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Glenwood Hot Springs Pool celebrates 125 years

April E. Clark
Post Independent Contributor
Photo courtesy of Glenwood Hot Springs
Staff Photo |

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Chances are most guests at the Glenwood Hot Springs won’t be donning the wool bathing suits that were common when the famous mineral pool opened in 1888.

Unless they’re models in today’s 125th anniversary celebration fashion show.

“If you could only go back in time and see and hear what people were thinking and experiencing,” said Kjell Mitchell, Glenwood Hot Springs CEO and president. “If the walls could talk, or rather if the pool could talk.”

Going back in time has been central to Mitchell and his staff as they have been busily preparing for the pool’s landmark anniversary. The summer of celebration — launching today with a party to top all parties — includes a July 4 event with cake to honor opening day 125 years ago.

“We think it’s important to preserve the historical significance of the pool,” Mitchell said. “It’s worth it.”

In June, the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool also takes part in the city’s popular three-day summer festival, as the Miss Strawberry Days crowning ceremony returns to its original poolside venue. Additionally, the pool will help celebrate the 120th anniversaries of next-door neighbors the Hotel Colorado and the Yampah Spa & Vapor Caves, major Glenwood attractions also celebrating notable milestones this year.

“We have always tried to understand the history behind where this facility comes from, and the role it plays in community stewardship,” Mitchell said. “We certainly hope to educate our visitors on not only the pool, but the history of Glenwood Springs.”

Let the soaking begin

According to the Frontier Historical Society, Capt. Richard Sopris was the first white man to discover the Yampah Hot Springs on July 23, 1860. Before he arrived in the valley, the nomadic Ute Indians long utilized the hot springs and vapor caves for healing. The Ute tribe named the natural spring — the source of the hot, soothing pool that produces 3,500,000 gallons of water per day — Yampah, meaning “big medicine.” In 1879, James Landis settled in Glenwood Springs and became the first owner of the hot springs property.

Silver mining mogul Walter Devereux later arrived on the budding Glenwood scene with visions of building the world’s largest mineral springs natatorium, where it stands 125 years later. He also spearheaded the building of the Glenwood Light & Power Co. hydroelectric plant in 1888, and the pool’s three-story red sandstone bathhouse, the most expensive building erected on the Western Slope, in 1890. His luxury Hotel Colorado next to the pool opened in 1893. The hotel was President Theodore Roosevelt’s home-away-from-home as he hunted wild game in the area around the turn of the century.

Forging relationships

The pool has changed ownership during the years with a historically significant purchase by 22 Glenwood Springs businessmen on May 30, 1956. Mitchell’s father, Jack, a former mayor and owner of Glenwood Creamery, was one of the original 22, as well as former Hotel Denver owner Mike Bosco, whose grandson John Bosco is Glenwood Hot Springs chief financial officer and vice president.

“The pool has long been dedicated to making lasting relationships,” Mitchell said. “That’s part of our core mission, making people feel better and building lifelong relationships.

Mitchell, who served as lodge manager from 1977 to 1989, when he was promoted to general manager, has a lifetime of memories spent at the hot springs pool. Born and raised in Glenwood Springs, Mitchell said his family has been visiting the pool for as long as he can remember.

“We have family photos of my dad in the pool when he was a kid,” he said. “Back when the pool had one-meter and three-meter diving boards, I remember I wanted to go off the high dive very badly. We used to have Easter egg hunts here when I was a kid and I remember searching for eggs on the lawn. As a kid you just felt lucky to have the pool here — there were a lot of social happenings. I’ve spent a lot of time around here.”

Mitchell recalled a story involving early western movie star Tom Mix that his mother, who came to Colorado from Nebraska when she was transferred with Western Union, enjoyed telling. As part of today’s celebration, the pool hosts a “dive-in” movie at dusk starring Mix in the “Great K & A Train Robbery,” Mix’s silent movie filmed on location in Glenwood Canyon in 1926.

“She waited at the Glenwood train station for him and took him to his hotel,” Mitchell said.

Where everyone knows your name

In the last 125 years, the Glenwood Hot Springs has hosted various notable guests, from Olympic wrestler Rulon Gardner, who swam with the torch in the pool in 2002, to one of the most famous healing seekers, wild west gunfighter Doc Holliday. Holliday came to Glenwood seeking natural therapy for his tuberculosis, later dying in the Hotel Glenwood on Nov. 8, 1887, at 36.

“My aunt was one of the people who bottled the water and sold it when she was a kid,” Mitchell said. “I still see people fill up their water bottles and drink it.”

Today, guests can choose to soak and heal in the Glenwood Hot Springs therapy pool, averaging 104 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Or they can opt for the cooler large pool at 93 degrees. Mitchell said the pool has a regular group of locals, ranging in various ages up to 102-year-old Julian Vogt, who come specifically for the water’s healing qualities. He said they are on the steps at 8:30 a.m., waiting for the pool to open at 9.

“You just sit in the water and it makes you feel better,” Vogt said. “We’ve had people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and arthritis who use it for healing. There are chiropractors and orthopedic doctors who have prescribed the pool as therapy.”

For Vogt, a visit to the pool each day has kept the doctors away, or at least it may seem that way. The pool is so much a part of his exercise regimen, NBC filmed a story on him there for a “Today” show segment in 2005.

“When NBC interviewed me, I told them that the only time I breathed was at the pool,” he joked. “And when the doctor asks me if I have shortness of breath, I always say yes.”

Vogt said when he and his late wife, Anne, came to Glenwood in 1971, the pool was not their top priority. That soon changed.

“I took a few … lessons from then-manager, Gary Miller,” he said. “My wife and I began to come almost daily to the pool. Our goals were fitness and recreation.”

When Anne suffered a stroke in 1997, Vogt said she forgot how to swim, and she took lessons from Mary Ellen “Melon” Dash, author of “The Miracle Swimmer.” She brought a small group of people from all over the U.S. to teach them how to eliminate their fear of water.

“I learned much from her lessons for my wife,” he said. “Recently, I have been coming to the pool with one of my best friends, an athlete and expert swimmer.  My swimming improves, just trying to swim one lap while she swims 10. She coaches me, and is teaching me new items, such as the flip turn.  My swimming, breathing, and fitness have all improved with her help.”

Glenwood’s Polly Malehorn, diagnosed with MS 30 years ago, also incorporates the hot springs into her daily routine. A Colorado Mountain College alum who came to the valley in 1978, she shares her story of healing on the pool’s 125th anniversary web page as inspiration to others.

“I found out I had MS in 1983 so I realized I needed to change my workout routine since I was having a hard time doing what I always had,” she said. “Swimming seemed like the perfect alternative. How lucky was I to have the Hot Springs Pool to swim in? I have been swimming there ever since. I truly believe my MS would be a lot worse had it not been for the hot springs.”

After retiring in 2000, Malehorn has joined the group of morning regulars.

“I have met so many nice people there and I hope to go there for the rest of my life,” she said.

As the pool celebrates 125 years of healing and recreation in Glenwood Springs, those sentiments resonate with Mitchell and his staff.

“When you hear about these folks, including my brother-in-law who has MS and comes here, that’s the most inspiring for us,” he said. “When you hear about how the water has helped them, and when you hear about so many generations of people coming here, those stories are special to me. I love that this is a place of comfort and a place people can come with their families.”

Just as it was 125 years ago, even in wool swimsuits.

Basking in memories

As part of 125th celebration, Glenwood Hot Springs launched a new web page at www.hotsprings125.com, where visitors can win prizes by posting photos and reminiscing about their hot springs experiences. Here are a few of the entries:

Mary W. Smallwood

Plano, Texas

My husband attended Glenwood Springs High School two years and graduated in 1955. The last week of school, the principal found out he did not know how to swim. He said “Everyone who graduates from Glenwood High School knows how to swim.” He sent him the entire last week of school for swimming lessons to fit the “Glenwood School’s criteria.” He was a straight-A student so did not have to take finals. 

Kristina Sacco

Littleton

During the 1990s, my best friend and I would go to the pool at night. We had a pool pass and frequently walked to the pool and home again. One evening I was jumping into the pool from the diving board. I entered the water and opened my eyes. I then saw a large explosion and then darkness. I quickly surfaced and heard many people yelling for their friends and family. A transformer on the mountainside had exploded and completely eliminated the light in the pool, dressing rooms and hallways. I found my friend and we made our way to the dressing rooms. The experience is one that I will always remember.

Elena Hahn

New Castle

In December 2011, my husband and I were engaged but we had not set the date of our marriage yet. So the night of Dec. 6, 2011, we were in the Hot Springs Pool and I confirmed that I was ready to get married the next day. So that was cool that we agreed our marriage date on that night in the pool, and we went to get married at the next day at the courthouse in Glenwood. That is our story, we love the pool, it is so special for us and we have a pool pass there.

Cindy Svatos

Glenwood Springs

I was sitting in the hot pool, reading. A man came up and asked something about the book. He continued to talk, asking weird questions and talking about how he was in love with a mystery woman. Too weird for me. He continued on being a pest until I finally realized I was the mystery woman he was in love with. We have been married 28 years now. He is still a pest.

Jere Rood

Aspen

One of the major events of graduating from Leadville High School was the annual trip for the seniors, all the way to Glenwood for a day at the pool. Of course we thought that the class of 1955 was as hot as the hot springs.

Laura Gregg

San Dimas, Calif.

If the Glenwood Hot Springs did not exist, neither would my father nor I. Three generations of my family are forever grateful because of the healing properties of the hot springs. A very famous trip by President Teddy Roosevelt and his decision to make the Hot Springs the Naval healing and rehabilitation center for military during WW II is how my family came to hold the hot springs near and dear. My father, John C. Doll, was born on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1944, in the Glenwood Springs Hotel set up as a temporary hospital. John was born premature and would have never survived had the military hospital not been there. The nurses placed him in a shoe box and fed him goat’s milk until he was big and strong enough to return home with his mom, Margaret Doll, to Gypsum. Our family now lives in California, but whenever we make it back to the area we always stop in and stay at the hot springs.


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