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Laundry trains brought valley residents to Glenwood Springs

Frontier DiaryWilla (Soncarty) KaneGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Photo Courtesy Frontier Historical SocietySwimmers patronize the hot springs pool in this ca. 1890s photograph. To encourage residents throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and the region to come to Glenwood Springs, Mason Mather of the Colorado Land and Improvement Co. struck a deal with the Colorado Midland Railway and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad for weekend reduced fares to bring day tourists to town. These special trains were called Laundry Trains.
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” I am informed by residents of Carbondale that if they could have a low round trip rate on the Aspen ‘laundry’ train on Saturday nights, many would patronize it.” – Letter from Mason Mather to S.K. Hooper of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, Aug. 10, 1889 As general manager of the Colorado Land and Improvement Co., Mason Mather wore several hats. Mather, an engineer, was charged with the successful construction of the company’s many projects. No detail associated with the building of the stone bathhouse, hydroelectric plant or vapor caves was too small for Mather’s full attention. However, with the building of tourist amenities, Mather also focused on the promotion of those attractions.On July 4, 1888, a lavish ceremony officially opened Glenwood’s hot springs pool to the public. While the pool was advertised nationally to the wealthy as a health spa and tourist destination, the officers of the Colorado Land and Improvement Co. realized their economic stability relied also upon on patronage from residents within the Roaring Fork Valley and across the region. Incentives needed to be devised to bring these local visitors to Glenwood Springs and ultimately to the pool.Mather struck deals with the Colorado Midland Railway and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad for reduced fares on special weekend trains. Mather loosely dubbed these trains “laundry trains.” The laundry train moniker evoked visions of people bringing their clothes to the town’s many laundries for washing and pressing. And while some visitors probably did bring their linens for cleaning, the laundry train presented an opportunity for visitors and hardworking individuals to reconnect with family and friends. Many found a trip to Glenwood Springs as a way to scrub away the emotional burdens acquired throughout the workweek. A test of the laundry train concept came in September 1888. Every Saturday night a Colorado Midland train left Aspen at 6 p.m. for Glenwood Springs. The fare was $2 per person, including a ticket to the pool. The train then left Glenwood Springs for Aspen at 11 p.m. Although successful, patrons asked for a longer stay, requesting the train return to Aspen on Sunday morning. The Colorado Midland adjusted its schedule to fill the requests.Seasonal in nature, the laundry trains began operations in March or April, and ended their runs in November each year. Weather generally affected patronage. Glenwood Springs residents worked to present a good image to the laundry trains’ passengers. In April 1890, Glenwood Springs citizens paid $140 for a band from Leadville, which arrived on a laundry train. The band provided music for those patrons, as well as for those arriving and leaving via Aspen’s laundry train. Mather penned a request to both railroads, asking for free future passage for the band, thereby assisting Glenwood Springs with entertainment costs.The laundry trains promoted Glenwood Springs and the waters of the hot springs pool to the region, making a day trip affordable to the working class. The trains continued this promotion well into the 20th century. Willa (Soncarty) Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary” 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. “Frontier Diary” appears the first Tuesday of every month.


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