Crowley County History

By Jay and De Bond

In the early days Crowley County, like much of Colorado, was home to Native Americans, the Cheyenne in particular. By 1877, the area became a part of Bent County, but it would be another ten years before the area began heavy development with the arrival of the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1887. In 1888, T.C. Henry envisioned building a canal to transport irrigation water from the Arkansas River near Boone to the Kansas line and irrigate a million acres of land north of the Arkansas River. Mr. Henry started building the canal with his own money, but quickly sold it to the Bradbury family, who in turn sold it to the Colorado Canal Company. By 1891 the first water was released into the canal, but the original goal of irrigating a million acres was in reality irrigating 57,000 acres and the canal stopped in Crowley County. This irrigation system brought a burst of growth in the population of the area, and the dry prairie flourished.

In 1889, Otero County was split off of Bent County, and included the lands of present day Crowley County. Ordway was established in 1890 and organized in 1891. The names of three prominent citizens were "thrown in a hat", and the name of George N. Ordway, a Denver businessman and early homesteader, was drawn. The town quickly became the economic hub of the area, with several businesses opening including a lumberyard, grocery stores, general merchandise stores, and all of the other businesses that go along with a growing town.

The town of Sugar City was founded in 1891 by the National Sugar Company, who saw great potential in the area to grow and make sugar from sugar beets. The town wasn't actually platted until December 1899, and the first people began arriving in the spring of 1900. Work on the sugar factory began in March, and by June there were 689 inhabitants. By September there were several saloons, two hotels, a newspaper, five stores, two undertakers and a school. It is said there were 2,000 residents by October. The Sugar Factory was completed in November and the first sugar beet harvest was processed.

Even though it was started in 1887 when the railroad used it as the last supply stop before building on to Pueblo, the town of Olney Springs was not incorporated until 1912. It was named for an attorney for the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the springs located nearby.

The town that is now known as Crowley was originally called Bradbury in 1880. A few years later the Colorado Farm and Livestock Company applied to have the name changed to Dayton, but they were turned down because there was already a town of that name in Colorado. The Missouri Pacific Railroad, whose siding in the community was the major part of the town, tried to name it Shiloh. However, in 1913, after the formation of the county, the name Crowley was officially adopted and a real town was developed. The first building, a blacksmith shop, was built in 1914, and a school later that year. The first residence in town was built in 1915. By 1919 Crowley was a thriving community.

After years of wrestling with the state legislature and Otero County, Crowley County was officially incorporated August 5, 1911 and named after State Senator John H. Crowley, a Rocky Ford politician who was instrumental in getting the north part of Otero County it's independence. The county seat became Ordway.

The area flourished between 1900 and 1930, with thousands of acres of land being devoted to agriculture. The area between Olney Springs and Crowley was planted with 4,500 acres of fruit trees, primarily apple, cherry, plum, peach and gooseberry. Throughout the county there were thousands of other acres growing barley, alfalfa, corn, wheat, oats, sugar beets, melons, strawberries and grapes. Agriculture was the major industry in the early days of the county.

By 1930, after some severe late-spring frosts, the orchards had all been razed and replaced with melons, tomatoes, onions and other produce. The 1930s to the 1970s were heavily influenced by the depression, WWII, several droughts and climate changes. These things, along with a reduction in the quality of the soil, caused a shift in the focus of the county from agricultural to ranching and other industries.

In the 1970s, after years of bad weather and bad luck, most of the water shares in the Twin Lakes Canal were sold to the large front-range municipalities. Of the original 50,000 shares of water, only 2,000 remained for use in the county by 1980. For over 70 years the water from T.C. Henry's canal fed the agricultural prosperity of the area, and brought with it an oasis in the middle of a desert.

The face of Crowley County today is quite different from what it was in the 1920s. The county has come full circle and now looks much like it did when the Cheyenne called it home. The beautiful orchards and expansive melon and grain fields have been reclaimed by the prairie. Several new industries have sprung up in the last twenty years. The communities of Sugar City, Ordway, Olney Springs and Crowley all have that "small town" feel, and the county is home to about 5,500 people.


The History of Crowley County, Colorado, by various authors and the Crowley County Book Committee, 1980 Crowley County Heritage Society.

Attached to Sweetness, A Chronicle of Sugar City, by various authors; 1982 Sugar City Book Committee.

Six-Shooters & the Farrs, A History of the Newspapers of Crowley County, author unknown.

Colorado South of the Border, by Ralph C. Taylor; 1963; Published by Sage Books.