Dr. Sandra F. Mather: The real story behind the naming of Dillon
I was surprised to see the urban legend of Tom Dillon repeated in the article “Naming and History of the Town of Dillon” in the July 15 issue. It is time for that story to disappear under the water of Lake Dillon, never to see the light of day again. Those who have experienced a Summit County winter know that a young person without the tools and skills to provide food, clothing, and shelter for himself would not survive. Additionally, mining camps and towns dotted the landscape in the early 1880s. A person would have found his way to one of them for help. Research shows that the naming of Dillon is a far different, but just as interesting, story. On July 26, 1881, the Dillon Mining Company led by Harper M. Orahood, Alfred Sayer and others of Denver, patented a town site on 320 acres stretching mainly to the northeast of the Snake River. These were savvy businessmen who expected the railroad to run its tracks over one of the mountain passes from Denver, along the Snake, and on to Leadville. They knew that if they laid out their town with surveyed lots, the value of the land would increase in anticipation of the railroad arriving. These were real estate speculators who hoped to make their fortunes by selling lots in their town. Alfred Sayer, one of the company leaders, served as a trustee of the Denver, Georgetown, Utah Railway Company in 1872. As a trustee, he knew the plans proposed by various companies for building into the mountains. Both the Georgetown, Leadville & San Juan Railroad Company and the Georgetown, Breckenridge & Leadville Railway Company intended to build a route over the Continental Divide and along the Snake River.Hoping to make sure that the railroad would cross their town site, the leaders of the company named their town for Sidney Dillon, called an entrepreneur and an incorporator for the Union Pacific Railroad. In March, 1881, he served as the president of the Union Pacific. In 1883-1884, Dillon assumed the presidency of the Colorado Central, part of the Union Pacific system. He served as a director of both the Georgetown, Leadville & San Juan Railroad and the Georgetown, Breckenridge & Leadville Railway Company. Four months after Dillon became president of the Union Pacific, the Dillon Mining Company was created. Naming a town in hopes of drawing a railroad was not an uncommon action in the American West – just consider the naming of Frisco.The town’s first two moves reinforce the importance of the railroad to the town and the fact that the town was named for an important railroad executive. The first move, to a spot between the Snake and Blue Rivers, incorporated the tracks of the Denver & Rio Grande that arrived in November, 1882; the second move, a month later to a site west of the Blue River, assured that the town now included the newly arrived tracks of the Denver, South Park & Pacific as well as those of the Denver & Rio Grande. In an article published a few weeks ago, a Summit Daily News reporter wrote that Dillon had moved four times. This is incorrect. Dillon is on its fourth town site; it has moved three times – not four.
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