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.

Mount Evans or Bust: “A Castle in the Sky”

– by Charla Stilling

The gold is there, ‘most anywhere
You can take it out rich, with an iron crow bar,
And where it is thick, with a shovel and pick,
You can pick it out in lumps a big as a brick.

Then ho boys ho, to Cherry Creek we’ll go.
There’s plenty of gold,
In the West we are told,
In the new Eldorado.

William N. Byers, a partaker in the 1859 Pikes Peak Gold Rush (also known as the Colorado Gold Rush), and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, printed poems like the one above, which were largely responsible for the influx of emigrants who made their way across the plains in search of gold. “Pikes Peak or Bust” painted the sides of canvas-covered wagons and grew as the slogan for weary travelers seeking the glimmer of sky-high dreams. Although Pikes Peak was the first landmark seen by new settlers as they made their way across the prairie, the 14,110 ft. mountain was some 60 miles from the mouth of Cherry Creek—the main diggings—in an area which became known as Colorado Springs. In fact, it was later said that gold ‘could not be found within a hundred miles of that peak’ and led to “go-backers” heading east with painted signs reading: “From Kansas and starvation to Missouri and salvation.”

Although we know that gold was in fact found within one hundred miles of ‘that peak,’ one can only wonder what a difference “Mount Evans or Bust” would have made for the gold seekers of 1859. Never mind that Mount Evans stands 154 feet taller than Pikes, but it also serves as a landmark leading from Denver, the Gateway to the Rockies, directly through the heart of the Continental Divide to cities such as Idaho Springs, Central City and Leadville, all of which played a huge role in making a poor man wealthy and shaping the West.

During the late 1800s, Colorado Springs and Denver continued to battle for notability, recognition, survival and eastern tourism. In 1873, the U.S. Signal Service (an early Weather Bureau) built a telegraph station on the summit of Pikes Peak to monitor the weather and a 16-mile carriage road to the summit was constructed in the late 1880s. On the afternoon of June 30th, 1891, the first passenger train, carrying a church choir from Denver, made it to the summit. The famous Anglo-American Pikes Peak Expedition of 1911, a study of high altitude physiology, included four investigators who spent five weeks in the comfortable “summit house” atop Pikes Peak. With so much going for it, Pikes Peak lured tourists away from Denver. Denver’s Mayor Speer proposed plans for the construction of a road to the top of Mount Evans, named for John Evans, Colorado’s second territorial governor. In 1917, Speer secured state funds to build such a road. The road was completed in 1927, opening another of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks to the world.

The area around Mount Evans grew in popularity and drew settlers and emigrants to the foothills surrounding Denver. One such man was Justus “Gus” Roehling, a German emigrant who arrived in Colorado in 1919. Roehling came to Colorado with hopes of finding a cure for tuberculosis, an infectious disease that claimed the lives of both his parents. After working for a short time as a carpenter in Denver, he moved to the town of Kittredge, at the foot of Mount Evans, to take a job a caretaker. His craft as a carpenter led to the construction of many houses for Charles Kittredge, the original Christ the King Church in Evergreen and the Hiwan Homestead Barn. However, his role in Colorado history did not stop there; he designed a rustic church structure of massive chunks of native granite, peeled logs, raw beams and moss rock in Estes Park known as Our Lady of the Mountains, and envisioned and fulfilled the building of the Crest House, his “Dream Castle” atop Mount Evans.

Roehling’s first trip to the top of Mount Evans in the late 1920s was with his girlfriend, Edith, who later became his wife. He wrote about his trip to the summit in a poem entitled “My Castle in the Sky.”

On a beautiful summer day
I drove to my shining mountains,
My best girl beside me.
We drove over rocky, winding roads,
Through rain, mist, and fog.
As we came to the very top
The sun came out in all its glory.
Then we walked hand in hand
And came to a rocky promontory
A place for my dream castle in the sky.

A decade later, Roehling’s dream began flirting with reality. He and architect, Edwin A. Francis, initiated building plans for what became known as the Crest House (occasionally referred to as the Summit House), and after months of preparation, ground was broken and construction was underway. The Dream Castle, envisioned as a tourist attraction, was owned by Thayer Tutt, who was associated with two similar attractions atop Pikes Peak, and Quigg Newton, who later became Mayor of Denver.

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Photos courtesy of Tom Lundin,
Continue reading “Mount Evans or Bust: “A Castle in the Sky””

The Barnes Dance

Henry A. Barnes, Denver’s First Traffic Engineer
—Compiled and Illustrated by Matt Holman*

B50 note: Henry Barnes implemented Denver’s system to allow pedestrians to co-exist with vehicles; first introduced in Denver in the late 40’s, it is still in use today.

Red Light! Green Light!

“You can’t be a nice guy and solve traffic.”
-Henry A. Barnes

Henry Barnes, illustration by Matt Holman
Henry Barnes, illustration by Matt Holman

In 1947, Denver Mayor Quigg Newton hired the city’s first professional traffic engineer, Henry A. Barnes. Or so it seemed.

Barnes had been working in Flint, Michigan when Newton hired him over the phone and confirmed his appointment by telegram. Barnes flew to Denver, leaving his family behind while he found housing and awaited his first month’s pay. When he landed, no one met him at the airport.

Perplexed, he made his way to the Mayor’s office. He was temporarily relieved when he received a hearty greeting from Mayor Newton. Eager to start his new job, Barnes assured Newton that he would do his best for Denver. “Now, if you’ll tell me where my office is,” he said. There was just one problem, the Mayor explained.

The mayor had been hiring experts from around the Country to help Denver grow to be a major city. “Things went pretty well for a while,” Newton told Barnes, “but now the City Council is beginning to get its back up. They claim I’m putting too many ‘foreigners’ on the payroll.”

Barnes was told he couldn’t “exist officially“ until the Mayor had smoothed the ruffled feathers. Barnes, without money and a job, announced his plan to return to Michigan. That, coupled with an imminent Denver Post story about how badly the city had treated him, encouraged the Mayor, who welcomed Barnes in and was officially introduced as Denver’s first Traffic Engineer.

The Barnes Dance

Barnes is best known for the “Barnes Dance”, a simple idea where traffic is stopped in all directions at an intersection so pedestrians can cross. Continue reading “The Barnes Dance”

Denver traffic, 1959

A Cloverleaf on the Valley Highway in 1959
A Cloverleaf on the Valley Highway in 1959

The Story of Denver traffic—100,000 cars in 1945 and 200,000-plus today

In Denver in the early Twentieth Century water wagons to keep down the dust were an institution. In the 1930’s road oil was sprayed on many streets to keep down the dust and thus eliminate the water wagons. By the start of World War II Denver had a fairly good street system, adequate for the traffic, and attractive in its tree-lined setting.

The wartime and post-war boom unhinged a lot of things in Denver, but streets most of all. The road oil streets flew to pieces. There hadn’t been much for the oil to mix with—they were almost useless against heavy traffic.

But this was just one part of the problem. One-way street systems had to be installed on a wholesale basis, traffic control systems had to be revised, new routings became essential and planning, in general, had to leap ahead by years.

Mayor Quigg Newton, whose regime coincided with these early days of stirring growth, led the fight for another phase: the Valley Highway. This great system, knifing across the city southeast to northwest, was completed in late 1958. It has brought the Twentieth Century to Denver more than any other public work. Motorists can speed across the city in about one-half hour, or go to work downtown from a suburban residence in 20 minutes.

Denver citizenry was at first shocked by the swiftly changing traffic surgery brought on by growth, things like the “anyway-walk” system to allow pedestrians full use of each intersection during their own phase of the stop light.

But no one has questioned the need for all this. It’s been startling: 100,000 cars in Denver in 1945—205,000 in 1959. And this doesn’t even count the mushrooming suburbs.

Note: Text and image from “This is Colorado – a special centennial magazine section of the Denver Post, June 21st, 1959”