Runoff of 1884 destroyed all county bridges
Registrar, Frontier Historical Society and Museum
The winter of 1883-84 had been harsh. Cold temperatures and immense snowfalls tried the endurance of settlers in the Roaring Fork Valley. Spring of 1884 was welcomed. However, the warming temperatures brought a reminder of the winter ” immense runoff.
That spring the Grand (Colorado) River and the Roaring Fork River swelled into rushing and dangerous torrents. For Glenwood Springs residents trying to travel across these rivers, a new challenge became evident.
In 1883, Isaac Cooper had constructed a toll bridge across the Grand River at the foot of Cooper Avenue. Around the same time, another wagon bridge was built at about the confluence of the Grand and Roaring Fork Rivers. This bridge connected the James Landis property west of Glenwood Springs (located near today’s Cowdin Drive) to the town. Both bridges threatened to collapse due to the angry runoff.
Landis had been the town’s first settler. In his early 30s and about 5 feet 10 inches tall, he was described as a man of “enormous proportions (possessing) a pair of broad brawny shoulders.” Deep chested and strong, his square jaw portrayed a man embracing the pioneer spirit. His demeanor led one to believe he was a person one could rely upon.
One day that spring, Landis and another man, Angus Campbell, tried to secure the bridge crossing the Roaring Fork River to the Landis property. As they worked, the bridge collapsed. Both were thrown into the angry Roaring Fork River.
Campbell could not swim, and as the men went in, Landis’ left hand grabbed the back of Campbell’s neck. With an unwavering steady grip, Landis swam against the current, bringing them both to shore safely.
The runoff of 1884 claimed all of the bridges in Garfield County. The wagon bridge connecting Landis’ property was eventually replaced with a suspension bridge.
“Frontier Diary” is provided to the Post Independent by the Frontier Historical Society and Museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
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