It has been said that many of our greatest historical heroes are overlooked. One of those cases is easily Mr. Abner E. Sprague and his wife Alberta Sprague. Abner not only helped to settle the wild west of Colorado, he worked on the first narrow gauge railroad, ran lodges that warmly hosted guests for decades and was the first person to pay admission to the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Often described as a larger-than-life personality, Abner Sprague first settled in what is now known as Moraine Park and has since settled into American history. Alberta Falls, named for Abner’s wife, is one of the most popular spots in Rocky Mountain National Park. Another favored contribution to the parks is the man-made Sprague Lake, now part of a 0.9 mile loop stuffed with beautiful views and perfect photo opportunities.
While Sprague first settled on a homestead to be a rancher he soon was nudged into becoming a resort owner due to the demand for his hospitality. He has been quoted as saying “We came here for small ranch operations, but guests and visitors became so numerous, at first wanting eggs, milk, and other provisions, then wanting lodging, and finally demanding full accommodations, that we had to go into the hotel business or go bankrupt from keeping free company!”
Guests would frequent the Sprague Ranch day and night until Abner found need to construct a cabin, then several, and finally a large log hotel – aptly named Sprague Lodge. Although Sprague left the Rocky Mountain scenery to move to Loveland in 1904, he and his wife returned in 1908, unable to live without the beauty of their old homestead. Once again the Spragues set about welcoming lodgers to enjoy what is now accessible to those visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. The Sprague family sold the land rights to the National Park Service, operating it themselves on a lease until turning over the property to the park service in 1957.
All of the original structures built by the Spragues has been removed by the National Parks in order to return the land to its natural state. During the lodge’s operational years guests would fish nearby ponds and streams, enjoy the host picked raspberries, strawberries & huckleberries at dinner time and explore the trails and stunning views surrounding them. Today you can walk the same trails and streams that Abner and his guests once frequented, recharging themselves within the breathtaking Rocky Mountains.
In 1905, Abner Sprague created the original plat for what was to become, more than 10 years later, the Town of Estes Park. Abner later fought to take part in World War II at the ripe age of 91, refusing to stand down due to his age. On top of his contributions to mountain hospitality Abner also contributed to the building of the railroad and civil engineering, and wrote memoirs about his life as a mountaineer and resident of Colorado. In 1881 Abner went to work for the Union Pacific Railroad assisting in the construction and planning of the first narrow gauge railway through Boulder Canyon which can still be seen today.
Passing away at the age of 93 Abner Sprague solidified a brilliant future for his beloved home, contributing in a way that changed history and maintained protections for a landscape that can never be replicated.