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Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 16: US 6 in Colorado (Sterling to Nebraska State Line; Logan County, Phillips County)

Go to: Part 15 | Main US 6 page | Part 17

I-76, and US 6 in the previous Part and the beginning of this one (from Fort Morgan north to Sterling), are the inheritors of this leg of the Overland Trail and the corresponding Overland Stage Line. In this region the Trail mostly follows the course of the South Platte River, which wends from its headwaters southwest of Denver up to Greeley and thence to Fort Morgan and Sterling before entering Nebraska, near Julesburg, CO and Big Springs, NE. From there it continues south of Ogallala to the North Platte River for a total distance of 439 miles, and the combined Platte continues on as a tributary of the Missouri River and the great Mississippi River (which we will reach in a couple more states).

The geographic advantage of the South Platte's course was not initially realized in 1857 when the US Post Office solicited bids for mail service along what was then called "the southern route." This contract covered service from Memphis, TN to San Francisco using a convoluted but all-weather route via New Mexico and Arizona, and was operated by the Butterfield Overland Mail Company until the Civil War broke out in 1861 and transected it. (We talk about the old Butterfield Trail in Old Highway 395 Part 10.)

This left the Union with a problem. George Chorpenning's northern route was defunct, problematic because of its latitude and generally slower operations which had led to his contract's annulment in 1860. The subsequent Pony Express, which followed the Oregon Trail and Mormon Trails to Salt Lake City and thence to Sacramento, was too expensive to replace it and faded by 1861 as well. Furthermore, the need for soldiers had depopulated many of the western forts along those trails of regular Army and left less well-trained volunteers in place, whose inexperience hostile Indian raiders readily exploited. If mail service was to be restored, a new route would need to be found.

Fortunately, an alternative routing was known to local traders from as early as 1825 from the Laramie Plains to the North Platte, part of which is on the roadbed we travel now. Combined with the Cherokee Trail and other local discoveries, the new Overland Trail and Overland Stage Route was opened on July 1, 1861. It proceeded west from Atchison, KS to ascend the South Platte to Greeley, CO and then partially along the course of the 1854 Cherokee Trail through Wyoming to Fort Bridger, where it met the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails for points west. For a time the new Trail became the most heavily traveled road in the country. Ben Holladay, who had purchased the assets of the Pony Express' parent company and retained the contract, operated stage service until 1866 when it was sold to Wells Fargo, who operated it in turn until 1869 when the transcontinental railroad made its services obsolete.

We start our final leg in Colorado entering Sterling, the county seat of Logan county and also the county's largest city with 18,211 residents [2013]. Long settled by the Arapaho and Cheyenne in antiquity, French fur trappers were aware of the area in the waning years of the 18th century and American traders started to enter the region as early as 1820. First settled a few miles south of the modern town as Sarinda around 1871 (largely after the Overland's heyday), when the Union Pacific railroad came through in 1881 a new townsite was platted by railroad surveyor David Leavitt named Sterling (after Leavitt's hometown of Sterling, IL, itself named after Major James Sterling, a local hero of the 1832 Blackhawk War). Being the largest community in this region of northeastern Colorado, it is a major business and commercial hub for the nearby counties as well as southwest Nebraska. The modern city was incorporated in 1884 and has a population of 18,211 [2013].

Entering Sterling on US 6/BL 76 as Division Ave, which splits here into 3rd and 4th Sts (we proceed northeast on 3rd St). 4th St is segment 006Z, starting here (despite the fact you can't start here in that direction) at Mile 0; we continue on segment 006J.
Junction CO 14 on Main St.
CO 14 is one of the longest state highways in Colorado, almost 237 miles from this terminus crossing I-25 and US 287 to terminate at US 40 on the continental divide to the west. It is reliably kept open in winter, making its alignment over Cameron Pass (a great name, if I do say so myself) a more advantageous routing through the Front Range in inclement weather.

Divorce is always hardest on the kids: notice that US 6 and BL 76 occupy completely separate sides of the bed traffic poles.

Poplar St.
Chestnut St and the southern terminus of US 138. We turn right for the last portion of BL 76.
US 138 is a minor 71 mile spur which continues on as the Overland Trail and functionally as I-76's business alignment from this point north to I-80 near Big Springs, NE where I-76 also ends (more precisely US 138 terminates at US 30, just north of I-80, which is serving the same purpose). Just as with I-76, the highway exists in both Colorado and Nebraska, but the Nebraska alignment is minor and brief. Since US 6 inherited US 38 in 1931, US 138 in some sense still intersects its parent route, just by another name. We leave the Overland Trail roadbed at this point. Segment 006Z rejoins us from the West, ending here (starting, whatever) at Mile 0.604.
Merging as we reach the eastern outskirts of town.
Distance signage. US 6 does not reach Julesburg, only Holyoke, but I-76 does.
Junction I-76, for the last time. This is the end of Business Loop 76.

US 6

Junction CO 61, just past the Interstate, an almost hockey-stick routing of a road which from its northern terminus here goes nearly due east to serve the sparsely populated regions of extreme northeast Colorado before diving south to US 34 at Otis. The highway was not fully paved until 1957.
EB US 6.
Mile 407.
It's pretty lonely out here.
Mile 421.
A typical view of this segment, grain elevators included.
Entering Fleming.
Incorporated 1917, Fleming took its name from H. B. Fleming, a local railroad official. The town has 408 residents [2010].
Dem grain elevators.
The TO CO 55 sign is here because, for reasons unclear to me, CO 55 does not extend into Fleming. Instead, it runs a little under 6 miles from US 138 north of us across I-76 to County Road 15, and the remaining routing to this point consists of County Road 83, County Road 36 and (this road) County Road 79; CDOT OTIS lists it as only a single segment, 055A. Other than connecting the communities along US 138 to I-76, CO 55 seems to serve no other function, nor does it offer any explanation why the routing south of the Interstate should remain state highway.
Distance signage leaving town.
Mile 428.
Turn-off to Dailey.
Only a few dozen residents hang on here but they all ultimately hail from the "Highline" portion of the Burlington Railroad running from Sterling to Holdrege, NE (US 6 parallels nearly all of the trackage). Dailey was apparently one of those railstops with its general store built in 1914, but the town was an early casualty of the Dust Bowl and US 38 (and US 6) gradually displaced any need for the train for local transport. Only local farming remains. The name comes from Burlington trainmaster James Dailey, who hailed from Lincoln, NE.
Dailey, what remains as we pass by.
EB US 6.
Phillips county line.
Phillips County, Colorado

Our last county in Colorado is Phillips, named for R. O. Phillips, who as the secretary of the Lincoln Land Company organized several towns in the state. Formed in 1889, its county seat and largest city is Holyoke, which we will reach in this Part. The modern county has 4,349 residents [2015].

Just over the county line we reach Haxtun.
Haxtun also hails from the Burlington line, and likewise its name comes from a historically unfortunate railroad principal whose exact name spelling is unknown (Colorado Place Names gives it variously as Haxtun, Haxturn and even Haxton). US 6 mostly bypasses it to the south; the former routing is, naturally, Railroad St. This alignment is discontinuous on the east end of town, so we will simply note it for reference. The town was incorporated in 1909 and has a population of 946 [2010].
Junction CO 59 through Haxtun on 1st St.
CO 59 is another north-south eastern Colorado regional arterial, from US 40 in Kit Carson to the south up over I-70 to here at Haxtun and then north to cross I-76 and terminate at US 138 in Sedgwick. The routing is very remote and reaches no major city.
Distance signage leaving town.
EB US 6.
Entering Paoli.
Paoli is named for Pasquale Paoli, Corsican patriot and leader who became the General President of the Executive Council of the General Diet of the People of Corsica (sheesh) and almost singlehandedly wrote the Corsican state constitution. Paoli declared the Corsican Republic a sovereign nation, separate of the Republic of Genoa (in modern Italy) from which it had seceded, and operated it as an independent democratic republic. The Republic lasted from 1755 to 1769 when the French seized control and annexed the island, and it remains part of France today despite a second attempt by Paoli in an alliance with the British (the Anglo-Corsican Kingdom) from 1794 to 1796. Paoli was exiled and died in Britain in 1807, but his efforts and his passionate defense of liberal democracy were much admired in many circles, particularly the American Sons of Liberty movement (who promulgated the famous motto "No taxation without representation" which ironically appears on District of Columbia license plates), and at least five towns in the United States are named for him. Despite his history, this town is not known to have any separatist tendencies. Incorporated in 1930, only 17 residents remain [2010].
The local grain elevators.
That's about all there is to Paoli.
Distance signage leaving town.
Mile 450.
Entering Holyoke, the county seat.
Holyoke is named for Massachusetts settler William Pynchon's son-in-law Elizur Holyoke, via the town of the same name in that state; Holyoke was an early explorer of that region of Massachusetts in the 1650s. (Colorado Place Names demurs and says it was Rev. Edward Holyoke, early president of Harvard. I can't find a reference to disambiguate. However, this Holyoke was in fact Elizur's grandson, so I guess it still works.) It is the only town of substance in this otherwise very sparsely populated region. The city was incorporated in 1888 and has a population of 1,965 [2013].
Through the west end of town on Denver St.
Junction US 385.
Like US 395, US 385 is nearly as prominent and in some places more so than its parent route. Starting at Big Bend National Park in Texas, it winds through Texas, a brief 36-mile crossing of the Oklahoma panhandle, Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota to intersect its parent US 85 in Deadwood, SD. This was very different from its first incarnation which ran roughly somewhere from Comfort, TX to Raton, NM; almost all of this is now US 87, and the number lapsed from 1935 to 1959 when the new routing was devised. Other than a realignment off US 287 and US 40 in Lamar, CO, the highway today is mostly as it was secondarily designated and it is not substantially part of any current future Interstate corridor. It stretches 1,206 miles.
The grain elevators mean civilization, you know.
EB US 6 on the east side of town, passing the local museum.
Distance signage leaving town (all Nebraska points), and crossing the Frenchman Creek.
The Frenchman Creek will accompany us part of the way into Nebraska. A small spring-fed river, it begins in Phillips county and ends at the Republican River in Hitchcock county, NE from which it becomes another tributary of the mighty Mississippi River via the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. Due to groundwater depletion for farming the water flows in the creek have diminished over the years, and it is the subject of a conservation plan in Nebraska. It runs 166 miles.
Mile 462.
A Colorado historical exhibit for westbound travelers.
Mile 467, the last signed milepoint in Colorado.
Nebraska state line, and the end of segment 006J at Mile 467.284.
Continue to Part 17
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