Originally established as a Du Pont company town in 1906–8, Louviers Village south of Denver is distinctive in Colorado because it was never associated with either agriculture or mining. Planned by Du Pont as a model community to attract long-term employees for the company’s nearby the Louviers Works dynamite plant, the town served as worker housing for decades until the company sold the town and closed the plant in the late twentieth century. One of the best-preserved company towns in Colorado, Louviers still retains its company town look and feel because most of the structures were built in the same period and given uniform modifications over the years.
E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, better known simply as Du Pont, built a dynamite plant and company town at Louviers starting in 1906. Du Pont had been making dynamite since the late nineteenth century, and by the early 1900s it was the largest explosives manufacturer in the world. It made explosives for military munitions as well as explosives for mining and road building. The company built the Louviers plant largely to supply dynamite for mines and roads in Colorado and throughout the West.
To build Louviers, Du Pont acquired land from Jones Ranch in April 1906. Originally called Toluca after a nearby telephone/telegraph station on the railroad line, the site was attractive because it had easy railroad access, was close to Colorado’s mines, and was not far from Denver’s large pool of labor. In 1907 Du Pont renamed the town Louviers after the town in Delaware where Du Pont had established a wool-cloth factory in the early 1800s, which was in turn named after Louviers, France, a town at the center of the French wool industry. (The Du Pont family was originally from France.)
Construction at Louviers began in 1906 and focused initially on the dynamite plant, which started production in May 1908. The Louviers Works quickly became one of Du Pont’s most important dynamite facilities in the West. In its first year, the plant produced an average of 585,000 pounds of dynamite per month. At its height in the 1950s, it churned out more than two million pounds per month. It usually operated around the clock, three shifts per day, though it closed on weekends.
Louviers Works supplied some dynamite to the military during the world wars, but most of its production was for commercial use. Dynamite from Louviers was used in Colorado’s Climax and Henderson mines, the Glen Canyon Dam, the Pikes Peak Highway, and the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel.
When construction on the dynamite plant began in 1906, workers initially lived in tents and shacks on nearby hills. Soon Du Pont started to build Louviers Village northwest of the plant to house its workers. The first houses were ready by 1908. A total of eighty-five houses were built over the next seven years.
Du Pont built Louviers Village in three sections: the Triangle (or the Flats), the Quadrangle, and Capital Hill. The Triangle was the first section finished, twenty-three small cottages (under 500 square feet) arranged around a green space called Triangle Park. Next Du Pont laid out the Quadrangle, sixty larger houses (up to 1,000 square feet) arranged in a grid pattern, which were built in two phases in 1911 and 1915. Finally the company planned a group of four large houses on a hill overlooking the town for upper management and the company doctor. These were completed in 1912.
Because Louviers Village was a company town built and maintained by Du Pont, it had several distinctive features. None of the roads had formal names. Houses were known only by numbers that the company assigned. None of the houses had driveways; when garages were added in the 1920s, they were placed behind the houses, next to the alleys.
The company supplied public buildings to provide services and entertainment. In 1912 the company built a thirty-three-room hotel that also contained a post office, store, billiards room, and dining room. The most important community building was the Louviers Village Club, built in 1917, which contained a barbershop, dance hall, movie theater, bowling alley, store, and meeting space. When the original hotel was torn down in the early 1930s and replaced with a boarding house, the post office moved to the Village Club. The company also maintained green spaces at Triangle Park, Du Pont Park, and the center median of Louviers Boulevard, as well as having company gardens between Capital Hill and the Village Club.
The only Louviers building from this period not constructed by Du Pont was the Louviers Community Presbyterian Church. Built in 1927, it was the only church in Louviers during the Du Pont era (pre-1962). Du Pont provided land for the church, which was built by volunteers (mostly Du Pont employees).
Life in a Company Town
When it opened, Louviers Works was one of the largest employers in the area. Once they were hired, most workers stayed at the plant for the rest of their career. Often more than one person in a family worked at the plant, and the town contained many families in which multiple generations worked at the plant. As a result, the town was a tightly knit community with many extended families and longtime residents.
There were certain disadvantages to living in a company town. Because Du Pont was simultaneously employer, landlord, social director, and service provider in Louviers, the town developed distinctive social dynamics. An employee’s housing reflected his position at the plant. Workers started out in the small cottages of the Triangle. Within a few months or years, they could apply to move to larger houses in the Quadrangle. The very largest houses in the Quadrangle were reserved for the plant’s foremen. Within each section, the plant manager determined where people lived based on seniority and family size.
In addition, most changes to the houses were uniform. The company usually repainted and redecorated the houses every five years. In the late 1950s, Du Pont added asbestos shingle siding to almost every house in the village, with families given a choice of white, green, or salmon pink. In some cases families were able to enlarge or otherwise alter their houses in a cooperative arrangement with the company.
Living in a company town also had its advantages. Rent was low, ranging from eighteen dollars a month in the Triangle to thirty dollars a month in the superintendent’s house in the early 1960s. Many services were cheap or free. The company took one dollar a month from each employee to pay the salary of a dedicated town doctor. A group of Du Pont employees collected garbage and did landscaping and repairs. For many years, the town’s electricity was provided free of charge from the dynamite plant’s powerhouse, and residents could order coal from the plant at cost, plus a fifty-cent delivery fee.
End of the Company Town and the Dynamite Plant
Louviers Village ceased to be a company town in 1962, as Du Pont’s dynamite production slowed. Du Pont sold all the houses, with employees given the first chance to buy. Some vacant land in town was also sold and later developed, most notably the open space between Capital Hill and the Village Club. Du Pont still owned much of the land around the town, however, and promised that there would be no sprawling subdivisions. In 2002 the company donated 855 acres of open space near the town to Douglas County.
Du Pont gave the town’s parks to Douglas County, which continues to maintain them, and transferred the Village Club to the county in 1975. The county leases the club to the Village Club Board, a largely volunteer group that maintains the building. The Village Club, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, continues to serve as a meeting space and contains a bowling alley as well as a branch of the Douglas County Library.
Even after Du Pont sold off the town, the Louviers Works continued to operate. In 1967 the plant started making pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), a new type of explosive in rope form. In 1971 dynamite production ended at the plant, but PETN production continued until the 1980s, when new emulsion explosives took over the industry. Louviers Works was the longest-operating Du Pont dynamite plant and produced more than one billion pounds of dynamite between 1908 and 1971.