Henry Kamm helped make Glenwood Springs prosperous
Ryan Summerlin October 2, 2013
“Mr. Kamm keeps an immense stock of goods of every conceivable kind, and sells as low as the lowest. He believes in supporting home enterprises and is ever ready to go down in his pocket to help the town along.”
— Avalanche Echo, May 13, 1892
Eight years of hard Colorado mining brought 25-year-old Henry R. Kamm to Glenwood Springs. From Denver to Georgetown, Central City and Black Hawk, and the mines of the San Juan range, Kamm chased fortune with a plan, pick and determination. He was not destitute. But the immense fortune he sought remained elusive.
Glenwood Springs was in its infancy in 1883, and Kamm realized that the money he had could be invested, and if invested well, would pay big future dividends. Glenwood Springs possessed many needs. And the many needs would bring customers to any business enterprise. By November 1883 Kamm assumed the hardware and grocery business of Malya and Donovan located in a tent on Riverfront Street near today’s Hotel Denver. Now the firm of H.R. Kamm, he specialized in mining supplies, but traveled to Leadville and Denver, purchasing goods to build a broad inventory.
Isaac Cooper of Glenwood’s Defiance Town and Land Co. offered a free town lot to anyone wishing to construct a building, which required completion by Dec. 31, 1884. Kamm jumped at the offer, securing a lot in the heart of the downtown district on the northwest corner of Eighth and Grand Avenue. The harsh winter of 1883 and the scarcity of brick and lumber hampered construction until September 1884. The building was completed in late December, and Kamm moved his stock to the first floor of his new place of business. The upstairs of the two story building housed the U.S. Land Office and the law office of attorney Edward T. Taylor.
Kamm carried farming implements, groceries, dry goods, hardware, building supplies and the seed to sow crops. The orders to Kamm for cough syrup for workers constructing the rail lines reported the community’s health. The cigars for those same workers celebrated the Fourth of July. Window latches for Gussie Blake’s new bordello represented Glenwood Springs’ vices, while orders for groceries and dry goods were met to fill the most basic of needs. Perhaps the darkest day of the store’s existence came in August 1885 when a drunken Lige Cravens walked the 700 yards from Pat Carr’s Saloon on Riverfront Street to the store to purchase a pistol. The pistol was ultimately used a short time later to murder George Fuller in a dispute over a card game.
By 1887, Henry Kamm was considered Glenwood Springs’ most prosperous merchant, and had established a second store at New Castle. The 1890s found Kamm eventually abandoning store ownership in Glenwood Springs for banking, real estate, mining and politics. He became vice president and on the board of directors of Glenwood Springs’ First National Bank, invested heavily in mining in Aspen, and promoted the production of sugar beets in Garfield County. He was elected Garfield County commissioner on the Republican ticket but served only one term. After his defeat for re-election in 1893 he was thanked for his hard and engaged work and for the orderly maintenance of the county’s financial affairs and records.
In late February 1892, Kamm celebrated his 34th birthday with a lavish formal party at the Hotel Glenwood, located just across Grand Avenue from his store. Kamm enjoyed cultural events, frequently visiting Aspen to take in theater and opera at the Wheeler Opera House. He served on civic committees, including the committee to welcome President Benjamin Harrison in 1891 to Glenwood Springs.
Occasionally chided in the newspapers about his bachelor status, he surprised many when he left for Trenton, N.J., in January 1896 to marry Elizabeth Donnelly, a niece of U.S. Land Office Registrar S. J. DeLan. He and Elizabeth settled at his beautiful Victorian style house at 1002 Cooper Ave. in Glenwood Springs. Politics called again, and Henry Kamm was elected as representative to the Colorado Legislature in 1898.
Kamm and his family moved to Fresno, Calif., in about 1911. He sold real estate and was just as enthusiastic about the economic potential of his new home as his old. He passed away at the age of 72, his plan for a bountiful life realized, and leaving Glenwood Springs a prosperous community.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.