100 years ago, Glenwood Springs dried up
Post Independent Correspondent
Saturday: Preservation – Western Hotel nominated for National Register of Historic Places.
Monday: Prostitution – When booze was banned, another early Glenwood enterprise lost steam.
Jan. 1, 1916, Glenwood Springs: Colorado Prohibition has just gone into effect, four years ahead of the U.S. constitutional amendment banning most alcohol use across the country.
The 30 saloons within five blocks of each other in Glenwood face a sudden, existential crisis. The Glenwood Post headline reads “Glenwood Liquor Dealers Have Little Stock Left.” Another reads, “Many Saloons Will Be Converted into Billiard Halls.” The turning of a red light city into a civilized community begins.
The “Most Fun Town in America,” as voted in 2011, might have been fun 100 years ago, but was not always the family-friendly tourist hub it is today.
“There were more saloons and gambling houses and brothels than restaurants and grocery stores,” said Cindy Hines, executive director at the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. She said that in Glenwood’s younger days, the saloons were more of an attraction than the now-world famous hot springs.
“Early Glenwood saloons were in tents first along Seventh Street, known then as Riverfront,” Hines said. “There was the Mirror Saloon, the Broadway Bar, the Columbus Saloon, the Silver Club, The Senate Bar. In the early days of the Hotel Denver, the bar in there was the Leadville bar. More saloons existed here than a city needed honestly, but we had them.”
This was all prior to 1916, when Colorado put Prohibition into place, lasting 17 years until the U.S. constitutional amendment was repealed in 1933.
“I think it was political, like other issues are today,” Hines said. “I believe the more conservative people of that time probably thought it was the right thing to do. I think one of the issues before Prohibition was the liquor lobby, if you want to call it that, was very influential. They had a lot of money, and the people with the money made the decisions.”
One possible reason Prohibition passed in Colorado so early on was that Colorado was just the second state to grant women the right to vote, in 1893.
“What might have happened is, because women had the right to vote, they pushed for Prohibition, I think, because they got tired of having alcoholic husbands, got together, promoted prohibition, and won, hoping it would stop their husbands from drinking,” Hines said. “That’s not to say that was the case for every woman in Glenwood Springs, and that every man who lived here was a drunk, but I think that is part of the reason it passed so early on. I think the women with husbands on the City Council, who would go to the saloons all the time, wanted to make the city more civilized.”
In its rough and tumble days, Glenwood was visited by Carrie Nation, an often-arrested 6-foot tall anti-drinking militant known for smashing up bars with a hatchet.
She came to Glenwood on a Tuesday in 1903 on the train. Hines said Nation planned to head up 7th street, “which was called the ‘Sporting District.’”
“We assume she was going do her thing,” Hines said, “but everything was closed because it was Election Day. While she was waiting for the train, she gave a speech.”
Colorado was ahead of the curve as one of the first states to ban drinking, heeding calls from groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
In 1917, after the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson instituted a temporary wartime prohibition in order to save grain for producing food, according to History.com. Congress soon submitted to the states the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning he manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol. The required three-quarters of states ratified the amendment by Jan. 29, 1919, and Prohibition took effect a year later.
By then, 33 states already observed Prohibition. The social experiment, while it reduced drunkenness, bred organized crime as the moneyed classes were able to circumvent the law, which was repealed in 1933.
Glenwood Springs, known as Defiance until 1885, might not have become the city it is today were it not for Prohibition.
“I think eventually it would have gotten to where it is now, but it would have been a slower process,” Hines said. “I think people would have realized that the visitors we wanted to attract didn’t want to go to saloons, gambling houses and brothels. And I think that happened across the country, too. I think everyone became a little more civilized.”
So while at the time it might have seemed to be one of the worst things to happen for many early residents, Prohibition could be a big driver behind why Glenwood is the way it is today.
“I think Prohibition was good for Glenwood’s economy and overall being,” Hines said. “I’m sure there was a drop, if you will, until we readjusted, but yes, I think it was good for the city so we could get to where we are now, which is still a fun and wonderful place to live, just different to the kind of life people lived before Prohibition.”
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