Entrepreneur builds a spa for the average working man
Frontier Historical Society
Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.
— Warren Buffett
On a February day in 1896, Robert “Bob” Ware finalized the purchase of what would become his next business venture. It was about 15 acres of land containing hot water, bordered by the Colorado River and dissected by the tracks of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Ware envisioned a mineral spa that catered to the medicinal needs of workers and to the average man, a competitor of sorts to the vast Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, which was a mile to the east. This was perhaps his largest financial undertaking — pure speculation mixed with geologic certainties. However, for the price of $1,600, the risk was worth the taking.
For Ware, the thrill of the gamble fueled his ambitions. Born sometime between 1849 and 1854 in either Tennessee or Georgia, Ware sought the fortunes of the western frontier. By 1880, as a miner, he chased veins of silver at Ruby-Irwin in Gunnison County near Crested Butte. Four years later he had homesteaded 160 acres southeast of Olathe in Montrose County. A year after that he married Fannie Hightower, a girl nearly half his age, and then took up farming in Delta County. The lure of the next great financial frontier, however, always beckoned to him.
In the late 1880s, Ware and his family moved to New Castle. Bob operated a grocery store and meat market, bought and sold real estate, and loaned money. His love of politics and natural ability to campaign won him two terms as Garfield County Sheriff.
The Avalanche Echo newspaper of Sept. 17, 1896, reported Ware’s progress in developing his new spa. “It has been a well-known fact that hot water existed there, similar to waters in the springs of the city, and it comes out all over a large portion of the ground,” reported the newspaper. Over the summer Ware had developed one spring into a circular form eight feet in diameter. He dug a 65-foot tunnel to create a vapor cave, but no water was struck. He focused entirely on spring development, opting for individual baths and discarding the idea of building a swimming pool. On the grounds he erected a three-story red brick and sandstone personal residence, heated with steam, complete with hot and cold running water in the bathroom, and electric lighting. The grounds were meticulously landscaped. By March 1897, the furniture for Ware’s house was ordered, and the family was set to move in.
At the end of the 19th century, the use of mineral waters often was seen as the only treatment for many physical ailments. “There is no other investment that will yield such big returns in health, wealth and happiness” as soaking in the baths at Ware’s “bathing pavilion.” Ware marketed his baths to the working class and those of lesser economic means, advertising “a bunch of 15 bath tickets costs only one simolean,” which was 15 baths for a dollar. Patrons, however, had to supply their own towels. For an extra 15 cents, Ware’s wagon provided round trip delivery to and from Glenwood Springs to his spa. By 1900, so popular were his baths, that he constructed a large addition to the bath house.
While his business was gaining popularity, Bob Ware’s personal life disintegrated. The Alaskan gold rush of the 1890s lured him northward. Undoubtedly, his absence and the strain of a new business were too much for Fannie. The couple divorced in 1899, with Fannie moving into Glenwood Springs to begin the operation of a boarding house. By 1909, both of his children, daughter Coloma and son Willie, had passed away.
Ware sought a new adventure. In 1908 he sold his spa to George Washington Allen for $17,000, who renamed the enterprise Wash Allen’s Bath House. In the following decades, the spa would be owned by Louis Nicholson, Humbert Gamba and Dr. Charles Graves. In 1995, the entire site was razed for new development.
As for Ware, the call of Alaska was too strong. He moved to Skagway and complained in a letter to the Avalanche Echo in 1909 of the high cost of living, incessant snow, howling winds and subzero temperatures. A year later, Ware, now in the hotel business, lost $300 on a political bet in the elections in Cordova, Alaska.
The final fate of Ware is unknown. However, this man who loved a good risk tempered by a measure of certainty provided for a time a spa dedicated to the health of the average working man.
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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