Frontier Diary: Wanted in Glenwood — a good mangle operator
Glenwood Springs Historical Society
If I had one wish, it would be for my laundry to do itself.
Cleanliness. It was the one virtue that stood above all others in America’s Victorian Era. The dirt and disease of the industrial cities, as well as the grime of the frontier, clung to clothing and linens. With no uniform access to electricity, no consistent water supply, and space long in demand and short in availability, many relied on the washerwoman with scrub board and tub to do their laundry. However, with the industrial age came the steam laundry. In Glenwood Springs, the best-known laundry was the Troy Laundry.
One of the first written references to the Troy Laundry appeared in Carbondale’s Avalanche newspaper in March 1891. However, the Troy Laundry probably existed a few years before, as Glenwood Springs was growing from a town of tents to permanent structures to health resort. In March 1887, an advertisement placed by Glenwood Springs realty agents Spencer and Hopkins in The Aspen Daily Times newspaper called for “a lively, energetic young man to take a half interest in a steam laundry in Glenwood.” Having a steam laundry signaled the town’s progressiveness to investors and citizens, enticed professionals to establish businesses, and indirectly created social classes.
By 1888, a laundry was located in the 700 Block of Blake Avenue, near the location of today’s St. James Hotel. By 1890, in a brick building located at 724 Cooper Ave., a steam laundry, presumably the Troy Laundry, was located. By 1899 Andrew J. Witteman was the proprietor of the Troy Laundry, and he would eventually purchase three lots and buildings located on the site of today’s Sweet Adventures at 722 Cooper Ave.
Witteman wasted no time in updating equipment for his laundry, purchasing new machinery from the A.L. Hagen Co. of Rochester, New York. For power, he purchased a DeRemer Water Wheel, invented by Glenwood Springs resident Jared R. DeRemer. He then expanded his services, with agents Davis and Williams in New Castle handling laundry drop-off and pick-up services.
A steam laundry such as the Troy Laundry was an industrial plant. Steam engines often powered the equipment. It was an environment that was hot, and there was little ability to regulate temperature and humidity. Industrial accidents, such as burns and hands being caught in equipment, were common.
The men who drove the laundry wagons were responsible for pick up and delivery and provided the best advertising for the laundry. Women and young girls worked nearly every stage of the laundry, which included mangling, starching, ironing, mending, sorting and checking. Men generally operated the washing machines. In 1900, three of the five women working for the Troy Laundry were immigrants.
Being Glenwood Springs’ biggest laundry was not without challenges. A shortage of housing in Glenwood Springs prompted Witteman in 1900 to secure a house on Blake Avenue for employee housing. From 1906 through 1909, Witteman could not find enough qualified help within Glenwood Springs, so he advertised in Leadville for good female ironers at $25 per month and women mangle operators at $20 per month with room and board provided. In 1902 Charles Bunker established the People’s Laundry, a steam laundry, near the Denver and Rio Grande Depot, competing for the Troy Laundry business. For both steam laundries, independent laundresses advertised their hand laundries as the gentle alternative to machines that could destroy linens and clothing.
Andrew J. Witteman died July 7, 1912. His brother-in-law, Frank Langston, took over management of the Troy Laundry, in conjunction with Andrew’s daughters Lelia, who married Sidney Mangnall; and Nellie, who married Jack J. Huntley. In the 1930s, dry cleaning services were added, with Troy Laundry becoming Troy Laundry and Dry Cleaning. A pick-up and delivery van serving Eagle County was added in 1938. Agents in Aspen assisted with pick up and delivery in the 1940s.
Fire engulfed the Troy Laundry building on Cooper Avenue in the early morning hours of Friday, Oct. 2, 1964. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Palmer, the then-owners of the Troy Laundry, were out of town at the time. The building and equipment were a total loss.
The Troy Laundry and Cleaners rose from the fire, and continued to operate from its Glenwood Springs location on 14th Street for nearly another 50 years. The business closed its doors after over 120 years of service to the community.
Today, we do laundry without much thought. But in the early days of Glenwood Springs, it was the efforts of the workers and owners of the Troy Laundry that maintained cleanliness in the frontier town we call home.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Historical 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. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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