In the early 1900s, President Charles S. Johnson and legal representative Judge John D. Milliken of the Denver, Laramie and Northwestern Railway Company (DL&NW) wished to reach Seattle, Washington from Denver by rail. Their plan was to run trains from Denver through the newly created town of Milliken and then Fort Collins before heading out of Colorado, on through Laramie and Yellowstone, WY, with the penultimate stop being Lewiston, ID. As work began, instead of running to Fort Collins as originally planned, the DL&NW went from Milliken into Greeley. Mishandling of funds by both Johnson and Milliken contributed to slow construction, but by May of 1910, trains were running back and forth between Denver and Greeley.

A common practice of the time was for railways to create a realty company to help with access to land and funding. Part of the DL&NW’s Denver-Laramie Realty Company’s purpose was to create towns along the Platte River to help generate passengers for the line. Cline (now Welby), Wattenberg, and as mentioned earlier, Milliken, were established. These towns grew only marginally and did not bring the financial miracle Johnson and Milliken were hoping. Johnson realized it would be cheaper to run track north of Fort Collins and he began petitioning the city of Fort Collins for money (also a common practice) and support to lay track from Greeley to North Fort Collins. The city rejected his proposal because bigger railroads were staking claims in the area. Johnson then turned to the residents of Greeley for financial assistance. There, he made friends with entrepreneurs and encouraged them to invest in the DL&NW. The businessmen answered his call for help and established the Greeley Terminal Railway, which bought land for the DL&NW to continue laying track out of Greeley and into Wyoming. The Greeley Terminal Railway also signed a ninety-nine year lease over to the railway so the DL&NW would have access to the land and the right-of-ways that came with it.

By this time, Northern Colorado was a hub for railroads. The Union Pacific and the Chicago Burlington and Quincy also wished to lay track through Greeley. A utility company hoped to connect the major towns in Northern Colorado via electric rail line for passengers. Because they all wished to lay claim to land on 7th avenue (only about 200 feet wide), this created quite a stir. The DL&NW and Union Pacific went to blows over the right-of-way. This competition was covered extensively in the Greeley Tribune until a compromise was reached, fulfilling the needs for both railways. As the DL&NW began planning their expansion, they realized some properties were blocking the path for extending their track and they began asking adjacent residents to give up property. Residents did not comply as they were still disgruntled with the previous dispute over 7th Avenue. The railroad requested the City forcibly condemn properties, which affected 35 homeowners, the Exchange Hotel, two lumber companies, and Arlington Heights. Luckily, the property known as Arlington Heights only had the railroad running through a corner of their property, and the area still exists today as UNC housing.

Mismanagement of funds, poor investing, bad reputation, and financial scandal, coupled with competition from the parallel Union Pacific line forced the DL&NW railway to go into receivership in 1915 after foreclosure. It was sold off, shortly abandoned, and the DL&NW went up for sale again in 1917. The Great Western Railway eventually purchased track between Wattenberg and Elm to transport sugar beets. All track not purchased was destroyed. Both the Milliken and Wattenberg depots were sold and used as homes.

The Denver, Laramie and Northwestern Railway suffered financially and created many disputes along the way, most notably in Greeley. While the DL&NW never made it out of Greeley, the railway did give the Great Western Sugar Company track to continue transporting sugar beets, helping Northern Colorado prosper, and left behind three legacies: Wattenberg, Welby, and Milliken, which have helped Weld County grow.

Originally printed in the Greeley Tribune, June 9, 2019
Written by Brittany Holland, former Assistant Registrar


Men and women wait on either side of a railroad track. The train engine is visible beyond them.

According to the inscription on the back of this image, pictured is one of the first arrivals of the DL&NW trains into Greeley in 1910.

Share This