Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

How Gunbarrel Got Its Name


February 26, 2020 | View PDF

Courtesy photo

Alonzo N. Allen in the remains of his cabin.

In 1859, gold drew 100,000 people into the Pike's Peak Region in pursuit of their fortune. Thirty-nine-year-old Alonzo N. Allen was among them, and he was quick to realize that prospecting was a hard way to make a living.

The version of the story relayed by Dorothy Large ("Old Burlington") says Allen was actively seeking a place to homestead.

The oral history from "They Came to Stay" places Allen on a hunting mission. Scouring the area for his dinner, Allen climbed to the top of a hill north of Boulder City in what was then the Nebraska Territory. As he scanned the flat and treeless plains, he didn't see antelope, bison, or deer. But he did spot a large cottonwood on the banks of the St. Vrain River.

Allen returned to his cabin at White Rocks, dismantled it, and loaded the heavy logs onto a wagon. He ascended the same hill, set his sights on the cottonwood tree, and then cut a straight line across the prairie to his destination. The weight of the logs cut deep ruts into the prairie.

The ruts were "straight as a gunbarrel." Thereafter, this makeshift road was called Gunbarrel Road, and it bisected the area in Boulder County now known as Gunbarrel.

Allen's cabin was the first building on the site of what became the town of Burlington, predecessor to Longmont. Driving north up Highway 287 today, you pass Burlington Marketplace just before ascending the hill into old town Longmont. On the west side of the road, just south of the modern bridge, is where Allen's cabin stood.

Allen continued to prospect while his stepson, WIlliam Dickens, put up hay in Burlington. In 1863, Allen constructed an inn and sent for his wife Mary Allen and her seven children to help him run it. The bustling Allen Inn was strategically located along the Overland Trail, a historic trade route (now Highway 287). Burlington teemed with freight wagons, soldiers, and stages, especially during the Civil War. The Allen Inn was also graced by a contract with the Overland Stage Company (later Wells Fargo). Often, sleeping arrangements were floor room only--but Mrs. Allen's cooking was legendary. In 1868, the inn was graced by a visit from Ulysses S. Grant himself.

The Allen Inn did have a fierce rival a half-mile to the south--the NiWot House. Jesse Greenly and his family first prospected in the vicinity of Chief Niwot's camp. When Greenly, like others, gave up on prospecting, he hauled the house towards present day Niwot (forming another regional travel corridor--Skid Road).

When Mason and Gano under-bid Wells Fargo for the mail contract, their new stage line chose the NiWot House for boarding. Mrs. Allen was probably not pleased. But those who do their banking with Wells Fargo can guess how that story ended; Mason and Gano went under, Wells Fargo reclaimed the contract, and the Allen Inn continued to thrive.

Courtesy photo

Ten years after it was first built, the Allen Inn hosted the locating committee for the Chicago-Colorado Colony. The colony decided to stay and locate just a half mile up the hill. The name it chose for itself--Longmont.

As for Gunbarrel, it wasn't a particularly good place to settle. High, dry, exposed, and without mineral wealth, Gunbarrel largely remained ranch land until IBM moved to Boulder County in 1965. The need for employee housing spurred suburban development in the area, which has continued since.

You can get a glimpse of the hillside Allen saw by walking the Gunbarrel-East Boulder Trails adjacent to 75th Street. The view has certainly changed, but see if you can spot the place Allen chose to call home.


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