Glenwood Springs is a mountain resort community 150 miles west of Denver, at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers on Colorado’s Western Slope. It is the seat of Garfield County and has a population of nearly 10,000. The city is known for its hot springs as well as for outdoor activities such as rafting and hiking. Interstate 70 runs through the city and links to the Roaring Fork Valley via State Highway 82.
Incorporated in 1885, Glenwood Springs was one of many towns founded after the violent removal of the Ute people from western Colorado in the early 1880s. Initial mining claims in the area drew a lot of attention but produced little, and the city’s founders quickly realized the site’s potential as a resort and supply town. As such, Glenwood Springs is one of the few towns on the Western Slope that has always been a tourist destination, as opposed to Aspen, Crested Butte, and others that transitioned from mining to tourism in the twentieth century.
For hundreds of years, the site of present-day Glenwood Springs was a winter destination for the Ute people, who spent the cold season soaking in the hot springs, rejuvenating body and spirit after summer and fall hunts. The Utes who lived in the area call themselves the Parianuche, or “elk people.” By the 1860s, Ute people across Colorado were feeling pressure from whites who had already advanced deep into the Rocky Mountains in search of precious metals.
In exchange for relinquishing the heavily populated mining districts in the central Rockies, the Treaty of 1868 reserved for the Ute people a large section of land on Colorado’s Western Slope, including today’s Garfield County. However, drawn by precious metal deposits in the Flat Top mountains, white prospectors led by John C. Blake illegally occupied the area of present-day Glenwood Springs in the late 1870s. The first white person to build a permanent home there was James Landis, who put up a log cabin in the summer of 1879. Anticipating conflict with the Parianuche, the squatters built a small log fort they named “Defiance.”
Despite that belligerent attitude, conflict did not come at present-day Glenwood but instead occurred to the northwest, at the White River Indian Agency in today’s Rio Blanco County. After the violent Meeker Incident of 1879, the US Army forced the Parianuche and other Ute bands out of western Colorado and onto a new reservation in Utah.
Whites began moving onto the former Ute land near the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers almost immediately. As early as November 1881, just two months after the Parianuche and other Utes were forced march to Utah, the Aspen Weekly Times reported that Landis was “making big preparations to accommodate visitors who will spend the summer months at the springs.”
In the winter of 1882, Blake, along with developer Isaac Cooper and former territorial representative Hiram P. Bennet, were listed as directors of the new Defiance Town and Land Company. Cooper served as president and booster-in-chief, writing a twenty-four-page pamphlet to attract Americans to the new town. “Nowhere on either side of the Western continent is to be found such varied localities for homes, mineral development, or sanitary resort,” boasted the pamphlet. It advertised the medical properties of “about one hundred” hot springs, which tasted of “iron, salt and sulphur” and could cure “rheumatism,” “catarrh” (excessive mucus), and “cutaneous diseases.”
Landis eventually sold his property in the new town of Defiance to Cooper, who had the business connections to make the resort dream a reality. It was Cooper who renamed the town Glenwood Springs in 1883, after the town of Glenwood, Iowa, where some of the town’s earliest residents hailed from.
In the summer of 1883, Aspen’s Rocky Mountain Sun reported that surveyors were “busy locating avenues and streets” of the new town. Its main street was quickly dubbed Cooper Avenue. Along with a “first-class restaurant,” the newspaper noted that the town had a saloon, two grocery stores, and a population of 125. In July Caroline Barlow was appointed the town’s first postmaster. Among the town’s first brick buildings was Henry R. Kamm’s hardware and grocery store, which was built in 1884 and still stands today at 731 Grand Avenue.
Cooper’s boosterism, helped by other firsthand accounts, did the job. By March 1884, every share of stock in the new town had been sold, and Glenwood Springs had become the seat of Garfield County.
Hot Springs Development
Cooper’s promotion of the new town paid even more dividends when he got the attention of wealthy engineer Walter Devereux, who was connected to Aspen developer Jerome B. Wheeler. Devereux was not only the main developer of the hot springs but was also involved in many of the most important institutions of early Glenwood Springs. He founded the city’s First National Bank and built a hydroelectric plant in 1888, for instance.
In 1886 Devereux formed the Glenwood Hot Springs Company and began the first major development of the springs, which sat on an island in the Colorado River. For access and accommodations, the river would need to be diverted to the south, so Devereux’s company built a large rock wall that was completed in 1887 and directed the river into its current channel. Devereux’s timing was excellent, as two railroads arrived in 1887–88: the Denver & Rio Grande was built from Glenwood Canyon to the east, and the Colorado Midland, in which Devereux was invested, came north from Aspen.
By 1890 Glenwood Springs’ population had grown to 920, and Devereux’s resort featured a bath house and large swimming pool. Three years later, it added the centerpiece: the luxurious Hotel Colorado. Designed by the New York architectural firm of Boring, Tilton & Mellon, the hotel was built in the Italian style around a terraced courtyard and featured 200 rooms, each with its own fireplace, and 40 private bathrooms as well as electric lighting and “fine outlooks over valley, mountain and river.” An 1894 pamphlet advertising the hotel also provided an “analysis of the waters,” which it boasted could cure “all chronic diseases and diseases of the blood.”
Glenwood Springs’ reputation as a luxurious mountain resort grew quickly, paving the way for the construction of additional hotels and other amenities during the twentieth century. By 1907, with Glenwood Springs’ population fast approaching 2,000, the Colorado Republican called the city “one of nature’s most charming spots in Colorado’s picturesque wonderland.” In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt used the Hotel Colorado as a summer White House as he ventured across the Rockies on hunting trips; in 1909 President William Howard Taft also stayed at the resort.
Around the time of President Roosevelt’s visit, Glenwood Springs gained its first hospital, the Glenwood Springs Sanitarium, built by Dr. W. F. Berry. The building at Tenth Street and Bennett Avenue hosted several local physicians as well as a nursing school; it was sold in 1936 and converted into an apartment building.
Meanwhile, by 1920 the city added two other famous hotels on the same Seventh Street block—the Hotel Denver, owned by Art Kendrick, and the Star Hotel, owned by Italian immigrant Henry Bosco. In 1938 Henry Bosco’s nephew Mike bought Kendrick’s building and combined the two hotels into a larger Hotel Denver, which the Bosco family operated until 1973. The Bosco family also owned what was known by 1925 as the Western Hotel at 716 Cooper Avenue.
In 1928 Glenwood Springs unveiled a new Garfield County Courthouse on Eighth Street, which replaced the older one built across the street in 1887. The new building, designed by Denver architect Robert K. Fuller, was in the Art Deco style and included a third-story jail from which inmates later escaped by lowering themselves from windows; a new jail addition in 1966 shored up the building’s carceral function.
By the 1930s, with a steady population of around 2,000, Glenwood Springs sought to diversify its transportation offerings by adding an airport. In 1937 the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport opened, its buildings the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The airport is still in use today, though the buildings have been converted for other purposes.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Aspen, located just south of Glenwood Springs in the Roaring Fork Valley, began to develop into a popular ski destination. This boosted the economy in Glenwood Springs, as tourists had to go through the mountain resort town on their way to Aspen.
In 1943 the Hotel Colorado was commissioned as a convalescent hospital for recovering soldiers injured during World War II, and the navy used the resort for physical therapy throughout the war. Later, the resort’s swimming pool was rebuilt in the late 1950s, and the bathhouse was enlarged in 1977.
In the early 1960s, David Delaplane, director of the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce, began campaigning for the creation of a college in town. In 1967, after a five-county special election that approved funds for the college and land donations from local ranchers, his efforts culminated in the opening of two Colorado Mountain College (CMC) campuses: one in Glenwood Springs and the other in Leadville. The Glenwood Springs campus remains the flagship campus for the CMC system, which today includes eleven campuses across the state’s mountain counties.
The real estate boom of the 1980s fueled a spike in the Glenwood Springs population, from 4,637 in 1980 to 6,561 in 1990. The city has grown steadily since then, especially after the completion of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon in 1992. By 2010 Glenwood Springs had more than 9,600 residents.
Glenwood Springs remains one of Colorado’s most popular resort destinations today. The city saw some 2.3 million visitors in 2015–16 alone, and sales tax receipts from 2019 totaled a record $19.1 million. In addition to the Hotel Colorado, which is now owned and operated by the Melville hotelier family, Glenwood Springs offers an array of hot-springs-centered amenities, including the Iron Mountain Hot Springs and the Yampah Spa & Salon. The city is also home to the Doc Holliday Museum, commemorating the life and times of one of the American West’s most storied gunmen, who died in Glenwood Springs in 1887. (His grave is in Linwood Cemetery just above town.)
Glenwood Springs is also known as a hub for outdoor recreation. Rafting trips on the Colorado River are popular, as are hikes to picturesque Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon to the east. Other visitors roam the massive White River National Forest, which encompasses the remote Flat Top mountains to the north, or head to trails in the rugged Elk Mountains to the southwest. Despite the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, Glenwood Springs’ accessible, central location ensures the city a promising future in a state famous for outdoor recreation.