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Edwards, Eagle, and Gypsum

Not all early communities in Eagle County were related to mining. Many homesteaders came seeking free land. Edwards, for instance, was first settled by two ranchers in 1882. It was known as “Berry’s Ranch” until 1887, when the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad established a station there. The tiny community at the confluence of Lake Creek and the Eagle River then changed its name to “Edwards” after Red Cliff resident Melvin Edwards, who became Colorado’s secretary of state.

Two other ranching communities, Eagle and Gypsum, were first settled in 1882. By 1884 there were thirty-one ranches in Gypsum, near the west end of the Eagle valley at the confluence of Gypsum Creek and the Eagle River. Farther east, Eagle struggled to stay afloat in its early years. The town’s continuous name changes after 1882 reflected an identity struggle; the name “Eagle” became prominent in 1896 and was finally chosen in 1905. In the late 1890s Eagle served as a supply center for the mining camp of Fulford to the south, but cattle ranching and farming, particularly of potatoes and lettuce, proved to be the mainstay of the local economy thereafter.

County Establishment

The mining boom on Battle Mountain prompted the Colorado state legislature to carve Eagle County from neighboring Summit County in 1883. Red Cliff was chosen as county seat.

Mining in Eagle County continued throughout the twentieth century, moving from gold and silver to other metals, including copper, lead, molybdenum, and zinc. By 1970 the mines in the Gilman District had produced more than 393,000 ounces of gold, 66 million ounces of silver, 105,000 tons of copper, 148,000 tons of lead, and 858,000 tons of zinc. But by 1981 a combination of lower demand for molybdenum and zinc and environmental concerns caused the New Jersey Zinc Company’s Eagle Mine on Battle Mountain to close, turning Gilman into a ghost town.

Eagle County, formed in 1883, covers 1,692 square miles of mountainous terrain in northwest Colorado. It is named for the Eagle River, which begins in the mountains in the county’s southeast corner, flows westward alongside Interstate 70, and meets the Colorado River near the small community of Dotsero on the county’s western edge. Eagle County is bordered by Routt and Grand Counties to the north, Summit County to the east, Lake and Pitkin Counties to the south, and Garfield County to the west.

The county has a population of about 53,000. The town of Eagle (population 6,508) is the county seat, but the largest community is Edwards (10,266). Other communities include, from east to west, Vail (5,302), Red Cliff (267), Minturn (1,027), Eagle-Vail (2,887), Avon (6,447), and Gypsum (6,477). The county’s southwest corner also includes the community of El Jebel (3,801) and parts of Basalt (3,857) in the Roaring Fork valley.

Once summer hunting grounds for Ute Indians, Eagle County attracted Anglo-American prospectors in the late nineteenth century. The Eagle River valley was the site of Colorado’s main east-west highway, which over the course of the twentieth century became part of the Interstate 70 corridor from Denver to Glenwood Springs. The Pando valley, in the southeastern part of the county, was home to Camp Hale, where the famous US Army Tenth Mountain Division trained for alpine combat in World War II.

Today, Eagle County is known for its ski resorts at Vail and Beaver Creek, as well as for its picturesque mountain scenery. Much of the public land in the county is managed by the US Forest Service as part of the White River National Forest, including the iconic Mount of the Holy Cross in southern Eagle County. Interstate 70 enters Eagle County from Vail Pass to the east and from Glenwood Canyon to the west; it intersects with US Highway 24 near Minturn and with State Route 131 at the tiny community of Wolcott.