William Austin Hamilton Loveland (1826–94) was a leading businessman, railroad executive, and politician in early Colorado. A well-traveled man by early adulthood, Loveland arrived in Colorado during the Colorado Gold Rush. He played a critical role in the development of Golden, putting up the city’s first buildings and the area’s first wagon road. He is also said to have established the state’s first coal mine and its first pottery works.
Loveland went on to establish the Colorado Central Railroad, run for governor of Colorado, and even a nomination for the presidency of the United States. The city of Loveland, founded along his railroad in southern Larimer County, is named after him, as is Loveland Pass, which he explored on one of his many surveying trips. Today, Loveland is remembered as a seasoned, energetic leader who was responsible for some of the most important developments in Colorado history.
William A.H. Loveland was born in 1826 in Chatham, Massachusetts. Little is known about his mother, but his father, Rev. Leonard Loveland, was a Methodist minister and veteran of the War of 1812. A year after he was born, William’s family moved to Rhode Island, where at the age of eight he began work in a cotton factory. In 1837 his father again moved the family to the fledgling town of Alton, Illinois, where they started a farm. William, known to his friends as “Bill,” worked the family farm until his late teens, when he enrolled in McKendree College, a nearby Methodist school. He spent a year there before moving on to Shurtleff College in Alton in 1846.
That year, Loveland developed pleurisy, a painful lung affliction. His doctor recommended he relocate to a warmer climate, but Loveland did not have money to move. However, the Mexican-American War, which had begun that year, offered Loveland three things he desperately needed: pay, relocation, and—in the footsteps of his seafaring father—adventure. He answered an ad for government teamsters in a St. Louis newspaper, moved to the city, and began working for the army. He worked in St. Louis for a short time, was sent to New Orleans, and from there embarked for Veracruz, Mexico, in 1847.
Teamster, Prospector, Traveler
Although he was a teamster, not a soldier, Loveland saw plenty of action in the Mexican-American War. Defending critical supplies in hostile territory repeatedly put him in harm’s way, and outnumbered American commanders occasionally called teamsters into battle. At the Battle of Chapultepec in September 1847, Loveland was wounded by artillery, and he spent months recovering in Mexico City before he was cleared to go home.
Loveland returned to Illinois in 1848 intending to finish college. One year later, however, the lure of gold drew him to California. He prospected in Grass Valley, north of Sacramento, and built the first house there. Loveland had only minimal luck prospecting. He eventually gave his tools, cabin, and claim to three other prospectors from Boston and moved to San Francisco. His health was again in decline, to the point where he later told a New York newspaper, “I had given up all hope of living any longer.”
But then Loveland’s kindness caught up with him; by chance, he ran into those same Boston men in a San Francisco saloon, and to repay Loveland’s earlier gifts, they gave him some medicine and paid for his transport to Central America, where he hoped to regain his health. In 1851 Loveland arrived at Lake Nicaragua, where he made a full recovery. He worked with the local government on a canal project there, but it was never completed.
In July 1851, Loveland returned to Brighton, Illinois, where he began a merchandising business. In 1852 he married his first wife, Phelena Shaw. The couple had no children, and Phelena died in 1854. Loveland remarried in 1856, wedding Miranda Ann Montgomery of Alton. The couple welcomed their first child, a son named Francis William, in 1857, and another son, William Leonard, in 1859.
New Life in Colorado
Having regained his health and started a family, Loveland again became restless. In May 1859, he joined the Colorado Gold Rush and made his way to present-day Golden, where he saw an immense business opportunity. He opened the fledgling town’s first general store, built the first house, and began surveying new transportation routes that would ease commerce in the area. In 1863–64, Loveland built the first wagon road up Clear Creek Canyon. By that time, coal-fired stamp mills had begun to replace stream-panning prospectors, and Loveland capitalized on the fuel needs of the newly industrialized mining industry by opening the state’s first coal mine.
Loveland’s experience with roads and coal undoubtedly contributed to his awareness of Golden’s other great need—a railroad connection. In 1865 Loveland formed the Colorado & Clear Creek Railroad company, which was eventually renamed the Colorado Central. Construction could not begin until financial stability was achieved in 1868, but by the end of that year the Colorado Central had completed eleven miles of grade from Golden up to the mines along Clear Creek.
Thanks in large part to Loveland’s enterprise and leadership, Golden became the economic hub of Colorado in the early 1860s. In 1862 Golden was named capital of the Colorado Territory, and the territorial legislature met in a building erected by Loveland. As a hub for the state’s first major railway, Golden remained the territorial capitol until 1867, when wealthy Denverites secured funds to build a railroad (the Denver Pacific) that would link to the transcontinental line at Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The capital may have shifted to Denver, but Loveland remained loyal to Golden. He and his wife donated six blocks of land for the establishment of a Presbyterian church. In 1874, after pressuring the legislature to pass a bill establishing a mining college in Golden, Loveland was named first president of Colorado School of Mines.
The following year, the Colorado Central was absorbed by the Kansas Pacific Railroad, which had already taken over the Denver Pacific. By 1876, however, Loveland was back in charge, and as the railroad branched out along the Front Range, the new town of Loveland was named after him. By 1879 the Colorado Central had again fallen into bankruptcy, and the railroad was leased to the Union Pacific for fifty years.
In 1878, two years after Colorado achieved statehood, Loveland ran for governor on the Democratic ticket. Upon receiving the party’s nomination, Loveland promised to represent “all interests, mineral, agricultural, and pastoral.” A newspaper article covering the election described Loveland as “emphatically a man of the people and in sympathy with the working classes.” “His splendid executive ability,” it went on, “is acknowledged by even his worst enemies and should he be elected to the office of governor, there is no danger but all the interests of the state will be safe in his hands.”
Despite his popularity and reputation, Loveland lost the contest to Frederick W. Pitkin. One year later, the Democrats nominated Loveland for the office of US senator, but the seat instead went to Republican Nathaniel P. Hill. Still, in 1880 Colorado Democrats evidently had enough faith in Loveland to name him as their choice for presidential candidate at the national convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. The 5–1 vote among the state’s delegates was the first time Coloradans of either party had put forward one of their own as a presidential candidate. However, Loveland was brushed aside at the national level, as the Democrats chose Winfield Scott Hancock of Pennsylvania as their nominee.
Death and Legacy
Loveland spent his later years in Lakewood, Colorado. After enduring the loss of a young grandson, he died on December 17, 1894. An obituary in the Denver Times gushed that “a no more glorious wreath can be laid upon the tomb of any man than that which symbolizes his leadership among Colorado pioneers.”
Today, most Coloradans know William Loveland via the city and mountain pass that bear his name. Yet his contributions to the state went far beyond railroads and surveys—he was a superstar personality whose gentlemanly reputation and active leadership not only steered the physical development of Colorado, but also helped its meteoric rise in the national consciousness of late nineteenth-century America.