Palisade History

Palisade, located in the eastern end of the Grand Valley, was named for the austere and dramatic palisades–steep cliffs of Mancos Shale bordering the town. The sculptured appearance was formed by various geologic uplifts in the area combined with localized erosion and down cutting by the Colorado River. Mancos Shale is mudrock that accumulated in marine environments of the Cretaceous Inland Sea which retreated about 75 million years ago. The Mesa Verde geologic sands were stripped from the mountains and built up as beach sands and river beds.

The Mesa Verde geologic formation is also known for its thick layers of coal. In Colorado, coal was formed in the middle Cretaceous Times (144-65 million years ago). In Palisade, the Mesa Verde formation provides abundant reserves of highly valuable low-sulfur bituminous coal.

At the turn of the 20th century, coal mining was a big business and as important to Palisade’s early development as fruit growing. More than a dozen coal mines operated in the area. John Nichols opened the Cameo Mine in 1885 which later provided coal for the Public Service Company power plant built on the former Cameo town site in 1957. Most of the mines closed in the late 1950s when natural gas replaced coal for heating.

For well over 10,000 years, Native Americans used the abundant waters flowing in the Grand Valley. When the area officially opened to white settlement in 1882, pioneers not disappointed by the Valley’s desolate appearance saw potential–if water from what was then the Grand River could be captured through dams, diversions, and canals. The subsequent irrigation projects transformed the desert into one of the most productive agricultural regions in Colorado and the Intermountain West.

By the mid 1880s, it was apparent Palisade’s unique geologic location protects crops from spring freezes. The local climate is often referred to as the “banana belt.” The mild climate and unique terrain create near-perfect peach growing conditions in the approximate 10-mile area stretching from the tip of Mt. Garfield to the south end of East Orchard Mesa. Wind moves 8 to 12 mph down-slope from the north and is focused by DeBeque Canyon. This “million dollar wind” is compressed and warms the air to prevent crop-killing frosts in the spring. As the katabatic wind moves west – down valley – it spreads out and its warming affect diminishes. In addition, the palisades absorb warmth and help prevent frost damage. The mild climate, a 182 day growing season, plenty of sunshine and water through elaborate irrigation systems, dams and canals, make Palisade the “Peach Capital.” Mineral-rich soil and our 4,700 foot altitude–which means warm days and cool nights–are also credited for Palisade’s great tasting peaches. Palisade makes Colorado the 7th largest peach producing state in the U.S.

Though a winter kill in 1962-63 wiped out most of the existing fruit trees, and a severe winter in 1989 again damaged the fruit trees and wine grapes, our growers bounced back. Palisade also largely survived pressure to convert prime irrigated land to high-density housing in response to a series of energy booms on the Western Slope. More recently, demand for locally-grown produce increased the number of fruit trees as well as expanded crops to include wine grapes, hops, and lavender. Palisade is a popular destination for fresh fruit, especially peaches, as well as 25 of Colorado’s 140 wineries. It is also the only wine grape growing region in the world more than 1,000 miles from an ocean and at 4,700 feet above sea level.


Palisade History

The 1890s

A standard gauge railroad extends from New Castle and opens new markets for Palisade’s coal and fruit business outside the Grand Valley. The Rio Grande Junction Railway was a joint venture between the Colorado Midland and the Denver & Rio Grande Railways which jointly operate the railway from Rifle to Grand Junction. Mary Currie files a patent for 133 acres of land at the center of Palisade in 1891, but probably occupied it earlier. Currie sold lots to Frank M. Burger in October 1891 who then sold them to Grand Junction banker and developer Benton Canon six months later for more than twice the $1,500 he paid for the two lots. Canon filed the original plat for the town between First and Fifth streets, and Main Street and Peach Avenue. In 1889, Currie sold a strip of land for a total of 6.3 acres to the Denver and Rio Grande and the Colorado Midland Railroad for the railway right of way. W.A. Pease is considered the first settler in what was called Palisades.

Canon also plats the Palisade Fruit Tracts which have 12 lots varying from one to 13 acres covering the area from First to Eighth streets and from Peach Avenue west to Elberta Avenue. The area from Fifth to Eight and from Main St. to Peach Ave. are known as Fruit Tracts.


The Parton’s home, post office, and hotel on 3rd St. in downtown Palisade. Mrs. Parton later became the first postmistress of “Palisades.”  

Courtesy of Marie Tipping Archives, Palisade Library Collection


Mae Purdy hikes on the stage coach trail near the palisades in the 1890s. The trail was built to get mining equipment to the Mt. Lincoln coal mines. It was never used by stagecoaches.

Courtesy of Marie Tipping Archives, Palisade Library Collection


John L. Oliver was one of the first Palisade fruit growers. His orchards,  planted before irrigation ditches were built, require water to be hauled from the river in barrels on horse-driven carts from first sun light until dusk.

Courtesy of Marie Tipping Archives, Palisade Library Collection


Frozen water in the bottom of the irrigation canals provides options for ice skating. This group is posing at the Grand Valley Canal headgate.

Courtesy of Bowman Family Collection


Palisade’s first depot is located on the south side of the tracks near Kluge Avenue. It was then moved to the north side of the tracks and used as a residence.  It became the United Fruit Growers’ Association offices for many years, and is now part of Peach Street Distillery.  

Courtesy of Marie Tipping Archives, Palisade Library Collection


  • Denver & Rio Grande and Midland jointly operated Rio Grande Junction railroad extends from New Castle to Palisade.

  • Frank Burger begins Mt. Lincoln Ditch – later becomes Price Ditch – completed in 1909.

  • Post Office at Harlow (Rapid Creek) opens May 17.


Early orchards were also planted in the Vinelands, then known as “Poverty Flats.” Colonel Christopher Columbus Bower center, with his son, Phil, and dog, Shep. N.J. Krusen is on the far right. Colonel Bower was one of the original incorporators of the town of Palisade and elected as a member of the Board of Trustees.

Courtesy of Marie Tipping Archives, Palisade Library Collection


Palisades Post Office opens, with W. A. Pease as Postmaster, on April 7.


Mt. Lincoln Coal Mine 1892 with Frank Hickman, David T. Lloyd, and Arthur R. Lloyd

Coal Mining was important to Palisade’s early economy. More than a dozen coal mines operated near Palisade over the years.

Courtesy of Marie Tipping Archives, Palisade Library Collection


Judge Hoke in his office in what was previously the first one-room school built in 1893. It was the location of the Palisade Public Library until 1952.

Courtesy of the Charlesworth Family


First school opens on 2nd Street.


  • Highline Mutual Irrigation District incorporates; purchases Mt. Lincoln Ditch.
  • Smith and Struthers Ditch begins piping water from Plateau Creek – abandoned in 1905.
  • Benton Canon plats the Town of Palisade.


Cable ferry from east 4th Street to the Vinelands begins operation.


George Smith opens Mt. Lincoln, Garfield, Farmer’s Union Mines (late 1890s)