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Stories Along the Line: East Rail to roll on historical ground

There's a small army of dedicated men and women, brain and brawn toiling day and night just east of Denver. They're determinedly making plans, laying steel, stretching wire and going door-to-door to inform residents and business owners of what's coming.

Workers install rail on the Pena Blvd. Bridge for the East Rail Line.
Workers install track on the East Rail Line's Peña Blvd. Bridge
What's coming is history in the making - the construction of the East Rail Line from downtown Denver's Union Station to Denver Airport. This ongoing construction project to build nearly 23 miles of commuter transit is making more progress with each passing day. And, when it's complete in 2016, this train line will connect people traveling between Union Station and the airport, one of the busiest in the nation.

As this historical event comes to life, the rail line will cross through a rich history - ground that once was home to a former international airport, and will come within a few blocks of Denver's very first airport.

The old airport - Lowry Field and Combs Field

One of the stops along the new East Rail Line will be at 40th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, a mere few blocks from 38th Avenue and Dahlia Street, the site of the original Lowry Field, named after Denver native US Army Lt. Francis B. Lowry, who served as an aerial photographer and was killed during aerial combat over France in WWI.

The first Lowry Field was dedicated by the Colorado Air National Guard in 1924. It was nothing more than a large dirt field. At the time, a sign over a hangar reportedly warned pilots, "This field is short, USE IT ALL."

Little known facts

In 1927, thousands of men in suits and hats and women dressed in finery, joined policemen on foot and horseback to greet Charles Lindbergh when his "Spirit of St. Louis" touched down on the wide-open and barren Lowry Field. It was one of 82 stops in the 48 states after his record-breaking flight from New York to Paris in May of that same year.

Chalres Lindbergh at Lowry Field, Denver, Colo.
Charles Lindbergh, second from left, leaves Lowry Field with a local delegation on Aug. 31, 1927, after parking the Spirit of St. Louis in the hangar behind him. The hangar still stands and is the studio for sculptor Ed Dwight. Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library Western History Department.

In 1937, President Roosevelt authorized funds to relocate Lowry Field 4 miles to the southeast near East 6th Avenue and Quebec Street. It later became a civilian airport known as Combs Field.

The second old airport - Denver Municipal Airport/Stapleton

Another stop along the East Rail Line will be at Central Park Station in the Stapleton community (near I-70 and Central Park Boulevard). This station will serve the 30,000 residents of Stapleton and the area's 35,000 workers.

On this site, Denver Municipal Airport opened in October 1929-a week before the infamous stock market crash. The airport was called the "Union Station of the Air" and heralded as the most modern facility in the country.

Little known facts


Amelia Earhart at Denver Municpal Airport, June 1931. Photo courtesy: Denver Public Library Western History Department
Pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart landed her Autogiro helicopter-like plane here on one of her many cross-country excursions in June 1931. The transcontinental flight was sponsored by Beech-Nut chewing gum. She visited Denver three times between 1931 and 1936.

In 1944, the field was renamed after Denver Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton, who led the fight for the new airport. Stapleton served two terms as mayor from 1923-1931 and from 1935-1947. The Denver Post dubbed it "Stapleton's Folly" because it was considered
to be too far from civilization and impractical. The airport was just three miles east of downtown.

New airport needed

By the 1980s, passenger traffic increased at the airport and Denver neighborhoods expanded farther east toward the airport, which led to the decision to replace Stapleton with a new one-10 miles to the northeast.

After the airport closed in 1995, the land was re-imagined and redeveloped into an urban lifestyle walkable and diverse community called Stapleton.

When the Stapleton community is complete, it is expected to have 12,000 homes and apartments, two walkable town centers and a major retail destination-The Shops at Northfield which is an open-air mall on the north side of Interstate 70.

RTD's East Rail Line will give people from all over the region a new way to get there.



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