Guts. Spunk. Moxie! Worthy of recognition, especially during Women’s History Month in March, the ladies featured here were all gifted with gumption. Each in their own manner, they shaped Glenwood Springs into the destination it is today.
Sarah Cooper: Influencer of Her Time
Wife of Glenwood Springs founding father, Isaac Cooper, Sarah was a genteel sort who followed her young husband from the security of Iowa to the wilds of Colorado. Isaac had seen the beauty of Glenwood Springs and knew of its hot springs. Unfortunately, during the Civil War, he was captured and interred in a Confederate prison camp, which permanently undermined his health.
After his release in 1880, he returned to the area, hoping the hot springs would do him good. In 1882, he formed the Defiance Town and Land Company that included the hot springs and vapor caves. After establishing himself, he sent for his wife, Sarah. She fell in love with the beauty of the region, but she was homesick for more refined living.
To that end, and with some natural marketing chops, Sarah convinced her husband to change the name of the town from Defiance to Glenwood Springs, after her hometown of Glenwood, Iowa. She was certain that rebranding the town in this way would affect its character, and she was right.
The name “Glenwood” conjured pastoral scenes, while the incorporation of “Springs” let the world know that the town was a hot springs haven. It wasn’t long after the name change that Glenwood Springs went from an unremarkable ramshackle tent city to a world-class geothermal resort.
Amelia Williams: Queen of Social
A fearless and enterprising woman, Amelia Williams was never one to lack confidence or chutzpah. A well-to-do immigrant from England, Williams lived with family for a time on farms in the Midwest, but eventually felt the call of adventure in the West. In an era when having a man on her arm would have provided safety and security, dauntless Amelia preferred to go it alone and never married.
A woman with a big personality, Amelia never knew a stranger and had a knack for making one and all feel welcome. She was a natural at sales and when she arrived in Glenwood Springs in 1885, her first job was working for B.T. Napier and Co., the town’s local dry goods store. She also worked under two U.S. presidents as the town’s postmistress and in addition to the mail, she delivered convivial conversation to the folks she encountered. She was “in the know” so to speak and could tell of countless improprieties as well as happy occasions through her position.
Though it was a bit scandalous at the time for a single woman to be a homeowner, Amelia purchased her own home in the 800 block of Blake Avenue, which she later converted into a boarding house. As the proprietress, she was chief cook and bottle washer. One morning, she left her cooking to extinguish a chimney fire on the rooftop before continuing to feed her guests. Eventually, she used her earnings to build the Williams Hotel, currently known as the Williams Apartments on the southeast corner of Eighth Street and Blake Avenue.
Amelia is buried in Linwood Cemetery, the resting place of many of Glenwood’s pioneer residents. She still makes regular appearances at the Frontier Historical Society’s annual Ghost Walk held in October, where she tells the story of her life to graveyard visitors.
Pearl “Tommy” Thomson: Entrepreneurial Trailblazer
A western gal through and through. Pearl “Tommy” Thompson managed to turn her love of horses and a natural talent for entertaining into a business winning streak that lasted 20 years. In 1938, Tommy as she was most often called, started a trail-ride company that guided “dudes” from the city on horseback excursions into the backcountry.
City slickers from all over the country traveled to Glenwood Springs to saddle up for her nationally acclaimed trail rides. A typical trail-ride experience consisted of around 30 guests; a crew of wranglers, cooks, a forest ranger and several general helpers; and 80 to 100 head of horses, many loaded with camping gear and stocked with food. The rides originated in nearby Marble, Colorado, and, for two-week stints throughout the summer rambled throughout the beautiful Colorado high country.
Jerome Gamba, a longtime Glenwood Springs resident and businessman now deceased, recounted a story of working as a cowboy for Tommy in the summer of 1950. At the end of the season, Gamba and his sister Loyette, along with a handful of other wranglers, drove 100 horses from their summer pastures to Glenwood Springs, a two-day haul. The plan was to bring them to Tommy’s barn in North Glenwood, but the horses kept getting distracted by the delicious summer flowers and grasses in the yards that lined the roadway. To keep the herd from wandering off in all directions, Gamba smacked the animals on their rumps and got them going at a full-speed run down Grand Avenue, the town’s main thoroughfare! As Gamba tells it, the horses knew their way home and ran right to Tommy’s barn on Laurel Street. Thomson carried on the trail-riding tradition in Glenwood Springs until 1956.
Visitors can still go on horseback rides in the area, as well as engage in other adventure experiences like whitewater rafting, cave exploration and nature hikes and bike rides. Thanks in no small part to these women who had a vision for the future, business acumen and a tremendous sense of fun, Glenwood Springs is the destination it is today.
Learn more fascinating facts about the hot springs town, or, better yet, make plans to visit Glenwood Springs today!
Download the official Glenwood Springs Travel Guide
- Glenwood Springs: The History of a Rocky Mountain Town
- Hope and Hot Water: Glenwood Springs from 1878 to 1891