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Fremont County History

From Spanish conquistadors and Ute Indians to renowned explorers and courageous pioneers, Fremont County’s history is as rich as it is varied. The story of our home was steeped in the oil fields of Florence, anchored in the solid walls of Old Max, cultivated in the apple orchards of Penrose, and nurtured in the ranches of Garden Park.

Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed this land, leaving behind fossils and other telltale signs. Plants and other forms of life disappeared underground to form our natural coal and oil resources. Hot springs erupted from the earth. Erosion carved the majestic Royal Gorge canyon, which has been the focal point of Fremont County since prehistoric times.

Lt. Zebulon Pike explored the canyon in the winter of 1806 by traveling down the frozen Arkansas River. Settlers soon arrived to find a perfect piece of property, and the once-wild area was tamed to accommodate human habitation. The county is named for famed explorer Captain John C. Fremont, who arrived in 1843.

Houses and businesses sprouted up seemingly overnight. Coal camps soon arrived, and the first oil well west of the Mississippi River was drilled here. Small towns prospered and some became ghost towns, while others flourished. The area officially formed more than 150 years ago as Fremont County, one of the 17 original counties when Congress established the Colorado Territory on February 28, 1861. Soon after, the first Colorado Territory Prison was built here in 1871, five years before Colorado became a state. Since that early time, Fremont County has been home to a large number of state and federal correction facilities. But corrections are only part of the local history. Natural resource extraction has also been important. As early as 1872 oil was selling from the Oil Creek area. Nearby, large coal reserves provided further impetus for the railroads to push a route through the Royal Gorge to reach the silver mines in Leadville. This legacy of rail travel into the depths of the Royal Gorge is still available today.

Fremont County's scenic canyons, hot springs and hospitable climate began attracting film makers as early as 1910 when cowboy star Tom Mix starred in a silent film produced by the Selig Film Company. Over the intervening years, many films have been made here.

For a more complete look at Fremont County's fascinating history stop by any one of this area's museums.

Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center 612 Royal Gorge Blvd., Cañon City
Cañon City Public Library 516 Macon Avenue, Cañon City
Florence Historical Archives 600 West 3rd St, Florence
John C. Fremont Library 130 Church Ave., Florence
Museum of Colorado Prisons 201 N. 1st Street, Cañon City
Penrose Community Library 35 7th Street, Penrose
Florence Pioneer Museum & Research Center Corner of Front & Pikes Peak Avenue, Florence
Western Fremont County History Center

County Road 54, Howard


(If you have more information regarding the history of Fremont County, let us know!)