Once a rowdy, frontier town originally named Defiance, Glenwood Springs often lived up to its rebellious name. From hosting visionaries and villains to witnessing triumphs and tragedies, Glenwood Springs is a fascinating destination for anyone interested in history.
The Glenwood Springs Historical Society keeps the past alive for every generation at two locations in Glenwood Springs: The Frontier Historical Museum and the Doc Holliday Museum. To make history even more engaging, sign up for a historical tour at the Hotel Colorado, download a walking tour of downtown or take a short hike to Doc Holliday’s memorial marker. Glenwood Springs’ history is chock-full of surprises, interesting facts and colorful characters.
What Really Happened in Glenwood Springs
Historical facts cited from Glenwood Springs The History of a Rocky Mountain Town by Jim Nelson
The gambler-gunslinger and friend of lawman Wyatt Earp died in Glenwood Springs on Nov. 8, 1887. You can visit his grave marker in Linwood Cemetery.
Glenwood Springs was one of the first cities to provide electric lights for its citizens, even before New York City!
The Hotel Colorado.
When it opened in 1893, The Hotel Colorado boasted 201 guest rooms, 170 fireplaces and 31 private bathrooms, a rarity for the day. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.
The 26th U.S. president, from 1901 to 1909, ran the country from The Hotel Colorado in the summer of 1905, earning it the nickname “The Little White House of the United States.” While in residence, President Roosevelt enjoyed successful big game hunts.
Local coal mining camps included one near the current Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort and one west of town at South Canyon. Coal mining entailed working 10 to 12-hour days; many miners soaked their weary bones in the hot springs on their day off.
Two railroads were in competition to arrive first in Glenwood Springs. The winner would prosper from the booming economy. The Denver & Rio Grande won the race by just seven days, with a route through Glenwood Canyon. Now operating as the Union Pacific Railroad, it hosts Amtrak passenger service aboard the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco, with daily stops in Denver and Glenwood Springs.
Cowboy and movie star Tom Mix filmed The Great K & A Train Robbery in 1926, one of several films made in Glenwood Springs. It is said that John Wayne worked on the set as a prop man, his first job in the movies.
During WWII, the Hotel Colorado was commissioned as a U.S. Naval Convalescent Hospital and the hot springs pool and vapor caves were also closed to the public. John Vanderhoof, who was later to become the governor of Colorado, convalesced there after being shot down in the Pacific.
The list of the infamous characters that passed through Glenwood Springs includes gangsters Al Capone and Diamond Jack Alterie. On Dec. 30, 1977, serial killer Ted Bundy escaped from the Garfield County Jail.
With danger from coal mining and summer forest fires, Glenwood Springs is all too familiar with tragedy. Fifteen men were killed in the Mid-Continent mine explosion; 13 lost in the Rocky Mountain Natural Gas explosion; and 14 wildland firefighters, nine from Prineville, Oregon, sacrificed their lives in the Storm King Fire.
Construction began on the interstate through Glenwood Canyon in 1980. It took 12 years and close to $500 million to complete. It was the final link in the Interstate Highway System and is still considered its “crown jewel.”
Fascinated by these facts? Learn more and engage with Colorado history in Glenwood Springs.
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