The Broncho and Gravity Railroad

Englewood was once home to an unusual tourist attraction that merged Old West with Victoriana, its history compiled here for the first time. Presented to the Englewood Historic Preservation Society.

Englewood isn’t known for much. Though among Denver’s oldest suburbs, it’s hard to tell apart; a sea of bungalows and strip malls vivisected by highways. Yet not long ago, it was a quiet but ambitious farm town – and before that a lawless and rowdy frontier outpost.

Among its more enduring symbols is the Cherrelyn Horse Car, a picturesque little trolley that once carried its passengers to the top of a hill, only to take the horse onboard for the ride back to the bottom.

The Cherrelyn Horse Car at about Broadway and Oxford.

Sources are extremely conflicting as to the origin of the horse car. Some say it was built in 1883 for the South Side Investment Company, a coalition of real estate developers. Most say it was part of the Denver City Railway Company network.

Around the same year, a man named Thomas Dunn built a small grocery and feed store to serve a sparse group of farms and ranches ten miles south of Denver. James Cherry, a Denver land developer, bought an adjacent quarter-section of land, and began promoting the little country crossroads and its general store as the town of Cherrelyn – today the intersection of Broadway and Quincy.

The Dunn family’s grocery store in 1903. Today the site is the parking lot of Gold Sound at the northwest corner of Quincy and Broadway.

The trolley line ran south from Denver through Orchard Place, a loose collection of saloons and stables that would one day become Englewood, halting a mile further south at Cherrelyn.

According to several vague sources, in 1892 the company declared the final mile of the line unprofitable and halted service to Cherrelyn (to me it seems likelier that service was halted a year later, in 1893, as fallout of the economic depression gripping Colorado that year due to the devaluation of silver).

At this point someone – sources name either John Bogue or James O’Brien – bought the final mile of the line, and a surplus horse car to operate as his own private line.

The trolley at its southern stop in front of the Dunn family store in 1903.

The site today.

No source mentions who developed the line’s famous methodology: after hauling a load of passengers from Orchard Place, up the steep one-mile hill to Cherrelyn, the horse would be backed up a dirt ramp onto the rear platform of the car. The operator would then shove the car into motion and hop aboard.

Though the trip up the hill took 15 minutes, the trip back took only three.

The car rolled slowly for the gentler upper part of the grade, then in the final quarter mile raced down a steep hill (“so fast that some passengers actually became dizzy,” a resident later recalled), over a trestle, coming to a halt in front of the saloons of Orchard Place, where a waiting photographer would snap a photo and sell prints. Photographers might also be stationed either on the flat stretch on top of the hill, or beside the trestle.

Looking south, the trolley rolling toward the trestle over Little Dry Creek. The house on the right still stands at Kenyon and Broadway.

The hill today.

The trolley rolls over the trestle toward its northern stop in Orchard Place, today the intersection of Broadway and Old Hampden.

The site today.

In later years, passengers disembarked at the northern station in front of a wooden shed festooned with flags and banners, functioning as a real estate office conveniently selling lots in Cherrelyn.

The site of the northern station today.

The so-called “Gravity and Broncho Railroad” swiftly became a popular tourist attraction. Numerous sources say the car could accommodate 40 passengers, but I doubt it could hold more than a dozen.

When the line began operations in the early 1890s, Orchard Place was rough – alongside neighbor Petersburg, the town drained soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Logan of their pay with liquor, prostitutes, and gambling. Denver, though, was growing closer.

In 1903, when the Cherrelyn Horse Car was ten years old, Denver received its own county. Orchard Place voted to incorporate itself, absorbed Cherrelyn, and renamed itself Englewood.

The new mayor’s first order of business was to shut down the saloons and brothels, and in a matter of months Englewood transitioned to a sleepy country community. Englewood fought Petersburg and Littleton for the seat of the shrunken Arapahoe County, losing to Littleton.

Denver’s growing middle and upper classes rode the electric trolley to Englewood’s Tuileries Gardens, a short-lived amusement park, cavorting in lavish Victorian fashion – women crowned with massive flowery hats, men sporting cropped mustaches and bowler hats – and many paid the five-cent fare to ride the Gravity and Broncho Railroad. Some bought the souvenir photos:

The line’s most popular conductor was Robert Haddow, a young tuberculosis patient recently arrived from North Dakota. Locals fondly remembered the various horses that pulled the trolley – Quickstep, Frederick, Curley, Dobbin, and Old Dick.

Little was written about the horse car while it was in operation. One exception is an incident reported in the Denver Republican on January 8, 1900: John Bogue, then conductor, hitched a second horse to the car to deal with heavy winds in a howling blizzard. Quickstep, “as if in malicious mischief,” pushed the other horse up an embankment, causing the new horse to fall beneath the wheels of the car.

The horse, its broken legs stuck in the wheel spokes, lay thrashing beneath the derailed car for two hours – “so badly injured that a bullet will probably terminate its treatment.”

John Bogue, in black duster, and Quickstep with an unidentified beardo.

At some point, regular trolley service had resumed not just to Cherrelyn but beyond to Littleton, and the horse car lost any practical purpose. Profits dwindled, and in November 1910 the car made its final regularly scheduled run. The tracks were torn up soon after. Legend holds that the car’s final horse, Old Dick, died “of a broken heart” two weeks after the final run.

The car was bought by Louis Lieberhart, a produce broker, who parked it on his lawn in Edgewater as a playhouse for his children.

Lieberhart’s widow gave the car to the Englewood Rotary Club in 1951. The car was refurbished and put on display in front of City Hall. Today the car, refurbished once more the late 1980s, stands inside the north doors of the city library.

Though the original trolley was built of what appear to be rough pine or cottonwood planks, the modern restoration is composed of sturdy oak.

The interior of the restored car today.

The front of the restored car.

The trolley grants glimpses into a period of great transition: the closing of the frontier, the coming age of development and sprawl. The trolley’s lifespan straddled two centuries: when the 19th dawned, the area was a lonely spot known only to nomadic warrior clans; when the 20th closed, it was a mere district of a vast and crowded metropolis.

Englewood was no Deadwood, no Leadville, no Tombstone. But in its story is the story of the American West – boom and bust, cowboy and Indian, frontier to suburb.


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