How Three Communities Became Orchard City
by Preston Benson
Orchard City, the second largest municipality in Delta County, is home to 3,100 residents and is the largest municipality in terms of square miles in Delta County.
Despite its size, Orchard City is primarily recognized by the names of three smaller and older areas within its boundaries: Austin, Eckert and Cory.
They all had separate beginnings, but somehow through a unique course of events came together. The following is a condensed history of how Orchard City came to be a town of three communities.
Three Communities Grow The names Austin, Eckert and Cory have existed since the turn of the century. In the 1900’s, the entire area, including Cedaredge to the north, was solid with orchards of peaches, apricots, cherries, and apples. The area was gorgeous.
Austin was by far the dominant community. It was a commercial hub because it had a railroad that carried both passengers and freight. Many businesses developed around the railroad and by 1910 Austin had fruit sheds, a canning factory, general merchandise stores, a bank, a drugstore, a pool hall, and even a cement block factory. Most of the fruit in the area was loaded on railroad cars in Austin.
Two very important factors helped Austin become a center for produce. First, Austin had an icehouse, where fruit could be stored. Refrigeration did not exist at the time. So, when the Gunnison River froze, people would cut the ice and pack it in sawdust, which helped slow melting, then place it in an insulated shed.
The proximity of the river was a major benefit for Austin. Of course the Gunnison no longer freezes in the winter because dams keep the water level high year round.
The second major factor that helped Austin become a center for produce was a natural carbon dioxide spring located southeast of Austin along the river. The spring still erupts and emits CO2 today, and it still has a concrete cap with piping that was used long ago to capture the gas. Dry ice was used to keep the produce in the railroad cars cool during shipment.
There was a vision that Austin would grow south of the Gunnison River.
Austin was booming, but Eckert and Cory were just small communities. Eckert started out as a subdivision and had a school, but had little commercial activity. Cory wasn’t much more than a general store and the Mounds school building but they all had a post office.
It was common to establish post offices in every little settlement for the convenience of residents. At this time Orchard City did not exist, and neither Austin, Eckert or Cory were incorporated as towns. But Orchard City would soon be established in an effort to fight illness in the region.
There were apparently a lot of problems with typhoid or diphtheria by the year 1910. Both diseases are contracted by drinking unclean water.
When the Austin Journal started publishing in 1910, reports showed that entire families were becoming ill. “This is interfering with the raising of families,” reported one article. And families were essential in the labor-intensive agriculture business.
By 1911, the illness was really spreading and both the town of Cedaredge and the people in Austin figured out the ditch water they had been drinking was making them sick.
Everyone drank ditch water, there was no such thing as treated water. Cedaredge and Austin got together and agreed to build the first domestic water pipeline to bring the inherently cleaner “mountain water” down from the Grand Mesa.
The town of Cedaredge was going to lay the pipeline to the south end of town and then Austin was going to lay the rest of the pipeline.
Town Incorporation However to build the pipeline the Austin community needed to bond the project, and in order to do that, it needed to become an incorporated town. So the people agreed to incorporate, but it was soon discovered that the Austin community did not have enough property value to acquire a bond.
The plan to incorporate was dropped. While the people of Austin were trying to solve their problem the neighboring ranchers and farmers were desperate to get clean water and decided to see if they could build the pipeline themselves.
In the February 23, 1912 issue of the Austin Journal the ranchers published a legal notice advising an election would be held to incorporate a new town. Because it contained so many orchards they came up with the idea of calling it Orchard City. With voter approval, May 11, 1912 Orchard City became a town.
Within the town were 425 people living in 78 residences. The town’s boundaries ran from the Gunnison River, up Alfalfa Run and all the way north to Kaiser Road. Town limits went west to the rim overlooking Tongue Creek.
The first mayor was George Williamson and the Board of Trustees J.P. Kettle, George Weyrauch, E.E. White, William Start, E.J. Coffee, and Charles Dixon. The first Town Clerk was Ernest Sudgen.
Orchard City planned to issue a bond to pay for its $40,000 share of the pipeline. Soon the town found out it did not have enough property value to float a bond either.
In August, 1912, Cedaredge began construction of its portion of the pipeline. From 1912 to 1915 the people in Austin and Orchard City were trying to figure out how they could afford to extend the pipeline to their homes.
Finally, in 1915, the people of Austin agreed to annex to Orchard City, but under one condition. They wanted to change the name of Orchard City to Austin.
The name was not changed and reluctantly Austin residents agreed to annex in the name of clean water. Together under the name of Orchard City, they were able to obtain a bond worth $50,000 to pay for the pipeline. By 1916 the line was completed and Orchard City had clean water.
The town boundaries grew as water lines were extended. The people in Eckert wanted water taps off the pipeline. The residents of Cory wanted clean water. So Orchard City sold taps to Eckert and Cory property owners under one condition - they had to agree to join the town.
Soon all of Eckert and Cory were part of Orchard City as well, however, it was all done sans the legal process.
It was not discovered until the 1980s that Eckert and Cory had never been properly annexed. The Town of Orchard City had to spend thousands of dollars publishing legal notices to finish the annexation.
By the 1980s the three communities were officially combined as they are today to form Orchard City. Each has separate post offices, separate zip codes, and separate histories, but all are part of one common entity.
(This article was made possible by Tom Huerkamp, Mayor of Orchard City 2004-2008, who provided all the historical information. Mr. Huerkamp has extensively researched the area's history and continues to do so)