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 entire town was enthused about the 1936 Grand Junction High School Tigers football team. They made widespread sports news as they played an entire season without being scored upon. The toughest game was in Salida. A special train carried fans to the meet which the Tigers won, breaking Salida’s winning streak of 39 games. The 1936 season total was Tigers 506 to 0 for their opponents. Rah Rah Tigers! (1937 Grand Junction High School Annual)


  • Black cowboy, Charlie Glass, dies in automobile accident
  • John Page, former superintendent of the Grand Valley Irrigation Project, receives presidential appointment as Commissioner of Reclamation
  • Ed Holt unearths three dinosaurs at Riggs Hill
  • Johnson’s House of Flowers opens locally
  • Jeannette Morris slain in Barbary Coast shanty
  • Eddie Drapela contracts with government to provide civilian flight training (develops into navy cadet flight training program during World War II)
  • Grand Junction Junior College renamed Mesa College by statute; tax support initiated for budget
  • Grand Valley Rural Power is first rural power association in state
  • Grand Junction Kiwanis Club founded
  • Archaic mammal fossil, Sparactolambda looki, named for Al and Alfred T. Look


  • Chamber of Commerce installs plaques at Dinosaur and Riggs Hills commemorating 1900 and 1901 Field Museum, Chicago, dinosaur finds
  • President Franklin Roosevelt addresses audience of 10,000 at railroad depot
  • New Grand Junction Public Library building completed (5th and White)
  • GJHS wrestlers are state champions
  • Coffee Shop owner Pete Leventis murders Jim Patsios; KFXJ Radio does first live report broadcast from scene of crime
  • Owner Big Kid Eames killed in Biltmore Gambling Club shooting (4th and Main)


  • World War II begins in Europe
  • Special Grand Jury convened; investigates local crimes including several murders, local law enforcement, gambling and prostitution
  • Joe Arridy, escapee from State Home for Mental Defectives (Grand Junction), executed for Pueblo homicide
  • Peach Board of Control (later Peach Administrative Committee) founded
  • Rio Grande Motor Way, Inc. supplies long distance bus service from new passenger station (230 S. 5th; later Continental and now Greyhound); Pig Parlor Restaurant (with pink neon pigs) located in terminal
  • World War I veterans organize Last Squad Club


The City Market chain was started by the Prinster brothers with one small grocery store in Grand Junction in the 1920s. Grocery stores typically were not large. Supermarkets with wide selections and lower prices were an idea of the 1930s. City Market opened the first of their many supermarkets at 4th and Rood in 1939. (City Market Photo)

The 1940s

World War II engulfed the nation from 1941 to 1945. Grand Junction contributed to the new Atomic Age which ended the war. Afterward, the city continued as a part of the national atomic energy complex. The 1940 population was 12,479, a 21.8 percent increase through the 1930s, despite the Depression

World War II brought shortages of many commodities, and the government issued ration books to citizens. Coupons entitled customers to buy allotted amounts of goods like canned food, meat, butter, shoes and gasoline. Coca-Cola was not rationed. It was available in its curvaceous glass bottles, not in cans. Military uniforms were well tailored of durable fabrics, and included headgear.

This is an Army hat, and soldiers were obliged to wear a “cover.”


Mesa College was ready for relocation, and 1940 saw the opening of the first building on a new campus at 12th and North. The building incorporated classrooms, auditorium/ gymnasium, administration and library. It now is named Houston Hall for Clifford Houston who was third head of the college, from 1932-1937. It has been remodeled, but the appearance is much the same. (Dean Studio Photo, Mesa State Archives, Tomlinson Library, Mesa State College)


    • Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad enjoys banner year; payroll $3,775,000
    • Mesa College moves to new campus (12th and North)
    • Mesa County Library established in Old Lowell School (5th and Rood)
    • GJHS wins state football, track and field championships
    • First Lands End Hill Climb car race held


The La Court Hotel at 2nd and Main Streets was operated by the Buthorn family for two generations. The lobbies were handsome, the dining room was noted for its cuisine, and the Green Room hosted service clubs and banquets. During the 1940s and 1950s their steak house, known as The Tavern, was a main center for uranium developers and investors to meet and strike deals.


On the west side of Grand Mesa, the Lands End Road is a challenging climb. A long steep grade, it has multiple curves and sharp turns. It was the site of car races on the Fourth of July, 1940 and 1941, and then again in later years. Louis Unser, winner of many Pikes Peak Hill Climbs, declared Lands End was the most difficult course in the nation. Among the 16 racers in 1941, there were two French drivers who imported their Talbot cars. Bob Baughman was one of the local contestants, shown with the racer he built. (Photo courtesy James Baughman)


  • Railroad transports 19,000 cars of products grown locally
  • Gaylan Johnson starts service station and tire/recap business (7th and Main)
  • WPA constructs new Lincoln School (now Lincoln Orchard Mesa Elementary School on Orchard Mesa)
  • New Redlands School constructed by WPA (now Church of the Nativity)


World War II put the entire national economy into high gear, and agricultural production and prices were boosted out of the Depression doldrums. Mesa County fruit, livestock and field crop production flourished. Canning factories, like the large Kuner-Empson facility, operated at full capacity. It was located on South Eighth Street near the railroad.


The attack on America at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, plunged the nation into World War II. Mesa County’s James Massey and Harold Wood were among the fatalities on that first day. Many hundreds of our Grand Junction men and women were soon in all the military branches, serving around the world.


  • Grand Junction Municipal Airport renamed for Walter Walker
  • Western Colorado Boy Scout Council formed
  • GJHS wins state wrestling championship


Army Captain Phillip Couzens Leahy headed a project which had international impact. Few people knew of this at the time, because it was part of the government’s secret Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bomb. From March, 1943 to March, 1946 he directed the discovery, refining and procurement of uranium from the Colorado Plateau for atomic research. He became the first manager of the Atomic Energy Commission Compound from 1947 to 1949. (T. McGill Photo, U.S. Department of Energy)


  • Airport hangar burns; eight airplanes destroyed
  • War Department acquires 55.71 acre site between Denver & Rio Grande Western RR and Gunnison River for Project X (later AEC; Department of Energy Grand Junction Projects Office)
  • New vanadium mills open in Grand Junction and Durango to secretly produce uranium
  • Grand Junction shelled when two railroad cars carrying munitions explode in railroad yard
  • 750 German prisoners of war help harvest peach crop; crop brings in around $5,500,000
  • Grand Valley agriculture brightest spot on state’s agricultural map
  • Program launched to increase Victory back yard vegetable gardens for war effort
  • Local clubs establish Mesa County Service Center in YMCA to provide servicemen and women with entertainment, Saturday night dances and refreshments
  • Avalon Theater produces Yankee Doodle Girl to benefit Mesa County Service Center


The very successful Columbia Concert Series began in 1944, and still continues at the Mesa County Community Concert Association. Many outstanding musicians, and occasionally theater and dance troops, appear during the annual season. Mrs. Melba Schmidt was a founder, and the president for 15 years. With her is Dimitri Mitropolulos, celebrated conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony who performed here in 1947.


  • Federal Synthetic Liquid Fuels Act authorizes design, construction and operation of plants to produce fuels from oil shale
  • Columbia Community Concert Series (later Mesa County Community Concert, Inc.) opens first season
  • Veteran’s Intermountain Memorial Park incorporates (Orchard Mesa)


  • Residents celebrate VE and VJ days, World War II ends
  • U. S. Bureau of Mines begins Anvil Points Oil Shale project west of Rifle
  • City Market opens stores in Delta and Montrose
  • Insectary established in Palisade to produce insects beneficial to agriculture


  • Mesa Memorial Hospital opens (740 Main; later joins Community Hospital)
  • U.S. Grazing Service and Government Land Office merge as Bureau of Land Management
  • Intermountain Bible College opens (12th and Bunting)
  • Edgar & Corn (later Corn Construction) in road construction and paving
  • Western Airlines begins airline service to Grand Junction and Western Colorado
  • U.S. Weather Bureau Office moves to Walker Field
  • Gem and Mineral Club founded (Grand Junction Gem and Mineral)


On April 1, 1946 Western Airlines established regular flights to Grand Junction on the Denver and Los Angeles routes. This was the beginning of major airline service here. Monarch Airline, which became Frontier, began multiple daily flights on January 17, 1947. On September 15, 1947 United Airlines assumed the Western routes. (Midwest Photo)


  • Samuel G. McMullin murder trial makes headlines
  • Columbus Community Church installs Heart’s Desire Bell
  • Colorado Printing opens
  • Atomic Energy Commission establishes Grand Junction Projects Office
  • United Airlines purchases Western Airlines routes
  • Roper Music opens
  • Bray and Company Realtors established
  • First Monarch Airlines DC3 lands in Grand Junction
  • Starlight, first drive-in movie theater, opens at 24th St. and North Ave.
  • Clifton, Fruitvale and Pear Park join together to become Central School District #48.


  • Wayne Aspinall first elected to Congress
  • E.L. Bacon purchases United States Bank of Grand Junction (now Wells Fargo)
  • Landslide in DeBeque Canyon caves in a section of the Highline Irrigation Tunnel
  • Abbott Tessman starts KEXO (second radio station); radio personality Bob Collins brings his Uncle Bob Show from Ohio (later moves to KREXTV)
  • Homestyle Bakery opens
  • Dr. Geno Saccomanno establishes pathology departments; St. Mary’s and the Veteran’s Administration hospitals
  • President Harry S Truman visits Grand Junction during Whistle Stop Tour
  • Orchard Avenue Elementary School completed
  • Eagles, semiprofessional baseball team formed
  • First graduating class from the “new” Central High School in the spring (located in an old adobe building at 29 Road and North Avenue, formerly both Fruitvale Elementary and High School)


  • Remodeled Old Lowell School becomes City Hall, 5th and Rood
  • Veterans Administration Hospital dedicated on North Avenue
  • Preston Walker, Daily Sentinel editor, named Colorado’s outstanding newspaper editor
  • Osteopathic Hospital (later Community) reorganized
  • Colorado Broadcasters Association established (Rex Howell co-founder)
  • Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad begins California Zephyr service
  • New airport terminal constructed at Walker Field
  • New 2,300 seat Lincoln Park Stadium dedicated

The 1950s

During the 1950s, the turbulence of the Great Depression, World War II and Korean War were succeeded by a nation focused on the pursuits of peacetime. Grand Junction also thrived, and the uranium industry was an added stimulus. Population in 1950 was 14,504, a 16.2 percent growth through the 1940s.

“Aspinall for Congress” automobile tags were common in Grand Junction during elections. Wayne Aspinall could always count on solid support in Mesa County. Geiger counters measure the radioactivity of uranium. Many Geiger counters were manufactured in Grand Junction during the uranium boom. Brownie cameras were inexpensive, simple to operate, and a favorite.