Colorado Fuel and Iron: Culture and Industry in Southern Colorado

The Bessemer Ditch

The Bessemer Ditch Company was first incorporated in May of 1888 as a joint venture between several local businessmen and the Colorado Coal and Iron Company. Though CC&I is not mentioned by name in the incorporation papers, it was issued one half of the initial twenty thousand shares of stock. The stock was sold at $10.00 per share to raise capital for the company, and the shareholders were required to donate land for the ditch and indemnify all land that was to be irrigated from the ditch in order to secure a  $200,000 loan to finance construction of the waterway. How CC&I fulfilled the latter requirement is unknown, but it possible that the company may have started construction on a ditch prior to 1888, and gave/sold it to the Bessemer Ditch Company. The May 1889 listing of major stockholders and number of shares was;
CC&I 10,000 shares, Robert Grant 1600, J.N. Carlile 1500, Orman & Crook 1440, J.A. Writer 189, W.L. Graham 600, M.N. Mergue 160, A.S. Dodge 80, John Dougherty 490, H.J. Fitch 10, and there were 3931 un-issued shares.

Construction began in June of 1889 under the supervision of an engineer from New York by the name of Joesph Simons. After about a month the president of the corporation inspected the work in progress and was infuriated at the low quality of the workmanship and materials used. A special board meeting was called and Simons was fired. What happened after this is mostly speculation from piecemeal evidence as most of the corporation’s records were lost in the 1926 flood.  Bessemer Ditch Corporation is believed to have been reposed by unnamed creditors after CC&I's merger with the Colorado Fuel Co. in 1892, and its assets were sold to a new corporation, the Bessemer Irrigating Company. The ditch had been completed sometime prior to this, and it measured a total length of 43 miles at this time, 5 miles of which ran through the city of Pueblo. CF&I, the successor company to CC&I, divested itself of the ditch and took their 1884 water right of 118 cubic feet per second with them. CF&I subsequently constructed a new ditch for its exclusive use.

Not quite all the records were destroyed, and from the smeared remains of the minutes of a 1920 meeting it is clear that 400 shares were sold at $125.00 per share to finance repair to the siphon at the St. Charles River Crossing.  The siphon was unique in this part the state, and it allowed the Bessemer Ditch to cross under the St. Charles River even though the ditch is somewhat (though not greatly) higher than the river. At the time of the siphon’s original construction it was the longest (2970 feet, 905 meters) known wooden siphon. The following year was the great flood, and a great deal of damage was done to the ditch. Most of the repair work was financed by a loan from the Pueblo Savings and Trust Company.[1]

The Ditch operated smoothly after its reconstruction until the completion of the Pueblo dam in the late 1960s. In addition to shortening the length of the ditch by 13 miles the Head Gate was now located 50 feet or more up the face of the dam; consequently the water entering the ditch was now quite clear of any silt. The result was disastrous for the irrigation company. In the past silt from the spring runoff acted as a self-sealing agent for the ditch. The relatively clean lake water began to inundate the foundations and basements of homes near the ditch on its five-mile course through the city of Pueblo. It was estimated that seepage from the ditch had risen by 18% to a total of 30% of the water passing through the ditch.

After the irrigation company lost a court battle with the Bureau of Reclamation (the US government agency ultimately responsible for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Water Diversion Project, including the Pueblo reservoir and dam) Colorado’s US Senator Gary Hart secured an “earmark” to provide funding to line the canal. The repairs were completed in 1982

Today the Bessemer ditch serves 20,000 acres of farmland from the St. Charles Mesa to Avondale, south and east of Pueblo. The Bessemer Irrigation Company has call rights to approximately 24,000 acre-feet at 392 cubic feet per second, the first 322 of which are among the oldest on the Arkansas River. In 2009 the City of Pueblo began the purchase of 6000 acre feet, or roughly ¼ of the Bessemer ditch water right. This will augment the city’s water supply by approximately 20%. All water is stored in the Pueblo Reservoir (Lake Pueblo), and the company no longer has separate storage capacity.
More Resources:

[1] M.F. Hockemeyer, “History of the Bessemer Ditch,” Pueblo Lore Vol. 10 No. 6, 1984

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