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This Colorado town was wiped off the map by an avalanche 135 years ago

Posted: 4:01 PM, Mar 07, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-08 00:41:37Z

DENVER — Colorado is experiencing “historic” avalanche conditions as drivers deal with several highway and road closures triggered by massive slides happening across much of the central part of the state over the past week. But Sunday will mark the 135th anniversary of a devastating avalanche that led to a town’s demise.

There have been at least 190 avalanches reported in the state over the past week, one of them deadly. A backcountry skier was killed March 3 during a slide in San Miguel County, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Although this week’s avalanche activity has been extreme, venturing into Colorado’s high country has always carried with it the risk of getting caught in a slide. Throughout Colorado’s history, the state has seen thousands of avalanches — one of them even wiped an entire town off the map.

On March 10, 1884, the 200 residents of the Gunnison County settlement of Woodstock had no warning what was about to hit them. A Denver, South Park & Pacific train had just pulled away from the Woodstock station when a massive avalanche began moving down the mountain above the town.

A view of Denver, South Park, and Pacific locomotive number 43 and railroad cars on the west side of Alpine Pass (Altman Pass) at Woodstock (Gunnison County), Colorado, shows three men on top of the locomotive. A stand of pines and log cabins are seen in the distance.

“The crashing and roaring was like the tearing away of a mountainside,” said Eugene H. Teats, an eyewitness to the avalanche whose quote is memorialized on a roadside sign.

The cloud of snow and debris buried the settlement, killing 13 people, including Marcella Doyle's six children who lived in a boarding house ran by their mother. Doyle and her children had moved to Woodstock following the death of her husband and ran the town’s boarding house for the men who worked for the railroad.

Woodstock_snow_slide_ruins (1).jpg
View of a collapsed frame, probably one-story house, in Woodstock near Pitkin (Gunnison County), Colorado west of Alpine Pass. A wooden plank supports an unstable wall. A brick chimney, wooden shingles, and rafters are in the debris pile of the demolished building. Shovels are in snow piles.

A sign that sits on the site of where Woodstock once stood tells the story of the Gunnison County settlement.

"Woodstock was founded in 1881 on one of the few flat spots between Alpine Station and Quartz. It had the typical small western town amenities including a restaurant, hotel and a saloon. Eventually other railroad facilities were built including a water tank, telegraph office and a boarding house.”

The town was never rebuilt after the 1884 avalanche maybe because the site of the settlement was located at the bottom of a notorious slide area.