Paving of canyon road a cause for celebration in Glenwood
Frontier Historical Society
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Now that the canon road is about to be opened, Glenwood may really boast of the magnificent road, which will prove its value through all seasons.
– Glenwood Post, June 2, 1938
Glenwood Springs was in a celebratory mood on June 1, 1938. During the previous 18 months, construction of a modern road through Glenwood Canyon had significantly altered the ability of Glenwood Springs residents and visitors to travel to and from the town. The wait was over, and it was time to reap the benefits of the new highway.
Since the founding of Glenwood Springs in the early 1880s, passage through Glenwood Canyon provided the greatest challenge in building the economic stability of the town. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad conquered the canyon in 1887, bringing the first trains to Glenwood Springs in October of that year. A crude wagon road was systematically carved on the north side of the river, but by and large, travelers to and from Glenwood Springs traveled by train.
Colorado State Sen. Edward T. Taylor lived in Glenwood Springs and believed that the road through Glenwood Canyon would be part of a boulevard connecting the nation. In 1899 he won an appropriation of $60,000 in state funds for the construction of a road from Denver to Grand Junction. Nearly one-half of the appropriation was spent on the Glenwood Canyon section. The road was again improved in the 1910s to accommodate automobile traffic, with Garfield County funding the project and supplying manpower with convict labor.
With the Great Depression of the 1930s, creating jobs and a viable economy motivated every politician. Congressman Edward T. Taylor cared deeply about Colorado and Glenwood Springs, and again won the appropriation of $1.5 million for the improvement of the road through Glenwood Canyon. There would, however, be sacrifices.
A great outcry came with the announcement that the canyon road would be closed for the duration of the project and all traffic diverted over Cottonwood Pass. A meeting of the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce relayed the sentiment of communities across the Western Slope that the Glenwood Canyon road must remain open during the project’s duration. The State Highway Department remained firm on the closure.
Glenwood Canyon closed to through traffic in early December 1936. Over the next 18 months, travelers traversed the sharp curves of Cottonwood Pass at a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour while crews of two companies – Hinman Construction and Switzer Construction – widened the road, smoothed out curves, paved the road, and installed guardrails while at the same time maintaining the canyon’s scenic beauty.
The Glenwood Canyon highway officially opened Aug. 1, 1938, marked with a buffalo barbecue held on the grounds of the Hotel Colorado. Residents of towns east of the canyon were especially invited to come to the ceremony and to again find easy shopping in Glenwood Springs. An array of dignitaries spoke before 2,000 people. With a snip of scissors cutting a satin ribbon stretching across the highway, transcontinental Highway 6 and 24 officially opened. Ironically, Edward T. Taylor, the driving force for smooth travel through Glenwood Canyon, was not present at the dedication.
The Glenwood Canyon highway put into motion the building of the McClure Pass highway and the highway connecting Wolcott and Kremmling, linking further the economies of Colorado’s Western Slope. It also laid the foundation for the engineering marvel of Interstate 70, dedicated Oct. 14, 1992, as it currently traverses through Glenwood Canyon.
Edward T. Taylor’s vision of a boulevard connecting the nation is now complete.
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 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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