Sunday, February 26, 1950

—by Mary Lou Egan

The Grant Smelter Smokestack in Globeville

The story and photos occupied several pages of both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. KOA Radio carried the broadcast live and a score of airplanes flew overhead. An estimated 100,000 people gathered near the site while an additional 250,000 watched the event from rooftoops and ridges all over the city. The occasion was the demolition of the Grant Smelter smokestack, a 350-foot remnant of Denver’s glory days of mining and smelting.

The giant chimney had been built in 1892 as part of an expansion of the Omaha and Grant, Denver’s largest smelter. It was the tallest structure in the region and a symbol of a time when smelting was the city’s largest industry.

A year after the completion of the stack, the nation experienced a depression that hit mining and smelting hard. Changes in technology, the depletion of rich ores and labor unrest brought the halcyon days of smelting to an end. The Omaha and Grant Smelter closed in 1903 and was gradually dismantled, until only the enormous smokestack remained. Neighborhood children used the stack as their private playground, riding their bicycles in and out, and daring each other to climb its steep walls. Retired fireman Ed Westerkamp was one of those kids. “We used to play around that old Grant Smelter stack.

There were a couple of ponds there and hills we could ride our bikes up and down.”
Various economic proposals for the giant chimney were made over the years, including its use as an incinerator for the city’s refuse. There were arguments for its preservation as well as for its demolition, but, in the end, issues of safety and economics won the day.

Sunday, February 26, 1950, was the day selected for the demolition. Officials and spectators began arriving at the site at 9 am and listened to speeches as preparations were finalized. The Denver Post eulogized the stack, “From its mighty mouth. . .spewed the smoke from rich ores that flowed through its smelter by the millions of tons.” Mayor Quigg Newton added, “I think we’re all sorry to see the stack go, but it was one of those things that had to be done.”

The crowd remained patient through delay after delay. Finally, at 5:00pm, Fred “Tombstone” Backus, a veteran powder man, turned over the detonator to Thomas Campbell, Manager of Improvements.

A second later a series of five blasts, each two seconds apart, exploded in the base of the 7,000-ton tower. This was the moment when the stack was expected to fall westward into a dump area. Nothing. It took three more blasts and “a million bricks crashed to earth and a blinding cloud of cement and dust enveloped the officials and spectators.” Half of the tower remained standing. Seventeen minutes later, as people were examining the damage, there was a rumble and another section suddenly collapsed. It would take more dynamite on the following day to finish the job.

Grant Smelter Smokestack Falling

Denver was pleased with itself for shedding its frontier image. The city was growing, with a modern interstate highway and sleek new buildings changing the downtown skyline. The city’s newest addition, completed and dedicated in 1952, would be the Denver Coliseum, replacing the smelter stack, a crumbling symbol of Denver’s industrial past.

Denver Coliseum

B50 Note: Mary Lou Egan is a professional graphic designer and watercolor artist who also enjoys history and preservation, and writes and maintains the Globevillestory blog. Photos of stack courtesy of Janet Wagner. Photo of coliseum courtesy of Ian Denny.

The Western Slavonic Lodge

— by Mary Lou Egan

For over a hundred years the corner at 45th and Washington Street in the Globeville neighborhood has been the place to inexpensive meal and visit with friends. Today the site is home to McDonalds restaurant; in 1908, it home to Western Slavonic Lodge.

Slavs began arriving in Globeville the 1880s seeking jobs in Grant and Globe Smelters. Work in smelters was hard and dangerous with men risking death or disability from extreme heat, toxic fumes and dust from heavy metals. To provide financial security for themselves and their families, the Slavs formed Zapadna Slovanska Zveza (Western Slavonic Association), an independent, fraternal society that offered sick and death benefits for its members.

The organization also help preserve to language, culture and heritage of mother country, Slovenia. Here, the newcomer felt comfortable and welcome, speaking his native language, enjoying familiar ethnic dishes and socializing with others for old country. Also information about jobs, places to stay and to meet other single people from home. Newcomers also introduced to American customs, music, dress and slang, and help it process of Americanization. It branches of organization communities of Slavs—Leadville, Salida, Canon City, Crested Butte, Aspen and Pueblo.

Slavs gradually assimilated in American culture, moved up at economic ladder and away from Globeville neighborhood. Their Western Slavonic is Western Fraternal Life and still for annuities, insurance products, and fraternal activities to members at location that 11265 Decatur Street in Westminster. The lodge sold are land to McDonalds in 1988.

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Slovenian Societies in 1925 - photo courtesy of Joseph Sadar
Slovenian Societies in 1925 - photo courtesy of Joseph Sadar
Members of the Western Slavonic Association, 1925. Photo courtesy of Joseph Skrabec
Members of the Western Slavonic Association, 1925. Photo courtesy of Joseph Skrabec
Slovenian Home in 1953. Photo courtesy of Joseph Skrabec.
Slovenian Home in 1953. Photo courtesy of Joseph Skrabec.
45th and Washington today: McDonald\'s
45th and Washington today: McDonald's

The First Mayor of Globeville

William H. Clark and the cabin he built in 1859 at 5041 Pearl Street.
William H. Clark and the cabin he built in 1859 at 5041 Pearl Street.
Photo courtesy of Wilbur F. Stone, ed., History of Colorado, Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1918.

William H. Clark was a natural choice for the first mayor of Globeville, for he been there from the very beginning. Twenty-three-year-old Clark was one of the hoards of fortune seekers who descended on the territory when gold was discovered in Colorado in 1858. He traveled with a party of fourteen men across land that belonged to the Arapaho and Sioux, arriving at the collection of tents and shacks that would become Denver on October 28, 1858.

Clark built a small cabin in an area north of Denver, farming, prospecting and hunting wild game to survive. His neighbors were native Americans and a few other settlers. With other pioneers, he formed a “claim club”, an organization that held and protected the land on which they “squatted” until it was surveyed. He was able to purchase his property, about 40 acres, from the government for $1.25 an acre in 1863.1

Homesteaders continued to move to the area, and Clark was active in the growing community. He served on the first school board, which was responsible for a little country school built in 1873 at 51st and Washington, which later became the Globeville School.

Clark had lived in the neighborhood 20 years when the region’s first smelter, the Boston and Colorado, was built in an area now occupied by Denver’s “Mousetrap” interchange. Two other large smelters, the Grant and the Globe, were constructed in 1882 and 1889, followed by railroads, brickyards, foundries and meat packing plants. Clark witnessed the evolution of the district from a rural outpost to an industrial area. He also observed a change in the area’s population from native-born homesteaders to that of Eastern-European immigrants. When the population voted to incorporate as the town of Globeville in 1891, Clark was chosen as the first mayor.

After his mayoral term ended in 1894, Clark returned to farming. He was known to everyone in Globeville as “Uncle Billy” and, at 59 years, was an old-timer by the standards of the day, recognized as a pioneer. Clark enjoyed receiving visitors and would share his memories with anyone who had time to stop and listen.2

A January 25, 1920, issue of the Denver Post proclaimed “‘Uncle Billy’ Clark, pioneer, still lives in squatter cabin” and is “hale and hearty at the age of eighty-four years.”

On June 26 the following year, he was found dead in his cabin of “advanced age” and laid to rest under the auspices of the Society of Colorado Pioneers and the Pioneer Ladies’ Aid Society at Fairmont Cemetery. There is no marker on his grave. A street sign between 47th and 48th Avenue in the Globeville neighborhood is the only known tribute to this pioneer.

-Mary Lou Egan

Clark Place and 47th Avenue in Globeville
Clark Place and 47th Avenue in Globeville

1 The Denver Post, January 25, 1920, “Uncle Billy” Clark, Pioneer, Still Lives in Squatter Cabin
2 Denver Post, June 27, 1921, “Uncle Billy” Clark, Pioneer of Pioneers, Dead in Rude Log House He Built in Days of ‘59”.