It’s About Time column: Searching for info on Hotel Colorado brig
January 8, 2019
In the basement of the Hotel Colorado is a room where eight prisoner cells, each measuring only five by seven feet, once held sailors. All evidence of the half-inch steel pipe bars is gone, cut flush with the north and south walls. They were removed sometime after the Naval Convalescent Hospital was decommissioned in 1946.
Navy jails are called brigs. Wherever sailors are stationed, a brig is required, even if it's a thousand miles to any ocean.
But try finding any mention of a brig among the archives of the Frontier Museum and you're out of luck. There is only one related folder, with a few documents about the old naval hospital. The folder includes 39 issues of the hospital newspaper called The Yampa. But having looked through each paper, I found no mention of the brig.
The Hotel Colorado has changed both names, and owners, during its 125-year history. Today it is owned by the Melville family, who have partnered with the Glenwood Springs Historical Society to bring "the brig" back to life, in the form of a new satellite museum.
The plan is to reconstruct at least one prison cell to give visitors a feel for what it was like during the few short years that the brig existed.
Though it will take time to put together a plan for what will be displayed in our new museum, it's exciting to be working with the Melville Family to display an interesting part of Glenwood's past. So now, we're chasing this ghost of history. It may be a dead end. That's the fun of trying to solve such mysteries of history. Where's the evidence?
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As I sort through the museum folder, I find reference to a set of photos given to the museum in 2011 by a relative of one of the sailors who was convalescing at the hospital.
I trace the photo number to a box in the archives, pull it from the shelves and open the acid free envelope. Inside is a black-and-white photo of a woman standing next to the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool in a bathing suit fashionable for the 1940s.
The smile on her youthful face reflects the love she has for the toddler standing next to her, and I realize that if that child is still alive today, she would be close to my age.
Opening another envelope, I find a photograph of a young sailor who is this woman's husband, fishing in the Colorado River. I can't help but wonder if he spent any time in the brig.
The United States Naval Convalescent Hospital's name was changed to United States Naval Special Hospital in the summer of 1945. One year later it closed and all the naval personnel, both staff and patients, left Glenwood Springs.
Where are all the stories of their time in our town? Who was thrown into the brig and why?
Patients were sent to Glenwood Springs from war-torn areas across the world. The naval hospital was located here to provide a peaceful place for sailors to rest and relax from the horrors of war, among our beautiful scenery.
Facilities weren't limited to the Hotel Colorado that was leased to the Navy. The Hot Springs Pool and Yampa Vapor Caves were also part of the deal, since at that time all three were owned by the same individual. There was even a half-moon-shaped Quonset hut erected at the pool for the sailors' therapy.
Hopefully there are remnants and pieces of stories of the lives that were touched by these sailors. Perhaps friendships were forged, and photos taken, that survive in dust-covered cigar boxes hidden away and forgotten by the children of those who lived here in the '40s.
That's what we're looking for. If you have any knowledge of photos or archival materials from this period in history, please give us a call at 945-4448, an email at email@example.com, or drop by the museum.
Bill Kight is the executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and writes a monthly column about history. He can be reached at 970-945-4448.
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