Built in 1888, the Glenwood Springs Hydroelectric Plant building is one of the earliest hydroelectric plants still standing in Colorado. The plant made Glenwood Springs one of the first cities in the United States to be lit by hydroelectric power, and the plant continued to supply some of the city’s electricity for more than sixty years. After seeing a variety of uses in the late twentieth century, the building was renovated and restored around 2000 and now serves as the home of the Glenwood Center for the Arts.
Lighting Glenwood Springs
The Glenwood Springs Hydroelectric Plant building on the north side of the Colorado River was actually the city’s second power plant. The first—a coal-fired, steam-driven plant located just to the west—was built in 1886 by the former Aspen mining engineer Walter B. Devereux, who was starting to develop the Glenwood hot springs into a resort and pool. The following year, the city of Glenwood Springs, which had just incorporated in 1885, signed a twenty-year franchise with Devereux’s Glenwood Light and Water Company to provide electricity for the whole city. With this development, Glenwood Springs became one of the first cities in Colorado to make electricity available to all its residents.
In 1888 Devereux and the Glenwood Light and Water Company replaced their two-year-old steam-driven plant with a new hydroelectric plant powered by water-driven dynamos. Designed by architect Theodore von Rosenberg, who was also responsible for the hot springs pool and bathhouse around the same time, the hydroelectric plant was meant to blend in with the nearby resort buildings. Though it was built of brick instead of the stone used for the resort, the plant resembles a late nineteenth-century house or railroad depot rather than an industrial building.
While the plant was under construction, new wires strung throughout the city helped connect more houses and businesses to the expanding electric grid. The new hydroelectric plant began operations in November 1888. It supplied electricity to the whole city, making Glenwood Springs one of the first US cities to use hydroelectric power to light its streets and houses.
When it first opened, the hydroelectric plant used four water-powered dynamos. It soon added a fifth. By the middle of the 1890s, those dynamos were powering 30 arc lamps on the city’s streets and about 1,750 incandescent bulbs in its houses and businesses. The continually growing demand for electricity caused the plant to expand its capacity, regularly adding or upgrading its dynamos and generators during its first twenty-five years in operation. By 1912 the plant used one 200-kilowatt generator, one 22-kilowatt generator, and one dynamo to supply the city’s power.
Water for the hydroelectric plant came from No Name Creek. As demand for electricity grew, the creek proved insufficient. Its low levels meant the plant could not always generate enough electricity from its water-powered dynamos and sometimes had to fall back on steam power, especially in fall and winter. A new tunnel to Grizzly Creek was built in 1904 to ensure that the plant had access to a strong supply of water throughout the year.
In 1906, Glenwood Light and Water’s initial twenty-year franchise to supply the city’s power was near its end. Instead of renewing the franchise, the city offered to buy the company for $60,000 and turn it into a municipal utility. The company refused the city’s offer. The result was nearly a decade of expensive litigation that changed nothing. Glenwood Light and Water continued to supply the city’s power using its hydroelectric plant along the Colorado River.
What did change over these years was the company’s ownership. Walter Devereux had moved to New York in the 1890s, leaving management of Glenwood Light and Power to his local partners, F.H.A. Lyle and Clifford C. Parks. By the early 1910s, the company was being managed by Elmer E. Lucas. In 1914 Lucas, along with Charles McCarthy and Charles E. Hughes, bought Glenwood Light and Power and the hot springs resort, making himself both owner and manager. Business at the resort was not booming in these years, and steady income from Glenwood Light and Power helped keep Lucas in the black.
The hydroelectric plant continued struggling to meet the city’s growing electricity needs. The aging infrastructure for transporting water to the plant led to low pressure by the time the water reached the dynamos. By the 1920s the problem was particularly acute during the summer months, when a greater amount of water was diverted for agriculture and other uses. A new tunnel connecting the plant to No Name Creek in 1924 helped some, but not enough. The city and Glenwood Light and Water had to make up for the deficit during shortfalls by buying extra electricity from the Colorado Power Company’s much larger Shoshone Plant. That plant, located several miles east in Glenwood Canyon, was completed in 1909 and acquired by the Public Service Company in 1924.
Glenwood Light and Water owner Elmer Lucas died in 1927. His widow, Katherine, maintained control of the company—and the hydroelectric plant—until her death in 1945.
After the Power Plant
Katherine Lucas placed a provision in her will allowing for the city to buy the hydroelectric plant, which it did for $225,000 in 1947. Glenwood Springs operated the plant as a municipal utility, but it remained unable to meet the city’s power needs. In 1961 the city decommissioned the hydroelectric plant and arranged to buy its power from the Shoshone Plant in Glenwood Canyon.
The hydroelectric plant’s interior was altered significantly after it was decommissioned and the generators were removed. The building served the city as a shop facility and an ambulance garage. The plant’s 200-kilowatt generator was housed for a time at the Electric Museum at Rocky Reach Powerhouse in Wenatchee, Washington, and is now at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry in Colorado Springs. The smaller 22.5-kilowatt generator is on display in Glenwood Springs at the Frontier Historical Museum.
In 1989, when the old hydroelectric plant was vacant and scheduled to be demolished, the Glenwood Arts Council began to lease it for ten dollars per year. The Glenwood Center for the Arts opened in the building and began an extensive long-term renovation effort. Using grants from the City of Glenwood Springs, the Colorado Historical Society, and the Gates and Boettcher Foundations, as well as its own fundraising, the arts center completed the renovations and held a grand reopening ceremony in 2006. The arts center has converted the building’s large central open space into a gallery and uses other rooms for art classes, studios, and offices.