River Portal (East Portal), Colorado

I'm Irish & I'm a Mason...and I have a story to tell.

Sit By The River - Share My Journey

These entries document the stories of the men, women and children who lived at River Portal, Montrose County, Colorado while working on the Gunnison Diversion Tunnel - a historic pioneering project that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009.

Please read from the first entry forwards as I tend to have my own writing style that's more like reading a book than an entry that can be read individually. Reading the posts separate from each other doesn't really convey the story properly. :)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Household # 3 - Henry O. Warren

Household # 3 on the River Portal 1910 Census lists the family of Henry O. Warren.  Henry was born in Wisconsin, son of John Warren.  His wife was likely Cora Earl who lived very close in 1880 - shortly before the couple married.  They had two children - Kevin and Myrtle.  Kenneth apparently died sometime between 1900 and 1910.  Myrtle went on to marry an unknown Speckman but was widowed soon after - probably within the first year.  After 1910 I don't know what happened to Myrtle.  I haven't yet found Henry and Cora on the 1930 census.   

1880 Federal Census; Wisconsin; Winnebago County;
Oshkosh; 5th Ward; E.D. 227; June 4;
8 New Street; 132/132; DCH

Warren, John Head W M 53 (or 63?)
                                    Laborer M
                                                 Maine Maine Maine
            , Mary E. Wife W F Wife M
                                                 Maine Maine Maine
            , Henry C. Son W M 24 M (sic)
                                                 Wisconsin Maine Maine
             , Illegible Son W M 13 S
                                                 Wisconsin Maine Maine
             , Charles Nephew W M 28 S
                                                 Maine Maine Maine

(NOTE: At address 5 / Household 129/129 - is a family with a 14 year old daughter named Cora - last name Earl. Birth states listed as Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania. Believe this Cora is the Cora who became Henry O. Warren's wife. Unconfirmed)
1900 Federal Census; Wisconsin; Winnebago County;
Oshkosh City; Ward 5; E.D. 138; June 7;
50 Warren Street; 129/142; DCH

Warren, Henry O. Head W M Dec 1854 45 M20
                                               Wisconsin Maine Maine
            , Cora E. Wife W F Mar 1860 M20 2/2
                                               Minnesota New York New York
            , Merlie E. Daughter W F June 1882 17 S
                                               Wisconsin Wisconsin Minnesota
                                                             Music Teacher
            , Kenneth C. Son W M Aug 1886 13 S
                                               Wisconsin Wisconsin Minnesota
                                                              At School
1910 Federal Census; Colorado; Montrose County;
Precinct 17; River Portal; E.D. 111; April 27; 3/3; DCH

Warren, Henry O. Head M W 55 M1 31
                                            Wisconsin Maine Maine
                                                           Foreman Stone Crusher
             , Cora E. Wife F W 51 M1 31 2/1
                                            Minnesota New York New York
Speckman, Myrtle Daughter F W 27 Wd 0/0
                                            Wisconsin Wisconsin Minnesota
                                                             Nurse Private Families
1920 Federal Census; Colorado; Park County; Bailey Precinct # 1;
E.D. 176; January 28; 149/154; DCH

Warren, Henry O. Head M W 62 M
                                          Wisconsin Maine Maine
                                                           Manager Stock Farm

            , Cora E. Wife F W 59 M
                                          Minnesota New York New York
Wisconsin Birth Record:

Myrtle E Warren 6 Jun 1882 Winnebago 0313 002654

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Household # 2 - Vastine L. Bryan

Household # 2 in River Portal on the 1910 census has a man who was listed on a tunnel hierarchy organizational chart as the "storekeeper".  I haven't been able to find him on the 1920 census. 

VASTINE L. BRYAN (Storekeeper)

1895 Iowa State Census:

Hardin County; Pleasant; Eldora Township; Star Industrial School

Bryan, Vastine L. Linn, Iowa 16 W M S
1900 Census:

Colorado; Summit County; Breckenridge;
E.D. 154; June 13; 243/244; DCH

Bryan, Vastine L. Head W M Sept 1868 31 M 2
                                         South Carolina South Carolina South Carolina
                                                         Day Laborer
          , Mary E. Wife W F April 1874 21 M 2 1/1
                                         Colorado Ireland Ireland

(Note: 1 child born/1 living listed but no child listed on census. ???)

(Note: South Carolina is listed but incorrect.)
1910 Census:

Colorado; Montrose County; River Portal; Precinct 17;
E.D. 111; April 27; 2/2; DCH

Bryan, Vastine L. Head M W 41 M1 11
                                           Iowa Iowa Iowa
                                                       Receiving Clerk Reclamation Service
          , Marie E. Wife F W 30 M1 11
                                           Colorado Scot-English Scot-English
          , Robert G. J. Son M W 10 S
                                           Colorado Iowa Colorado
          , Harvey J. Son M W 8 S
                                           Colorado Iowa Colorado
          , Vastine L. Jr. Son M W 7 S
                                           Colorado Iowa Colorado
1930 Census:

Colorado; Denver County; Denver; Ward W; Block 5008;
E.D. 187; April 5; 509 24th Street; 79/137; DCH

Bryan, Vastine L. Head M W 61 M 30
                                              Iowa South Carolina South Carolina
                                                              Carpenter Building
          , Mary E. Wife F W 50 M 19
                                              Colorado Ireland Ireland
          , Lavinia Daughter F W 12 S
                                              Colorado Iowa Colorado
          , Harvey G Son M W 27 S
                                              Colorado Iowa Colorado
R. L. Polk & Co.'s Salt Lake City Directory 1893

"Bryan, Vastine L, lab, bds 44 West 1st South."
Ballenger & Richards Thirtieth Annual Denver City Directory, 1902:

"Bryan, Vastine L. r 2522 Lawrence."
Ballenger & Richards Denver City Directory, 1904:

"Bryan, Vastine L, engineer, r 2362 Lawrence."
F.A. McKinney's City and County Directory, 1912-1913:

"Bryan Vastine L clk U S Reclamation Service

h 1117 S 2d (Marie E)"
Colorado Marriages 1859-1900

Name: Vastine L. Bryan
Spouse: Mary E. Tammany

(No further information given)

Monday, January 25, 2010

#1 - William Lines

In the first household listed on the census for River Portal in 1910 is the family of William Lines.  William was born in Utah and undocumented information lists him as dying in Montrose County, Colorado in the mid 1950's.  His wife is found on the 1900 census living with her mother and stepfather.  The birth state for the man / head of the house doesn't match the birth state listed for William's wife Donna's father.  Also, the marriage between the mother and stepfather was only 7 years old so not long enough to legitimately account for the 14 year daughter.  I've read undocumented records indicating that her maiden name was "Jones".  Note that, as often happened, the census taker on the 1920 census identified the family as "Lions" instead of "Lines".   
1900 Federal Census; Colorado; Montrose County;
Precinct 9; Montrose; E.D. 78; June 30; 658/658; DCH

Lines, William Head W M Jan 1878 22 S
                          Utah England England
                                     Farm Laborer
1900 Federal Census; Colorado; Montrose County;
Precinct 9; Montrose; E.D. 78; June 30; 655/655; DCH

Brown, Stephen   Head W M March 1852 48 M7
                                     North Carolina North Carolina North Carolina
           , Jennie     Wife W F April 1864 36 M7 2/2
                                     Kansas Texas Ohio
           , Donna    Daughter W F Aug 1885 14 S
                                     Colorado Wisconsin Kansas
           , Florence Daughter W F April 1887 12 S
                                     Colorado Wisconsin Kansas
1910 Federal Census; Colorado; Montrose County;
Precinct 17; River Portal; E.D. 111; April 27; 1/1; DCH

Lines, William     Head M W 32 M1 8
                                    Utah England England
                                              Dairyman Public Range
         , Donna       Wife F W 25 M1 8 4/4
                                    Colorado United States Kansas
         , Herbert L.   Son M W 7 S
                                    Colorado Utah Colorado
         , Sylvia       Daughter F W 6 S
                                   Colorado Utah Colorado
         , Alvin N.     Son M W 4 S
                                   Colorado Utah Colorado
         , Aliene L.  Daughter F W 2 S
                                   Colorado Utah Colorado
1920 Federal Census; Colorado; San Miguel County;
Precinct 1; Telluride; Ward 3; E.D. 157; January 9;
Galena (?) Ave; 61/61; DCH

Lions, Will              Head M W 40 M
                                          Utah England England
                                              Miner Gold Mine
          , Donna          Wife F W 35 M
                                          Colorado Missouri Missouri
          , Herbert          Son M W 17 S
                                          Colorado Utah Colorado
                                                Wagon Man Meat Market
          , Sylvia        Daughter F W 15 S
                                         Colorado Utah Colorado
          , Norman         Son M W 14 S
                                         Colorado Utah Colorado
          , Aliene        Daughter F W 11 S
                                         Colorado Utah Colorado
          , Wellima     Daughter F W 4 0/12 S
                                         Colorado Utah Colorado
1930 Federal Census; Colorado; Montrose County;
Coventry Precinct; E.D. 17; April 22-23; 42/42; DCH

Lines, Will      Head M W 52 M 24
                                  Utah England England
                                             Farmer General Farm
         , Donna Wife F W 44 M 17
                                  Colorado United States United States
         , Wilma Daughter F W 15 S
                                  Colorado Utah Colorado

Monday, January 18, 2010

Madness Monday - Vexed & Perplexed

I love the whole idea of trying to document the people of River Portal.  I love the idea of possibly providing a connection or a little clue for someone who may discover family at River Portal through what I share.  That would be the ultimate satisfaction!  I love the idea of connecting to others who share this special place - this unique heritage. 


I'm vexed and perplexed!!!

I have been doing research for other people for years.  I've been thrilled to fill in blanks for people.  It's not like I'm a newbie and not like I don't know how to do research.  I'm not saying that I won't always have a lot to learn.  When do we ever stop learning if we're really working at something - at anything?  It's just that I think that the experience I already have should make tracing the River Portal people fairly easy.  NOT!!!  I could yank my prematurely white hair out by the roots in clumps!  UGH!!!

I've been able to find bits and pieces and I continue to research.  I like being able to follow a family through many years - through generations.  Many of these River Portal people are just more difficult than most I've encountered in the past.  Why doesn't my skill match my desire and passion?  If I could only WILL myself past the brick walls!  My people are done.  It's other people's people I seek.  I've done that successfully for years.  Why am I stuck here in River Portal??? 

Don't get me wrong....I LOVE it here where River Portal used to be.  I'm just frustrated!

To make matters more difficult there are incredible pictures I want to share - pictures of the town when it was active.  Unfortunately the prices being charged to get copyright permission are beyond my means.  I'll have to research to see if I can post links to the pictures.  Not the best choice but maybe my only one.  ?  Why can't it be quid pro quo?  Why can't I donate my research in exchange for use of the pics?  More clumps of hair being pulled out! 

So....I'm suffering from madness on this Monday!    

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Surname Saturday - Motherlode of Names!

River Portal was the East Portal for the building of the Gunnison Diversion Tunnel.  Not everyone that worked on the entire tunnel project lived at River Portal.  My family wasn't the only family listed as living here on the 1910 census.  Maybe your family / your ancestors lived here too?  Even if they weren't from Colorado they may have come here seeking employment.  Maybe you'll discover a connection to this wonderful but little known tunnel as well.  So here are the surnames listed at River Portal on the 1910 census.  I'll tell you more about some of the individuals involved with this project later.

I'll list the names in order of their household number.  Some were families and others bunked together in groups.

1.  Lines
2.  Bryan
3.  Warren & Speckman
4.  Lyall
5.  Quarles 
6.  Comstock
7.  Matzke
8.  Noonan 
9.  Dougherty 
10.  Benston (or Bunston?)
11.  Groves 
12.  Engelking 
13.  Riley & Carey
14.  Belcher
15.  Dawson
16.  Kinyon 
17.  Mason 
18.  Dougherty & Dixon 
19.  Williams 
20.  Dougherty 
21.  Lacher 
22.  McGillis, Winnet, Graham, Chambers, Moser, Blight, Gilbert
23.  McNeil, McIntyre, Brsell (?), McDonald, Rose, Pettit
24.  Collier, Briggs, Diegnan, Haller, Workman, Kelson, Adamson, McCandless, O'Brien, Cate
25.  Lindhard, Morgan, Hicks, Pryor
26.  Hansen, Venstron, Payne, Patterson, Hambledon, Straigel;
27.  Irvine, Nichols, Krebs, Hill, Tisdall, Burns, Killian, Turini, Jensen, Moberg, Giroux, Collison
28.  Shields, Chuoski, Salogub, Erikdsen, Brecht, Colsict, Berry, Fisher, Woodring
29.  Cheney, McGuire, Williams, Haney, Eastwood, Mullaney, Cosgrove, Barker, Funk, Kerr  

Whew!  About 95 surnames!  I hope some of you will recognize some of yours in this group.              

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Children of John Patrick & Anna (Phillips) Mason

It's so beautiful and peaceful sitting here by the river! I could do this for hours and hours! Oh yes...that's funny...I HAVE done this for hours! When I sat down here to share my stories I thought that you might all get bored and leave. I'm so glad you didn't! If we need sleep breaks there's a little campground over there. You can't see it very well from here. I'm sure it will accomodate us. Aren't you glad you brought your camping and fishing gear?

Our little group has grown. I'm really thrilled to welcome my cousin John William Mason! I told you about him. Remember? It's taken him a little bit to get here but he's brought his two little ones with him. My goodness...they've grown so much! The years pass so quickly! John loves being out in nature too and he loves to bring his son John Jr. and his daughter Jamie Jo on his treks. It's really fitting to have the children here with us. They're the future. We pass the past on to them. It's their heritage.

I want to tell you about the children of John and Anna Mason. Four of their children lived here at River Portal. Three were born here. One died here. I shared this picture before but I'd like to share it again. This is the only picture we have of the family when they lived at River Portal. That's my great grandmother Anna standing there looking so elegant with her hand resting on the back of my great grandfather John Patrick Mason. My grandfather John Joseph Mason is standing there in a cute little hat. My great aunt Theresa is standing on the other side next to her daddy. She's got a hat on that I wouldn't necessarily call cute. Maybe interesting - but not cute. It's big. I'll give it that. Maybe that was the fashion of the day. On my great grandpa's lap is little James.

The 1910 census for River Portal shows the family at household #17. John is listed as "John G." instead of "John P." He's 30 years old; born in Ireland; immigrated in 1905; has his naturalization application pending; and is a driller on the tunnel. Anna is also 30 years old; born in Ireland; immigrated in 1906. The census shows that John and Anna had been married 8 years. My grandpa is listed as 5 years old; born in Ireland; immigrated in 1906. Theresa is listed as being 3 years old and born in Colorado. James is listed as 1 yr. 3 mos. and born in Colorado. (Church records from Montrose show he was baptized at River Portal. Daniel is listed as being 2 months old. He died the same year.

In 1912 daughter Mary joined the family in Provo, Utah. The family had left River Portal that year and were on their way to Idaho. There were likely family members already in Utah as many extended family members had immigrated to America and spread all over the country - from coast to coast. Many were miners - as John Patrick had been before he came to America and after.

Thomas joined the family in 1914. Anna came along in 1916. Finally Michael was born in 1920. These three were all born in Cambridge, Idaho.

Where did they end up?

John Joseph Mason married Gladys Electa Brown. Here's a picture of them together. This other picture of my grandpa reminds me of how we Masons love to sit just about anywhere out in nature. The picture of him fishing is sad now but it reminds me that he loved fishing. He died in 1975 in Tillamook, Oregon. He drowned while fishing in the Trask River.

Theresa married at least twice. One was to an unknown Collins. The other marriage was to Francis Paul Favre. Theresa died in 2001 in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.

James died in 1994 in Weiser, Idaho.

Daniel died in 1910 at River Portal in Montrose County, Colorado.

Mary married Roy C. Blakley. She died in 1989 in Weiser, Idaho.

Thomas died in 2001 (shortly after helping my cousin John get those pictures and letters to me). He also died in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Anna married John Henry Higgins. They had a tragic ending. Anna and John and one of their sons - Paul - were all killed in a house fire in 1976.

Michael married Betty Jo Howland and died in 2002 in Baker City, Oregon.

These are the eight children of John Patrick and Anna (Phillips) Mason. They live on through their many descendants. I take comfort in knowing that John Patrick and Anna only knew the grief of losing Daniel. They didn't live to know of the tragic deaths of their son John Joseph or their daughter Anna (Mason) Higgins & grandson Paul Higgins. I believe their faith would have carried them through anything though. They were very strong people. I'm proud to be one of their many descendants.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ireland to River Portal

I admire the courage of all those who left their homes and sailed across the ocean to a new country. Brave souls! Having spent so many years in the military lifestyle I can relate to picking up and moving on and starting over - but that's nothing compared to what our ancestors went through. We have better modes of transportation and communication. They had so little and yet had so much more to endure!

When John Patrick Mason left Ireland to come to America in 1905 he sailed on the S.S. Caledonia and he stated that he was heading to his cousin John Callaghan in Pueblo, Colorado. That's just about an hour south of me. (Odd that we both migrated in our own ways to Colorado.) Anna (Phillips) Mason came in 1906 on the S.S. Haverford with her 1 yr. old son - my grandfather John Joseph Mason. It must have been difficult for the young family to be apart for that year. My grandfather had suddenly become too ill to travel forcing Anna to remain behind with him. What were their dreams? Their hopes? Their fears? Their plans? I wish I could chat with them and ask them those questions...and so many more!

It didn't take John and Anna long to move on from Pueblo to Montrose County, Colorado. 1910 finds them in River Portal with three additional children: Theresa was born in March of 1907; James was born in January of 1909 and Daniel was born early in 1910. He died the same year. Theresa, James and Daniel are presumed to have been born in River Portal and Daniel to also be buried there.

The 1910 census for River Portal is only 3 pages long. It contains 29 households with just under 140 inhabitants. John and Anna are listed as household #17. I haven't yet found any family connection between them and the other people who dared to live at the bottom of this gorge. Life here was very difficult. Can you imagine going up and down a 17% grade road with horses and carts? Or imagine what it must have been like in the middle of winter. Makes me shiver to think about! The people who lived here were strong and perservering.

River Portal was a "company town" - built to support the work of the tunnel. Look around you...there's really not much here now. Can you imagine that it once had a power plant and a school and a dining hall? Everything needed to support the tunnel work and the workers was right here. Some of the people residing here were families. Others were individuals here for the work living in boarding house environments. To most people today they are just faces in pictures preserved over the years - faces that don't tell who they really were. I hope to help tell some of their stories. They're an interesting group. Who were they? Where did they go?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Happy 101 Award Received

I need to take a break in my stories for a minute because word just came to me of something really special I'd like to share. I've enjoyed sharing my stories with you all and you've all made me feel very welcome! I've cherished being able to share. Two wonderful listeners awarded me the Happy 101 Award! I'm going to follow in the footsteps of one of them and thank both of them with one response. :) To Lori at http://genealogyandme.blogspot.com who awarded it to me for "My Daddy's Wallet" and to Dr. Bill at Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories http://drbilltellsancestorstories.blogspot.com - THANK YOU!!! You really made my day and I'm so thrilled that you're sitting here on the riverbank with me. I'm in such great company!

The responsibilities that go with this award are as follows. I am first to list 10 things that make me happy (not in any particular order):

1. My husband of over 36 years. The best thing I ever did was marry him! :)

2. My children Thomas and Jacci - They are the best and they have blessed my life!

3. My grandchildren Tori, Sarah and of course Mason Liam (who crawled today for the first time!)

4. Twitter. Stop laughing! I have gained so much in friendship and fun through Twitter that I have become twit-addicted! It also led me to people who led me to do this blog.

5. Nature. I can't get enough of nature in all of its glory. Trees, mountains, forests, and of course - as the Mason I am - I love water! ;)

6. The life I've been blessed to lead through military travel first as a "brat" and then for 30 years as a spouse. The many places I've been fortunate enough to live have often led to genealogy discoveries as well. It's been a wonderful life!

7. My cat Ralph aka The Baby aka The Cutie Boy

8. Making memories.

9. Football - Denver Broncos (even if they didn't do as well as hoped this year) & The Air Force Academy Falcons (who won the Armed Forces Bowl this year)

10. Finding my roots. On both my mother's and my father's sides I had what I believed to be insurmountable obstacles. Brick walls can be broken and roots can be found. :)

Part Two of my responsibilites with this award is to pass it on to ten other bloggers. The hardest part of that for me is that I jumped into blogging feet first. So I'm only now discovering the other blogs and it's so much fun!

Again - in no particular order:

1. Gramma's House at http://beckyjamison.blogspot.com/

2. The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From The Tree at http://appledoesntfallfar.blogspot.com/

3. Random Relatives at http://randomrelatives.blogspot.com/

4. Colorado Reflections at http://coloradoreflections.blogspot.com/

5. Little Bytes of Life at http://www.littlebytesoflife.com/

6. Small-Leaved Shamrock at http://small-leavedshamrock.blogspot.com/

7. Newton Lass at http://newtonlass.blogspot.com/

8. Colleen's Memories at http://cmjoffice.blogspot.com/

9. Writing Your Memories at http://writingyourmemories.blogspot.com/

10. The Graveyard Rabbit of Northern Virginia at http://gyrabbitnova.blogspot.com/

This was not easy. I wanted to include the two who awarded this to me as well but decided to share 10 others. Check out the other two though! Fantastic!

I feel like I just ran up Pikes Peak using the Manitou Incline. That basically means I just exhausted myself! LOL

Thanks again!

Surname Saturday - Mason - Ireland to America

They were born on the Emerald Isle – near the Silent Valley – “where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea” as the song says. County Down, Northern Ireland had been the home of their families for generations. Water was a big part of their lives. They were born near it, raised around it, travelled on it, lived closed to it all their lives and for a few years worked on a pioneer project helping to harness it – through the Gunnison Diversion Tunnel at East Portal (River Portal) in Montrose, Colorado.

They were a young couple married only a few years with a toddler son when they decided to sail away to a new country – leaving their homeland behind forever. He came first – on the S.S. Caledonia in 1905. Their plans to travel together were changed when their young son got sick and couldn’t travel so the wife and child remained behind. The husband travelled directly to Pueblo, Colorado and got a job at the steel mill there where he continued to work for nearly a year until his young wife and son were able to join him. They arrived in 1906 – on the S.S. Haverford. They were John Patrick and Anna (Phillips) Mason and their son John Joseph Mason. They were my great grandparents and my grandfather.

They heard of work in Montrose and they packed up and headed there. John was a miner and his skills might be put to use on the new tunnel being built there. The 5.8 miles tunnel would divert the Gunnison River to help bring badly needed water to the Uncompahgre Valley. It was a mammoth task. It required drilling through solid rock in a remote area at the bottom of the Black Canyon. The road down to the bottom of the gorge was steep and difficult to traverse. Work on the tunnel was treacherous. Lives were lost in the process.

John Patrick became a driller on the tunnel. I often wonder if he was intrigued by the thought of turning brown land into green. I wonder what he thought of his new home in Colorado. Did he miss the Emerald Isle and the green of his faraway birthland? Did he find the lack of water and the resulting brown land surrounding him to be less than appealing? I wonder if he felt exhilarated by the challenge of changing the landscape and the quality of life. I know he worked to provide sustenance for his family but turning brown land into green must have been a satisfying bonus.

John Patrick and Anna lived at River Portal – a small community built at the base of the gorge to provide the necessary facilities for the work being done at the tunnel. John Patrick was an industrious man – hard working and dedicated. He and Anna were devout Roman Catholics and they carried their faith and their Irish heritage with them wherever they went. They were strong people – not easily discouraged and not prone to giving up in hard times. While they lived at River Portal their family expanded. My grandfather John Joseph was joined by three siblings – Theresa in 1907, James in 1909 and Daniel in 1910. Daniel died as young child and it’s believed that he died there at River Portal. The family most likely arrived in River Portal in 1906. Theresa was born in March of 1907. It’s difficult to imagine that the family travelled down the gorge in the winter months with Anna being pregnant. Church records from that area show the baptism of James at River Portal. Documentation has the family living there until 1912. Although the official dedication of the tunnel was in 1909 there was still work to be done to fully complete the project so some of the workers remained. John Patrick was one of those.

I never dreamed when I moved to Colorado that I would find that I had come full-circle. I was back to where my Irish Mason family had started out in America. I never dreamed that I would find a connection between my Irish Mason family and the Gunnison Diversion Tunnel.

Later I'll share how I came to find my Mason roots because it's a story of many miracles. I came to have pictures I never thought I'd have. The picture of the tunnel is one of those. I also have a picture of the family that we now know was taken at River Portal. Amazing! Here it is. You can pass it around. I love this picture! The service berries still grow here at East Portal. See them over there? One hundred years later and they still survive! As we sit here on the bank of the Gunnison River at the bottom of this deep gorge - I think back to what their life must have been like then. Many things to muse about as I share my Mason heritage.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Gunnison Diversion Tunnel - Montrose County, Colorado

Whew! It's a wee bit of a struggle talking about these stories that are so near and dear to my heart. Thanks for bearing with me as my voice cracked and I had to stop to wipe the tears. I feel better now. It's wonderful to be able to share with people who understand. I see our little group has grown and I want to welcome those who have joined us here on the riverbank. You're so welcome! We're glad to have you with us and hope you sit for a while. We're enjoying the fresh air and the beautiful surroundings and the view and sound of the river.

You might be wondering about the tunnel and why it's so important to me and why a place as famous as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park would honor it with a centennial celebration. Most people don't even know it exists. I didn't. So let me tell you about the tunnel.

It's rumored that a local Frenchman named F. C. Lauzon dreamed of a tunnel that would divert water from the Gunnison River to the Uncompaghre Valley. In 1853 Captain J. W. Gunnison described southwestern Colorado as "a desert unfit for cultivation and inhabitation only by savages..." The Ute Indians of the area had been relocated (against their wishes) to Utah. The Uncompaghre Valley drew many new homesteaders. They dreamed of farming. Unfortunately, irrigating the land became quite a problem. Of 170,000 acres thought to be worth farming less than 30,000 were being used. They needed water. Lauzon was determined that a tunnel could divert water from the Gunnison River to the Uncompaghre Valley and make the land usable for farming. He persisted in promoting his beliefs. Eventually legislators in Colorado backed the idea but they needed more money. Federal funding became available under the 1902 Reclamation Act. President Roosevelt was an outspoken proponent of western irrigation which helped to get the legislation passed. Building of the tunnel was authorized in March of 1903 and work commenced in 1904. The work was done under the Bureau of Reclamation. To speed up the process of constructing the tunnel work was done from four locations. River Portal - or East Portal as it's called now - was one of those four locations. Work on the tunnel was difficult and the operations continued 24/7. Day and night these workers toiled at the tunnel which was a little more than six miles long. It took 5 years to complete. 26 men lost their lives in the process. On September 23, 1909 the tunnel project was officially opened by President William Taft when he hit a bell that triggered the opening and the water began to flow. In response bells rang throughout the valley communities. The impact on the valley was tremendous. The irrigation provided gave people the water they needed and the valley became very productive farm land. The tunnel operations were turned over to the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association in 1932 who continue to operate it. Many of the people farming here now have no idea that they're dependent on irrigation from a tunnel that was a major feat of engineering in its time. The tunnel has been designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. I'm incredibly proud that my great grandfather contributed to this project. The pieces of paper I passed around have a link to a great site on the internet if you want to check out more info when you leave here.


Did you notice the sign over there? It commemorates this event.

Let's take another break and have a stretch and a little walk around before I continue with my stories. I want to tell you about my great grandfather and how he came to be in River Portal.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Documenting A Driller

Oh my goodness! My eyes fill with tears every time I think about this experience and it's even harder to keep dry eyes when I tell the story. The story has to be told though. This is part of our family's legacy and heritage. I hope you don't mind but I'd really like to continue the story now if you have the time and don't mind sitting here by the river a little longer. It's such a beautiful day and I'm enjoying sharing with you all so much! You don't mind? Great! So excuse me for a second while I grab a tissue and wipe these tears away. They're tears of joy you know.

It was hard to leave the tunnel. It was hard to leave this little place at the bottom of the gorge - hard to drive back up that long, steep, windy road to the top again. I know I left part of me behind here at River Portal and I took a piece of it with me. I'll always be connected to this place.

When we got home I was anxious to try to document my findings. I didn't NEED documentation - but I'm a genealogist and documenting is important to us. I checked the 1910 census again. How could I have missed or forgotten what I found there? I'd been doing research for many years - even for other people. It's not like me to miss an important piece of information. There it was - right there on the census - my great grandfather's occupation: "Driller". And the place of employment "Tunnel". CONFIRMATION!!! I had the documentation I needed to prove that my connection to River Portal was exactly what I'd come to believe it was! I was incredibly proud of my great grandfather!

I still pinch myself sometimes thinking about how amazing it was that I had found the tunnel and River Portal at the time of the centennial celebration. Why not before on my previous visit? Why then? Why did all of the pieces come together perfectly right then? What were my odds of finding someone who would have access to the tunnel and let me go into it?  A hundred years after it was dedicated! A chain of miracles!

I don't remember who called who but there were phone calls between me and the head park ranger Paul Zaenger. He told me a lot about the tunnel and he was really interested in hearing about my family. The park had been documenting the history of the tunnel but didn't know much about the people who had lived there. We exchanged pictures. He told me something that still flabbergasts me...there were only 3 known pictures of that group of miners at the tunnel entrance. It was a company photo. One picture was in the National Archives. One was in the Denver archives. One belonged to the water company involved with the project. They had no idea a fourth one existed. They confirmed that it was definitely that tunnel. In my search for a tunnel / a mine - I had looked for mineral mines. I'd never looked for anything to do with water! Paul even sent me pictures of what River Portal looked like back then and pictures of the tunnel when it was being built. There was no mistaking that entrance. I felt so privileged to have that picture of the tunnel! I also felt a great deal of joy that I had solved the mystery of the tunnel. No one in the family had known where it was - not even the state it was in.

Paul told me something else that was extraordinary! The park had selected that tunnel entrance photo as the cover photo for the brochure related to the centennial celebrations of the tunnel dedication - and they'd selected it before they knew a thing about me or my family's connection. What were the odds of that? There were an unusual number of pictures taken at River Portal - probably due to the precedent setting nature of the project - so there were many pictures to choose from. They had chosen THAT one. Amazing, don't you think?

I became very interested in trying to help document the people who lived at River Portal. Not just my own but any that I could find information on. I'm still working on that project. Of course I started with my own family! Let me tell you a bit about them. I'm really proud of them and my journey to trace this side of my family has been a very difficult one. I hope it will inspire others to never give up searching for their ancestors no matter how many obstacles or brick walls get in their way.

Into The Darkness

Can you imagine?! He had the key! And he was going to show me where the tunnel is! Too good to be true! (Bless you, Jerry Dennison! That's his name. Great guy!) I looked around me as he went to his house to fetch the key. Where could the tunnel possibly be???

When he came back he led my husband and me to a place we'd never imagined. See that little building over there - the wood frame one by the river behind that fence? Believe it or not that's where the tunnel entrance is! My heart sank. Surely this couldn't be the tunnel entrance in my picture! How could it be? But I still felt that I was right and that this is where my family had been. I felt such a mixture of emotions as we walked to the little building. I was so sure - but this little building??? Jerry's not home today or I'd get him to take us in there. Maybe another day....

Jerry lead us through the fence and opened the door and we walked in. There they were again...goosebumps! He explained that the little building had been built to cover the entrance. I saw nothing resembling a tunnel entrance. Ahead of us was only dark...and then I heard something else...water. Up ahead somewhere beyond us I could hear the sound of water lapping. Goosebumps were getting bigger. I began to take pictures. Then Jerry offered to close the doors behind us so that I could take pictures without the light behind us. The doors closed and we stood there in the pitch black darkness listening to that sound of lapping water. I can still see it and feel it. I can't describe it very well. It was an incredible experience. It was silent except for the water. Tears ran down my face. I forgot about my husband and Jerry standing there with me. If I had been by myself I knew I still wouldn't have been alone. I felt presences here. How can I begin to explain? Have you ever seen Ghost Whisperer? There have been moments when Melinda has had a group of white beings gathered around her - friendly spirits. I don't mean to be trite but that's the best description I can offer. I felt surrounded by friendly spirits. It was a warm, comforting, beautiful experience. The thought that jumped into my head was "The ancestors are smiling."

I believe that. Irish eyes were smiling - from somewhere beyond - looking down and nodding in approval. In a way I'd come home. I'd found a special hidden secret place. I didn't really need any proof or any documentation. I knew I'd found THE tunnel. I knew it. We'd walked into the darkness and found a portal to the past.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chance? Coincidence? Led By Ancestors?

Ahhhh...nice walk by the river. I feel refreshed now. Hope you do too. We'll sit down again and I'll continue my story. Don't you love the sound of the river in the background? Nature is better than any theme music!

Waiting for that movie to end seemed forever! I couldn't really get up and run out. Not in my nature to do that so I had to sit still and wait...and wait...and wait. Finally! Movie over - I rushed out to the nice women behind the counter. I told them I had a really stupid question to ask. (Are there really any stupid questions?) I asked them if there was any chance that there was a list in the park or in a historical society or library or ANYWHERE of the people who had worked on the tunnel. I thought they'd shrug it off. How could they know how important my question was to me? They were amazingly paying intense attention. I told them I knew my family had been in a place called River Portal in 1910. Their attention was obviously growing. I told them the family was Irish and that they were immigrants and that my great grandfather had been a miner. I told them about the hat in the movie. I told them I was suspecting that my great grandfather had possibly worked on the tunnel. I told them I'd tried to find River Portal and couldn't - but that the movie had mentioned it in relation to the Gunnison Diversion Tunnel. Their attention had really grown and I could sense their excitement. But why? I was puzzled. Why would my "stupid question" and comments inspire their excitement? I didn't have long to wait for an answer. They told me that 2009 was the 100th anniversary of the Gunnison Diversion Tunnel! THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY!!! In honor of the centennial celebrations park rangers had been working to document the history of the tunnel! Oh be still, my heart! It was pounding out of my chest! Remember now...I'd been here before. I'd seen the movie before. Why was this all happening NOW?  It was astounding! They wanted me to stay and talk to the park rangers. They were very insistent about it. I could see that the rangers were extremely busy with several bus loads of young children. I didn't want to disturb them - especially since I only had gut feelings - not proof. I left them alone - but the women took my name & contact info and I got the name of the ranger in charge and his contact info. These nice women also told me something extremely important. They told me that River Portal no longer exists - but that the "remains" of it were down at the bottom of the gorge - down that "East Portal Road" that I'd seen the sign for at the entrance. They warned me that it was a VERY steep road (no kidding!) a 16% grade. They told me it had been much worse at the time of the tunnel building! YIKES! It was bad enough the way it was. We braved the trip down and there we were at the bottom of the gorge - next to the Gunnison River. Yup...right where we're sitting now! It was beautiful and peaceful - just like it is now. There was a dam with water flowing heavily over it. Did you notice it over there to the right? Pretty, isn't it? It's called Crystal Dam. There was very little here (as you can see) - and nothing that indicated to me that a little town had ever been here. I felt something though. I knew my family had been here. Not near - but right here. I knew it! There was one little old house there with a nice little neat garden (see it over there? Isn't it cute?) Then a man appeared and he was piling up branches. I did it again - the "stupid question" thing. I didn't really want to bother him but I had to know. I asked him if he could tell me where the remains of River Portal were. He told me I was standing on them! He told me that he lives in the house which is the only remaining one from that time. He told me that he works for the water company that controls the dam. We had a wonderful conversation! Turns out that he and his wife had taken up genealogy over the winter. (Life must be difficult at the bottom of a deep gorge in the winter in Colorado!) That very morning he'd made a huge discovery - a very emotional one - on his own family. This man understood my quest! I asked him if he knew where the tunnel was because I couldn't see any tunnel and I assumed it was somewhere else. He replied, "Let me get the key!"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Day of Discovery

I'm going to start sharing my stories in a very special place. Once upon a time in Colorado there was a little place called River Portal. So let your mind's eye take you to a seat on a rock or the grass beside the beautiful Gunnison River and I'll tell you all about it. Get yourself comfy now! We'll be here a while!

In the spring of 2009 my husband and I were travelling around the state of Colorado for a few days - just for fun - stopping here and there along the way. Most of the places we'd been to before but wanted to see again.  One of these places was Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose.

Hope you're still comfy sitting here by the Gunnison River with me. Isn't it beautiful? I've always loved water. It's in my blood. Masons love water. This is a particularly beautiful location. It's at the bottom of the gorge - way down at the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Look up above you ... there are people up there looking down here and it's so far down they can't even see us!

It's a long road down to the bottom of the gorge. But my story starts at the top so relax and I'll back up a bit and go back to the beginning.

One thing I knew about Montrose was that my Mason family had lived in this county. They were listed on the 1910 census living in a place called River Portal - a place I hadn't been able to locate.

As we entered the park I noticed a sign off to the right of the road - just before the ranger station. It said "East Portal Road". I felt goosebumps. Portal plus Montrose = Possibilities. Still ... it was a long shot and probably had nothing to do with River Portal. We went to the Visitors' Center and they were getting ready to show a film. I didn't really want to watch it. I'd seen it before and it was a gorgeous day - very warm for that time of Spring. I wanted to be outside. I felt that I'd hurt feelings if I didn't watch it though so I went in - reluctantly. Somewhere during the movie they mentioned the magic words "River Portal". Ever heard the saying about your hair standing on end? Goosebumps? My whole body was covered with them! The movie talked about Irish and Italian immigrants who had helped to build a tunnel to divert the Gunnison River. I couldn't believe my ears! My great grandfather had been a miner. I had a picture of him in front of a tunnel entrance in a group of miners. Try as I might I could never identify that tunnel or that mine. Then the film showed a picture of a miner in a hat - unlike any I've ever seen before ---- except in that picture of my great grandfather at that tunnel entrance! I had a very difficult time sitting through the rest of that movie! Every cell in me was screaming! I'd found River Portal! I'd found the connection to my family! Oh...but the story gets better. So if you need to ... get up and stretch and walk around a bit and when you're ready we'll continue the story.