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Original Grand Avenue Bridge was five years from conception to completion

Frontier DiaryWilla KaneFrontier Historical Society
Photo courtesy Frontier Historical SocietyThe Grand Avenue Bridge, built to replace the insufficient Cooper Avenue Bridge, was under construction in this photo from April 1890. State and city officials did not require the recently completed Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to lower its grade along the south bank of the Colorado River. As a result, the bridge had to be built high enough to clear the tracks, extending its reach well into the 700 block of Grand Avenue.
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“While not so large as the Brooklyn Bridge by several feet, the Glenwood structure is still a big affair, and will cause many a granger to forget that his mouth is standing wide open as he surveys its wondrous plan.” – The Avalanche, April 15, 1891Garfield County was growing. Agriculture, coal and the prosperity generated from Aspen’s silver industry promised a bright economic future for the county, the county seat of Glenwood Springs, and the entire northwestern portion of Colorado. While Glenwood Springs grew into a substantial town, her gateway, the Cooper Avenue Toll Bridge, would be unable to withstand the traffic generated by growth.In February 1886, the Garfield County commissioners called for bids to construct a bridge across the Grand River at Glenwood Springs. Their call worked its way through the halls of the Colorado Legislature. One year later, Senate Bill No. 56 was passed, authorizing state funding of a bridge at Glenwood Springs. Rejoicing, however, was short lived. Citing state budget issues and a lack of need, Colorado’s Gov. Adams vetoed the bill in March 1887. Glenwood Springs residents were incensed. They had raised $20,000 in support of the project. Speculation swirled that the governor’s decision had been influenced by officials from the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, who were locked in a track-building race with the Colorado Midland Railway for economic control of Glenwood Springs and the region.The state bridge project stalled but did not fade. The tracks of both railroads arrived in Glenwood Springs in the fall of 1887, with the Denver and Rio Grande arriving first. The Denver and Rio Grande then commenced building a rail bridge over the Grand River to continue its line westward. The D&RG bridge was completed in the spring of 1889. In the meantime, William Gelder, one of Glenwood Springs’ initial investors, was elected in 1888 to the Colorado Senate. Gelder wasted no time in introducing another bill to construct a bridge over the Grand River. His bill passed the Senate in April 1889 and was signed by Gov. Job Adams Cooper.Wrangling began over the site of the bridge. In September 1889, Gov. Cooper, Engineer Maxwell, Attorney General Samuel Jones, and Hot Springs Pool developer Walter Devereux settled upon Grand Avenue, noting that proper approaches could be attained at the site. For Walter Devereux, this moved traffic away from the pool grounds and created a gateway to his proposed Hotel Colorado. Unhappiness, however, continued. Because no requirement had been made of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to lower its grade, a bridge 55 feet tall with 70 foot approaches was required. Concern over the impact to property on lower Grand Avenue and Riverfront Street reigned, but the project moved forward. The Bullen Bridge Co. was awarded the construction contract in 1890. Steel shortages and high water delayed the bridge’s completion until January 1891. In April 1891, the bridge was formally dedicated, and Grand Avenue became the main thoroughfare in Glenwood Springs.The original Grand Avenue Bridge remained until it was replaced by the current structure in 1953. 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. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.


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