by two major rivers. Water from the Grand River ( later renamed the Colorado ) was soon brought to town and farms, via dams, canals and ditches. The first of many canals were the Pioneer Canal, and the Pacific Slope Ditch in 1882. Grand Junction was incorporated in 1882, and by 1883 Mesa County was established with Grand Junction as the county seat. The town’s population in 1885 was 378, according to a special Colorado State Census, but other sources claimed it was over 800.

Image: Benton and Evelyn Canon settled in Grand Junction in 1887. This bamboo pattern Belleek teapot, a fine porcelain from Ireland, was a wedding present that traveled with them.


Ute leader, Ouray, dies


  • White River and Uncompahgre Utes moved to Utah
  • Pioneers settle former Ute lands
  • George Crawford selects Grand Junction and Delta town sites
  • Voters hold meeting to name post office~ Grand Junction selected for the town name
  • Grand Junction Town and Improvement Company incorporates to sell town lots
  • Giles and Mitchell open first general merchandise store~ Giles and Garland, the first saloon


George A. Crawford (1827-1891) headed the Town Company and is considered “the father of Grand Junction.” A skilled entrepreneur, he also founded three cities in Kansas, and Delta, Colorado. Elected governor of Kansas in 1861 in an election invalidated on technicalities, he did not serve. However, he usually was known as “Governor” Crawford. (F. Gutekunst Photo)


Grand Mesa provided recreation from the earliest days. Scenic beauty, and abundant fishing and hunting were appreciated by the settlers. Summer homes and resorts began to be built, usually near cool lakes. Glade Park also was a summer favorite. Winter sports were sledding and skating. Skiing came later.


On Sept. 26, 1881 the Grand Junction town site was selected, and stockholders then established the Grand Junction Town and Improvement Company. They owned the land, and were distinct from the town government. They surveyed streets and lots, promoted sales of the land they owned, and encouraged settlement. The town occupied a square mile, spanning from 1st to 12th Streets, and from North to South Avenues. The plat shows the layout of the town.
(Photograph and attached digital image, Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office)


The first structure in town in 1881 was the Town Company office. A log cabin at 2nd and Ute, it was built from cottonwood trees growing near the river. The residents were Mr. and Mrs. R. D. Mobley. R. D. Mobley was the first postmaster.


  • City of Grand Junction incorporates and forms municipal government
  • P. H. Gordon and Ben Scott drown when their boat capsizes on the Grand River
  • Charles Shanks elected first mayor
  • W. J. Miller, first attorney
  • Taylor & Coghill, first livery stable in town
  • S.G. Crandall opens first bank, Bank of Grand Junction
  • Grand Junction News, first newspaper, begins publication
  • First kiln of bricks fired~ used to build Randall House (hotel)
  • Methodist Episcopal Church, South, holds first known church service
  • Nannie Blaine first subscription school teacher, and first Sunday school teacher
  • First election held, school board elected: H. E. Stroud, O. D. Russell, and W. M. McKelvey (called the Bachelor’s Ticket)~ hires Isa Caldwell as first public school teacher
  • Pioneer Canal supplies irrigation water~ Pacific Slope Ditch, farm and domestic water supply
  • Grand River Ditch Company organized
  • Valley’s first vegetables grown by J. P. Harlow
  • Denver and Rio Grande Railroad arrives in Grand Junction


Literary societies, churches, lodges, bands and orchestras, and plays and musicals soon flourished. The frontier town began to be polished. Schools were a major factor as music, art and drama were taught in addition to the three R’s. Here is a trio of teachers, ambassadors of culture, in fashionable attire.


Schooling for the children was an early priority. Nannie Blaine Underhill was the first teacher. The first school, a crude cabin of upright logs, soon was replaced by a better building of local brick. Teacher Isa Caldwell is in the doorway. She began teaching in 1882 and taught all grades in the one room school. (W. H. Jackson & Co. Photo)


The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad reached town in November, 1882 and it was a major boost to the success of Grand Junction. Trains were of paramount importance in the era before automobiles, trucks and airplanes. Grand Junction became a major division point of the railroad, with repair and maintenance shops.


Kate Harlow and her husband, John Petal Harlow, had one of the first farms on Rapid Creek. They experimented with a wide range of grains, vegetables and fruit, and nearly everything grew well. Kate had an early restaurant and fruit stand on Grand Junction’s Main Street.


  • Mesa, Garfield, Delta and Montrose counties established
  • Colorado Governor J. B. Grant appoints George W. Thurston, Thomas B. Crawford, and Benjamin Carey as first Mesa County Commissioners (until election is held in 1884)
  • Grand Valley Guards, Company F, enrolls in State Militia
  • Volunteer fire department established
  • Large Queen Anne style train depot constructed
  • Cornet Band organizes
  • Masonic Lodge, Mesa #55, A.F. and A.M., installed
  • Mesa Lodge 58, Independent Order of Odd Fellows established
  • Women’s Christian Temperance Union founded locally
  • Grand Army of the Republic founded locally (Civil War Union veterans)


    • Attorney J. W. Bucklin elected first area Representative to State General Assembly
    • Western Colorado Stock Growers established
    • First church, M. E. Church, South, constructed~ Baptist and Catholic churches, soon afterward
    • Sam Sing advertises the Best Laundry Service in town
    • Board of Trade formed to promote City
    • First section of Lowell Elementary constructed (5th and Rood)
    • Mesa County Agricultural and Horticultural Society founded
    • Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle organize


  • Denver and Rio Grande Railroaders go on strike~ 9 arrested
  • T.E. Barnhouse opens photography studio (later partners with D. N. Wheeler)
  • County purchases the Mandel Opera House for offices (6th and Main)
  • Pioneer and Historical Society organized to chronicle correct record of events
  • Library Association formed


  • Charles Haskell, editor Mesa County Democrat, publishes first Mesa County history
  • J. C. Connor advertises dentistry practice
  • International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, #488, organized
  • First students arrive at Grand Junction Indian School (Teller Institute)
  • Fifth Street Bridge constructed~ first Colorado bridge financed by State
  • State Bridge constructed west end of Main, longest bridge in Colorado
  • Roan Creek Toll Road completed at a cost of $12,000~ two stage lines begin service between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs
  • Jockey Club organized
  • Amateur Dramatic Club founded


First held in 1887, the Mesa County fairs were initially held at 7th and Patterson, then at Lincoln Park. Over the next two decades some of these annual celebrations were tailored into “Peach Day” festivals, focusing on one of the county’s most delectable and sought-after products. President William H. Taft visited the fair on his way to Montrose in 1909 to dedicate the Gunnison Irrigation Tunnel.


  • W.T. Carpenter purchases the Book Cliff and Grand Valley coal mines
  • DeBeque named for W.A.E. deBeque, early Grand Junction physician
  • First Grand Junction water works under construction near Fifth Street Bridge
  • First electric plant constructed


  • Fruita Building and Loan founded (later Mesa Federal Savings and Loan)
  • Volunteer firemen form Cameron Hose Cart Company~ firemen occupy ground floor of City Hall (5th and Colorado)
  • Rifle Club founded

The 1890s

By the 1890s the main elements of the economy were in place. Agriculture, commerce and transportation continue to this day. Grand Junction’s population in 1890 was 2,030, according to the Federal Census Bureau.

Many varieties of fruit soon became prime crops. The Grand Valley has a long growing season, warm days and cool nights, and irrigation which allows water to be applied exactly as needed. These factors all contribute to growing fruit of extraordinary quality. This scale was owned by John Hines, an orchard owner who was one of the area’s first black residents.


  • Fruita Building and Loan founded (later Mesa Federal Savings and Loan)
  • Volunteer firemen form Cameron Hose Cart Company~ firemen occupy ground floor of City Hall (5th and Colorado)
  • Rifle Club founded


  • Town founder George Crawford dies
  • John Hines, one the area’s first black residents, purchases a fruit ranch (on Orchard Avenue)
  • Grand Junction Volunteer Hook and Ladder fire fighting company formed
  • International Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen organized
  • Grand Junction Fruit Growers Association established
  • First Peach Day celebration
  • Franklin building (first Grand Junction High School) dedicated (6th and Rood)
  • Local Woodmen of the World Lodge founded
  • Isabella Ivy Tourist Club founded


  • Wright’s Chapel (later Handy Chapel) erected by members of African Methodist Episcopal Church of Grand Junction
  • Miss M. Dudley opens photography business
  • Canon Block building erected (4th and Main)
  • Park Opera House opens in remodeled livery (400 block of Ute)
  • Western Colorado Academy of Science organized


The Park Opera House was at 430 Ute Avenue, facing Cottonwood Park – later Whitman Park. (The site is now the Museum of the West parking lot.) Equipped for theatrical events, lectures and music of all types, it featured local and touring companies. Performers from the Barrymores to the Four Cohans appeared there. The Opera House was in use from the 1890s until the 1920s when moving pictures changed theatrical demands.


  • Silver demonitization causes nationwide recession
  • The Daily Sentinel begins publication
  • Mesa County Abstract Company incorporated
  • Women given right to vote in Colorado