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Glenwood Springs’ involvement with civil defense

Photo Courtesy Frontier Historical Society
Staff Photo |

“Be prepared.”

— Lord Baden Powell, founder of the Scout movement



The insignia was simple: a blue circle, a white triangle, and the red letters C D. For many growing up in the mid-20th century, the symbol for Civil Defense represented safety, authority, organization, and that threats to our security could come without warning at any time. National Civil Defense was created to help minimize the loss from those threats.

The United States Congress created the Council of Civil Defense in August 1916. The council’s mission was the coordination of the nation’s industries and resources in the effort to ensure the security and welfare of the country. While the United States was relatively safe from foreign attack, it was not impossible. The previous March, Pancho Villa of Mexico attacked the border town of Columbus, N.M., leaving civilians dead. With that attack and war raging in Europe, civil defense became a priority.



Less than a year later, the United States entered World War I. Every citizen received a directive to practice vigilance in the defense of their homeland. Glenwood Springs residents rose to that directive. Local surveillance of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad line through Glenwood Canyon forced the apprehension of two potential German saboteurs, protecting a vital rail transportation route for troops. Additionally, as young men left for the front lines, some of the local men who were ineligible to serve, including five men from the Hubbard family, joined Company L, Third Regiment of the U.S. Federal Guard, one of only two nationwide companies directed to protect the civilian population.

With the end of World War I in November 1918, civil defense was mostly abandoned. However, the country was deeply in debt after the war, and on April 22, 1919, a tank promoting the purchase of Victory Liberty Loans came to Glenwood Springs. Little Zeb’s tour of town reminded everyone of the need for security, and also that the financial stability of the country provided civil defense.

Adolph Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 reactivated civil defense in the United States, with all efforts intensified when the United States entered into World War II in December 1941. In early 1942, the Glenwood Post newspaper featured articles encouraging farmers to increase crop production as a means of national defense. Glenwood Springs Mayor Tom Dever organized a scrap metal drive to “gather materials for defense work”, the local Boy Scouts collected bundles of papers during a paper drive, and J.V. Rose’s Chevrolet garage offered free gasoline to the person donating the largest amount of tires during his rubber drive. Perhaps, though, the biggest impact on Glenwood Springs was the proposal of creating a four lane, high speed military route through Glenwood Canyon “to provide for rapid and economic movement of armed forces and equipment.”

The atomic bombs used by the United States to end World War II in August 1945 and the USSR’s successful development of its nuclear program in 1949 cast a deep shadow of fear across the United States for decades. On June 28, 1961, Glenwood Springs held a four-hour civil defense emergency hospital exercise at today’s Axtell Park at Eleventh Street and Grand Avenue. More than 125 people participated in the event, with Boy Scouts as “victims,” and responders including employees of Valley View Hospital, service organizations, civil defense registered nurses, law enforcement officers, and army reserves. Glenwood Springs was chosen for the demonstration by the Colorado Civil Defense Headquarters because of its storage of equipment for a 200-bed emergency hospital. A second large-scale exercise was held on Oct. 25, 1963.

The civil defense insignia was retired in 2006, replaced by a modernized EM, gold and blue, with three stars representing local, state and federal disaster preparedness. The 21st century has proven that threats to personal and national security come internally and externally, by man and nature, by science and technology. We must be prepared.

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. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.


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