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Historical Perspectives

Digging into Peyton’s past

Like Falcon, the town of Peyton has railroad roots, thanks to the Rock Island Railroad.In the late 1880s, the railroad was extending its line from Limon, Colo., to Colorado Springs, and wanted a town every 10 miles where steam engines could stock up on water and fuel.Peyton got its start when George W. Peyton filed a claim for 160 acres in 1883, but it was Martha Holden who, in 1886, sold the land the railroad needed for a right-of-way to extend its line farther west. The price: $10.George Peyton had the railroad survey and plat his 160 acres; surveyor C. H. Jilson received 51 percent interest in the town in exchange for his services.On Thanksgiving Day, 1888, the first passenger train passed through Peyton. A month later, platting was final. The railroad built a two-story brick depot and called it “Mayfield.”The townspeople applied for a post office for Mayfield, but the application was denied because there was already a “Mayfield” in California, which was at that time abbreviated as “Cala.,” – some thought it could be confused with “Colo.””Peyton” was their next choice, but the post office required that the town and the depot have the same name. The townspeople petitioned the railroad to change the depot’s name to Peyton, which it did with some reluctance.The post office granted the town’s re-application in 1889, and Peyton was officially on the map.The railroad connected Peyton with markets in Denver and Chicago for agricultural products. Potatoes and the railroad made Peyton prosperous.In 1890, the McDermotts arrived in Peyton and built the first store. Their house was a boarding house, called The Peyton Hotel, where travelers could stay overnight and have breakfast in the morning.That same year, the Russell Gates Co. opened a two-story brick store. With stores in Limon, Calhan, Eastonville, Elbert and Elizabeth; Russell Gates was the Wal-Mart of its day, carrying everything from pins to coffins to threshing machines. The store also had a creamery, a barbershop and, eventually, a grain elevator.About 1900, Joseph Zimmerman, who had filed his land claim in 1888, built a storage building next to the Russell Gates store. The second floor was used for community dances and meetings of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows and the Modern Woodmen of America.By 1900, Peyton had 50 residents, including two blacksmiths, a doctor and clergymen – all providing services to local ranchers, farmers and coal miners.That year, the potato blight ended potato growing, and farmers grew more wheat, oats, corn, rye and hay.In 1904, Mr. Dickinson, the Russell Gates manager, quit to open his own store across the street from the McDermotts.James M. Bradshaw (from Illinois) became one of the first names to appear in Peyton history when he filed a land claim in 1886. He and his wife, Lydia (from Ohio), eventually worked 1,930 acres north of Peyton.In 1904, the Bradshaws’ son Earl brought six Western Electric telephones to Peyton.Each telephone was powered by a dry cell battery and had a crank to select which phone to call. The top strand of barbed wire fencing was used to connect the telephones together.Soon, there were so many telephones that the Peyton Rural Telephone Association was formed. A central switchboard was installed, and Mrs. George Hayes was hired as the town’s first switchboard operator.Earl’s brother Marcus brought the first automobile – a Krit – to Peyton, and in 1908, Earl opened a Ford dealership, and then switched to Dodge in 1918.Peyton was especially busy in 1916.That year, Zimmerman, who was the town’s justice of the peace for 54 years, became Peyton’s postmaster. He petitioned for a motorized mail route to deliver the mail; at the time, they had two horse and buggy routes – one to Bijou Basin and one to Ellicott.In 1916, a newcomer built a pool hall, much to the displeasure of Peyton’s residents. The man offered to quit building the pool hall if someone would buy his building. Zimmerman bought the building and moved the post office into it (although one account stated he tore it down). His wife, Alta, opened a store in the post office and sold groceries and fresh meat.The United States entered World War I in 1917, and with it came a great demand for pinto beans – a crop that took Peyton by storm.Peyton’s farmers produced huge quantities of pinto beans, but the machine used to harvest the beans cut a foot into the topsoil and the wind blew the topsoil away.Within a few years, farmers had to switch to ranching to make a living.Peyton got its own bank in 1916. A young banker from Denver, Karl Hertzberger, sold shares in Farmers State Bank, which opened that August with 460 people in attendance.Three years later, at the age of 34, Hertzberger died of pneumonia, and cashier Albert Pieper, known as “Piep,” was promoted.In 1920, Jake Fleagle and his gang robbed the bank and locked Piep in the vault, where he nearly suffocated. Ten years later, Fleagle died in a shoot-out on a train in Branson, Mo.In 1930, “Shorty” Carmody and his wife robbed Peyton’s bank. Piep took after them in his Whippet (a popular vehicle of the day), but they got away and were later captured in Arizona.With the construction of the town’s first schoolhouse – a one-room building – by George Peyton and Joseph Zimmerman in 1889, the town had formed School District 23. The district’s first teacher was 17-year-old Mae McGee, who was paid $10 a month for a three-month term.In 1909, El Paso County’s first eighth-grade graduation ceremony was held in Peyton. Those who wanted a high school education had to move to Colorado Springs.In 1917, the county’s school superintendent, Inez Johnson Lewis, merged the Fairview, Pleasant Prairie, Bradshaw and Spencer schools into D 23. Two years later, D 23 absorbed half of the Log District; Ellicott got the other half.Some of Peyton’s businesses and residences got electricity in 1918. That same year, Pearl Laundry in Colorado Springs began offering weekly laundry service, by rail, in Peyton.The 1920s brought hard and good times to Peyton. The Russell Gates store closed in 1920, but 1921 saw D 23’s first high school graduating class of seven students.Oscar Jones had bad luck in Peyton and gave it to others. He arrived in 1921 and built a garage. At Christmas that year (or maybe 1923), a fire destroyed the garage and spread to Dickinson’s store. The garage, store and some smaller buildings, including a doctor’s office, were destroyed.The bank panic of 1929 caused the Moberly Bank in Calhan to close, so the government advised Peyton’s bank to move to Calhan for the good of the area’s economy. After the move, Piep became the bank’s president.In 1958, the train depot (which had been rebuilt in 1948) was deemed unnecessary and torn down.The Rock Island Railroad ceased operations in 1978, and the tracks were removed for salvage. Its roadbed now connects Falcon and Peyton as part of the Rock Island Regional Trail.

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