Descendants of Devereux see his legacy
Sitting in the courtyard of the Hotel Colorado, Harris H. Bucklin looked up at the iconic Glenwood Springs landmark his great-grandfather had created.
“He pulled up stakes in 1912, but it’s like he’s still here,” he said. “This truly is his legacy.”
“This” was more than just the hotel. Bucklin, his wife, Barbara, and his son Harris J., had just spent the day visiting the town Walter Devereux put on the map.
The Bucklins hail from Williamsburg, Virginia, and had never seen the fruits of that labor first hand. They had contemplated a visit to Glenwood on several occasions, but despite coming as close as State Bridge on one occasion, it never worked out. When Harris J. — who bears a striking resemblance to his great-great-grandfather — decided to move to Durango to be part of the mountain biking scene, it gave them the impetus they needed, and he came up to meet them.
They already knew a great deal. From Harris’s mother and his uncle Alvin, the Bucklins had many stories of the illustrious ancestor. As interested as the rest, Barbara has poured over old documents to get a glimpse of the past.
“All we know about Glenwood comes from 20 years of perspective 120 years ago,” she said. “What happened in that time is remarkable.”
Walter Bourchier Devereux’s story starts in 1853 in Deposit, New York. After trying and failing to get into Princeton at a young age, he was successfully enrolled in 1872 when the school launched a geological expedition to Colorado near what would become known as the Collegiate Peaks.
He would later reflect that learning to tie a diamond hitch was more difficult than anything he studied in school.
After graduating, he spent a year on an expedition to Tasmania to observe a transit of Venus. He later studied mining engineering at Columbia University and held a wide array of mining and metallurgical positions in Michigan, North Carolina, South Dakota, Arizona and Mexico.
“It was a free country, and you went for it and made your mark,” Harris said.
He married Mary Porter Gregory in 1880. While he was managing Dakoma Copper Company in Globe, Arizona, she painted striking portraits of indigenous locals.
The pair moved to Aspen in 1883 to take charge of Jerome Wheeler’s smelting operation. In that capacity, Devereux patented several devices to improve the process and introduced electricity into the mines. He was also closely involved with the coal mine and rail improvements to support the endeavor.
According to one story collected by the Bucklins, Devereux may have been one of the first people to try skiing in the Aspen area. One winter, when train delays threatened to make him late for Christmas, he reportedly took inspiration from the emerging European sport and strapped a pair of barrel staves to his feet. He made it, but in such poor shape that he spend the holiday in bed.
After two years in Aspen, he moved downvalley to a piece of property on the river near Glenwood adjacent to the present day Devereux Road. His primary interest was in the development of the hot springs, but he also set to work bringing hydroelectric power to the town at a time when the technology was still in its infancy and served as vice president of the First National Bank of Glenwood Springs under rail magnate J.J. Hagerman.
“He wanted it to be a resort; to bring people out here,” Barbara explained.
After the completion of the natatorium and bathhouse in 1890, Devereux turned his focus toward making the area more attractive to visitors. In an effort to give the local cowboys a civilized pursuit, he developed a polo and horse racing area near the current high school. He and his sons became masters of the sport, and the area began selling polo ponies to the East Coast.
“He had a mind for so many different things,” Harris said.
In 1891, construction began on what many regard as Devereux’s crowning achievement: the Hotel Colorado. Modeled on Villa Medici in Rome and completed in two years, it went on to host everyone from Theodore Roosevelt to Al Capone. Devereux made frequent trips back to New York and even embarked an expedition in Alaska with such luminaries as John Muir. Mary proved herself a top-notch hostess, organizing events and picnics for the community.
“They were true partners in the development of Glenwood Springs,” Harris observed.
In 1905, Walter suffered a stroke which left him walking with a cane and unable to use his left hand. He began pulling out of his business ventures and only one visit to Glenwood is recorded after Mary’s death in 1911. His brothers, one of whom was a rough rider, stuck it out a bit longer.
Walter’s only daughter, Hester, died young, while Alvin had no children, leaving Walter Jr. and William’s lineages to survive to the present. William lost his wealth in a failed brokerage firm in San Francisco and turned to Walter for support.
William’s daughter, Mary — Harris’ mother — recalled one Thanksgiving at her grandfather’s house in San Mateo when her parents were away hunting. A servant accidentally shot the maid in the leg, but once the wounded was treated, Walter insisted that the police wait outside while they all ate dinner. They agreed. Despite his age and physical limitations, Walter remained a force to be reckoned with until his death in 1937.
“I’d love to have a conversation with all of them,” Harris said. “We get these glimpses, but you don’t get the entire character.”
MORE LAYERS TO STORY
Indeed, the Bucklins soon found that the people of Glenwood had things to share that they’d never heard before. Their tour took them to the Hotel Colorado, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association — which occupies part of the former First National Bank building — the Frontier Historical Society, the Rail Museum, the Glenwood Center for the Arts — currently in the process of moving back into the former hydroelectric plant — and the Hot Springs Pool.
They encountered numerous plaques bearing Devereux’s name and a ubiquitous photo in a fur coat and hat.
“Wherever we went, everyone knew of him and what he had done. They all had another layer to add to the story,” Harris said.
They discovered that Devereux had been instrumental in re-establishing the local elk herd, which is now the largest in North America. They were told that the construction of the pool had involved rerouting the Colorado River since the spring had initially poured right into its icy water.
They learned that, in addition to using locally quarried stone, he had created a brick factory to supply the Hotel Colorado, then sold the bricks for many other buildings in town. The hotel, they found, had most of its original furnishings removed during World War II, when it served as a naval hospital. It later housed classes when the school was condemned and was stripped down into a motor lodge in the 1960s.
Despite all the changes, the visit doesn’t seem to have suffered from the passage of time.
“I really appreciate that Walter’s memory is so honored,” Barbara said. “He made a home for people to work and live and enjoy.”