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Frontier Diary: The telegraph changed life in Glenwood Springs

Willa Kane
Frontier Historical Society
A teamster crosses the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad tracks at the Cooper Avenue Toll Bridge in Glenwood Springs ca. 1888, with the railroad's telegraph line in the background. Though the Denver and Rio Grande brought their own telegraph service to Glenwood Springs in 1887, telegraph service had arrived earlier in Glenwood Springs, in 1886, by the Aspen and Glenwood Telegraph and Telephone Co.
Courtesy Frontier Historical Society |

“It would not be long ere the whole surface of the country would be channeled for those nerves which are to diffuse, with the speed of thought, a knowledge of all that is occurring throughout the land, making, in fact, one neighborhood of the whole country.”

— Samuel F.B. Morse

Samuel F.B. Morse’s telegraph was a simple invention but essential to communication and commerce in every community. Although Glenwood Springs had grown from its tent town origins in 1883, to a thriving community of substantial structures in 1886, it had no telegraph system linking it to the outside world. Fortunately, the vision and drive of Aspen businessmen Henry Gillespie, C.H. Jacobs and W.W. Cooley would bring Morse’s technology to Glenwood Springs.

Clamor for a telegraph line connecting Aspen and Glenwood Springs came in October 1885. With the town’s incorporation and the establishment of its first city government, Glenwood Springs was poised to become an economic power in the Roaring Fork Valley. “A telegraph line connecting Aspen with Glenwood Springs would no doubt prove a paying investment,” wrote the Rocky Mountain Sun newspaper. The Aspen Daily Times concurred. Gillespie, Jacobs and Cooley filed for incorporation of the Aspen and Glenwood Telegraph and Telephone Co. in January 1886 and immediately began plans for construction.

By February 1886 subcontractors started digging the holes for the telegraph poles. In March the pole setting crew began the installation of the 1,100 telegraph poles, roughly 26 poles per mile. They were followed by the crews stringing wires. By April 16, 1886, it was announced the line was complete and operational. While the location of the Aspen office of the Aspen and Glenwood Telegraph and Telephone Co. was located with the Western Union offices on Hopkins and Mill streets, no mention was made of the location of the telegraph office in Glenwood Springs.

While the advancement in communication undoubtedly improved life within Glenwood Springs, the proliferation of telegraph and electric poles standing in the gutters of the town created a new set of problems. The Glenwood Springs City Council, in answer to the unregulated setting of utility poles, approved an ordinance to enforce the orderly and approved erection of telegraph and electric poles, and to declare those already set in the gutters a nuisance.

Telegraph service quickly became part of everyday life, and a disruption in service was a disruption in business activity. In June 1887, Judge Thomas Rucker of the District Court ordered an injunction against the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, which was building the track grade for its railroad from Glenwood Springs to Aspen. Reportedly, the track graders were dismantling the telegraph line of the Aspen and Glenwood Telegraph and Telephone Co. whenever the line was in their grade path. This left both towns without a connected service.

David Moffat, financier and a member of the board of directors for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, purchased the profitable Aspen and Glenwood Telegraph and Telephone Co. in July 1887. Moffat may have sold the line to the global telegraph giant Western Union, since in 1888 the Ute Chief newspaper reported the Glenwood Springs office netted over $300 for the month of November.

The Western Union Telegraph office provided employment opportunities within Glenwood Springs. The pay was not high, but the jobs were reliable and steady. Most working in the Glenwood Springs office of Western Union were young, unmarried women, who earned the highest public esteem for their proficiency and professionalism. Operators Miss W.C. Vaughn, Kate Ewing, Clara Bacon and Pearl Lord, and messenger boys Harold Cross, Karl Rosenberg, and George Bell had an obligation to keep the trust and privacy of those they served since they handled sensitive business, personal, and financial matters within the community.

The telegraph made possible the establishment of newspapers. It connected businesses, transferred money, and made economic expansion possible. The transmissions of the telegraph kept the community informed of local, state, national and world events. It helped fight crime and assisted in the quick apprehension of criminals.

With the telegraph, the future arrived in Glenwood Springs.

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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