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


Wholesale firms in Grand Junction supplied businesses in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. In Colorado, the wholesale businesses in Grand Junction were second only to Denver. The wholesalers flourished, especially in the booming 1950s. Biggs-Kurtz Hardware dealt in all lines of light and heavy hardware. The Independent Lumber Company had 19 lumber yards regionally, and was both wholesale and retail. The C. D. Smith Drug Co. had both drug and chemical divisions. Other wholesalers provided groceries, paper, dairy products and petroleum, to name a few.  (Midwest Photo)


Uranium mining and milling became a large industry on the Colorado Plateau. The Grand Junction Operations Office of the United States Atomic Energy Commission was headquarters for the enterprise, and bought all the uranium produced. Grand Junction also was home base for as many as 35 mining companies, including area offices of major mining corporations.  (The Daily Sentinel, U.S. Department of Energy)


Fruit from the Grand Valley continued its reputation for top quality. The peach orchards produced record crops at good prices. There were 900,000 trees and more than 800 orchards. However, pear and apple orchards continued to be replaced by general farming, and subdivisions continued to encroach on prime agricultural lands.


Railroads were vying with aggressive airlines for passenger business. Interstate highways also made long distance driving more convenient. Streamlined luxury trains were the railroads’ answer. The Denver and Rio Grande had the sleek California Zephyr with Vista Dome cars, gleaming in stainless steel. It ran from Chicago to San Francisco via Grand Junction. (Warren Kiefer Photo)


  • Climax Uranium converts old sugar beet factory into vanadium/uranium processing mill
  • Mesa Mavericks begin domination of conference baseball, champions every year except four, 1950-75
  • Rimrock Road on Colorado National Monument opens when improvements are completed
  • Challenger and Monarch airlines merge to form Frontier Airlines


  • President Truman authorizes use of U.S. forces in Korea; local residents go to war
  • Harold Moss first Western Slope agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Mesa County Society for Crippled Children and Adults establish therapy program (leads to Hilltop Hospital)
  • New St. Mary’s Hospital dedicated at 7th and Patterson
  • Grand Junction first town in state to fluoridate water
  • Schools consolidate; Mesa County Valley School District #51 formed
  • Peak peach production reaches 1,500,000 bushels


  • John Otto, Father of Colorado National Monument, dies in California
  • Chief DriveIn Theater opens on North Avenue
  • Monarch Aviation offers charter flights and airplane sales
  • Mesa College basketball squad first Maverick team to reach national playoffs
  • GJHS wins state baseball title
  • Mesa County Fine Arts Center incorporates


Artist groups had long planned for an arts center. The Western Colorado Center for the Arts dates from 1953 when the Mesa County Arts Center Board was incorporated. They bought a building near 7th and Orchard (pictured), and opened it in 1960. A hexagonal building was added in 1970, and there have been further additions. By the 1990s art instruction and exhibits in the galleries were provided year around, and the auditorium hosted music, drama and dance. (Frank Bering Photo)


    • U.S. Bank installs first bank drive-up (4th and Colorado)
    • Mesa County Arts Center Board incorporates
    • Chipeta Girl Scout Council established


  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks at Walker Field
  • KFXJ (now KREX), first local television station, goes on the air
  • Ute Water Conservation District formed
  • 3,000 contact AEC every month seeking information on prospecting to find uranium ore
  • Club 20 organizes to promote the interests of 20 Western Colorado counties
  • Robert Guyton starts The Sands miniature golf course (later named Guyton’s Fun Junction, North Avenue)
  • Jewish Congregation of Grand Junction chartered


  • Rocket Drive-In movie theater opens on North Avenue
  • Walter Walker dies; Preston Walker becomes third Daily Sentinel publisher
  • Ray and Joyce Quan open Far East Restaurant
  • Bud Fleming and Burt Allred form B & B Electric
  • Appleton School burns down


The expanding student population of Grand Junction prompted the building of a new high school in 1955 on North 5th Street. It was designed in a clean lined, modern 1950s style by architect Paul Atchison of Denver. The auditorium was made large enough to serve also as a civic auditorium.  (1958 Grand Junction High School Annual)


  • Moyer Pool expands at Lincoln Park
  • Members of ITU (typographers union) strike against The Daily Sentinel
  • Central High School erected, formerly Fruitvale High School
  • Latin-Anglo Alliance formed, holds first Fiesta
  • Mesa County Sheriff’s Posse organized
  • Jungle Bar at Café Caravan has live, caged monkeys and a neon sign with a nodding giraffe head
  • New Grand Junction High School opens (5th and Glenwood)


  • Grand Junction celebrates its Diamond Jubilee
  • Sheriff’s Posse holds first Colorado Stampede Rodeo
  • Dale Hollingsworth, new Chamber executive officer
  • Public Service opens steam powered electric plant at Cameo
  • St. Nicholas Hellenic Orthodox Church constructed; replaces home services held since 1935
  • GJHS wins state football; state track and field championships
  • Bookcliff Country Club and Golf Course officially open
  • Local chapter of World War I Veterans of the USA, Inc., formed


  • DeBeque Canyon landslide heaves roadway 23 vertical feet
  • Fraternal Order of the Eagles (F.O.E.) donates Ten Commandments Monument to the City
  • New Pomona School constructed (Patterson and 25 1/2 Road)
  • GJHS wrestlers win state championship


The National Junior College Baseball Tourney, nicknamed JUCO, moved here in 1958. It has wide local support. The top ten junior college teams from across the nation come here to compete to be number one. In the spring, JUCO guarantees a rousing series of games which fill the stadium with avid sports fans. This is at Suplizio Field in Lincoln Park.


Wayne Aspinall was the U.S. Congressman from this District from 1949 to 1973, becoming chairman of the powerful House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee in 1959. Serving until 1973, he was chairman in this important post longer than any other congressman. Dams, reclamation, mining and forestry are crucial to the West, and he was vigilant in promoting those interests. A masterful legislator, he managed over 1,000 bills in the House, and every one passed.


  • Gene Taylor opens Rod and Gun Shop in downtown Grand Junction
  • Mildred Hart Shaw begins Great Books program
  • GJHS wins state track and field championship
  • United Way of Mesa County founded
  • Current Central High School building on E Road first occupied

The 1960s

The 1960s saw significant new developments. The Interstate Highway system reached here, and put Grand Junction on that important national transportation grid. The innovative downtown shopping park drew national attention. The city’s population in 1960 had reached 18,694, a 28.9 percent increase over 1950.

The All America City recognition inspired widespread use of its logo. Even ash trays were adorned with the city’s new honor.

The metallic red shoes with spike heels and pointed toes were dress-up shoes for teacher Gladys Conway. A hat, gloves and purse also were included in a woman’s ensemble.


  • Chet and Vernie Enstrom establish Enstrom’s Almond Toffee
  • Mesa County Arts Center, Inc. opens (7th and Orchard; now Western Colorado Center for the Arts)


Cattle, sheep and horses were characteristic of ranches surrounding Grand Junction. In the West, riding and roping skills led to rodeo competitions. They evolved into dramatic professional rodeos, such as the Colorado Stampede Rodeo, sponsored annually by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Posse at the Fairgrounds on Orchard Mesa. (Mesa County Sheriff’s Posse Photo)


New technological developments in electronics spurred its manufacturing. Electronic manufacturing plants began to open in Grand Junction to take advantage of the available labor force. Dixson, Ultronix, and Hickok were some of the manufacturers. Lower labor and distribution costs elsewhere lead most of them to move away in later decades.  (Bruce Dixson Photo)


Mildred Hart Shaw (here atop an elephant) was a reporter, an editorial writer, and then book reviewer on the Daily Sentinel from 1936 to 1980. From 1959 to 1970 she also mentored the Junior Great Books reading and discussion groups for high school students. Many were intellectually stimulated by these sessions, and went on to excel at colleges and universities.


  • Peak uranium production year, 8,000,000 tons of raw ore refined
  • Grand Junction High School wins state baseball title


Operation Foresight transforms Main Street into pedestrian mall; Joe Lacy, City Manager