“Kayaking on Lake Dillon, CO” shows the lake of today–beautiful, serene, and surrounded by statuesque mountain ranges. Before posting, I wanted to find fun facts but had no idea I’d learn about a town originally built as a “stage stop and trading post” for pioneers heading west. And I had no idea that town became an “underwater ghost town!”
Pretty cool, hon!
Ten Fun Facts About Lake Dillon, CO and its History
- Lake Dillon is a large, fresh water reservoir located in Summit County, CO.
- The reservoir, which supplies water for the city of Denver, has approximately 3,233 surface acres of water and can hold 83 billion gallons of water.
- Over 26 miles of shoreline surround the lake.
- Lake Dillon is nestled along the Ten Mile and Gore Mountain ranges and bordered by the towns of Dillon, Frisco, and Silverthorne.
- The mountains top out above 14,000 feet.
- Construction of the dam that was built to create Dillon Reservoir began in 1961 and was completed in 1963.
- The entire town of Dillon, Colorado, and a hydroelectric plant were relocated to build the dam.
- The town’s cemetery and more than 300 graves were moved before construction of the dam started.
- The Old Town of Dillon actually sits at the bottom of Lake Dillon.
- Dillon is nearly 60 miles west of Denver and on the other side of the Continental Divide, so a tunnel was built to get the water from the reservoir to the city.
Mountain town to railroads to dams to a tunnel that took 18 years to complete.
In 1960, the town of Dillon was bustling. Home to 814 residents, it was the largest town in Summit County. But, it also needed to move.
The Denver Water Board wanted to create a new dam and the place where Dillon sat would eventually be 250 feet under water. So, they moved the town. For the fourth time.
Dillon was originally built as a stage stop and trading post in the 1880s. At that time, it was on the northeast side of the Snake River in the Blue River Valley. The town, named after prospector Tom Dillon, was officially incorporated in 1883.
But when the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad expanded into the area, it bypassed Dillon. Wanting to be closer to the tracks and therefore have a better chance to survive and grow, the town was relocated to the western side of the Blue River.
Not long after, a second railroad arrived from the northeast. Again hoping to make it easy for expansion the town moved for a second time. This town site, established in 1892 at the confluence of the Blue River, Snake River and Tenmile Creek, allowed for one train station for both rail lines.
By the early 1900s, the Denver Water Board recognized it needed to do something to meet the growing needs of the expanding city. Eventually they decided on damming the Blue River and diverting water to Denver.
The board bought water rights for the Blue River Valley and slowly began buying land. During the Great Depression, many Dillon residents were not able to pay property taxes so sold their property to Denver Water for back taxes. They also bought land on a hillside along what would soon be the shore of the new reservoir for the new town.
By 1956, the remaining residents were told they had to sell and be out by September 1961. On Sept. 15 of that year, the process to relocate Dillon for the fourth and final time began.
Moving the town of Dillon
Those who wanted to move homes and businesses from the Old Dillon to the new town site were responsible for paying for the cost to transport those buildings. So, many decided not to and instead began rebuilding or simply moved away. However, a few did choose to make the move. At least 10 homes were uprooted and relocated to the New Town of Dillon. A new cemetery was purchased near the new town site and more than 300 graves were moved.
Once everything that was going to be moved was, the remaining buildings were demolished and construction of the dam was ready to begin.
Dillon Dam construction
Construction on the Dillon Dam officially began in 1961 and was completed in 1963. The idea was to divert water from the Blue River Basin, store it in the massive reservoir and transport it to Denver when needed.
The only problem was that Dillon is nearly 60 miles west of Denver and on the other side of the Continental Divide. Denver Water’s solution? A tunnel.
The 23-mile Roberts Tunnel, the longest underground tunnel of its kind, was drilled between Dillon and Grant, on the other side of the [Continental] Divide. It took 18 years for crews boring from each end to meet in the middle.
When water is needed, it flows from the reservoir, through the tunnel and into the South Platte River, which feeds into Denver’s water supply.