Though she be but Minnie, she is fierce!

One of the most well-known residents of Cañon City around the turn of the century was Minnie L. Harding, a formidable woman. Margaretta Lahm was born on June 13, 1857 in Canton, Ohio. She came to Cañon City for a visit but instead chose to stay, opening a kindergarten in a tent on the corner of 5th and Main. She married Theodore M. Harding, a hardware merchant, in 1882 in her hometown of Canton before returning to Cañon City.

Minnie was involved in a variety of clubs within the city throughout her life. She was a charter member of the Friends in Council, the Dicken’s Club, and the Woman’s Club. She also served for some time as the president of the Cañon City Improvement League, which was dedicated to civic betterment of the city. During World War I, Minnie was highly active in the community and with the war effort. She was founder-chairman of the Cañon City Committee of Fatherless Children of France, an organization that aided children left homeless by the war. She also took part in Red Cross work and food conservation and even had a certificate signed by Woodrow Wilson for her distinguished service on behalf of the Red Cross. Minnie took over as president of the Harding Hardware Company after the passing of her husband in 1913.

Minnie was dedicated to education throughout her life and served on the board of regents for the University of Colorado and a wing of Sewall Hall on the campus is named for her. The scholarship fund Minnie began in 1902 is still going today, over 100 years later. The Minnie L. Harding Educational Loan Fund was established with only $90 but two years later, the working capital was up to $204.64. The loan was created to provide interest-free loans to assist Colorado women in obtaining a college education, something Minnie believed strongly in. It was estimated by 1982 that the loans totaled more than $1 million and by 1987 the loan had helped 1,600 girls go to college.

Happy birthday Minnie!

Minnie Harding ca.1915

Minnie L. Harding, ca. 1915; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.   

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Sunset Drive-In Theater

The very first drive-in movie theater was opened in Camden, New Jersey on June 6, 1933 by Richard Hollingshead. The early 1940s is when drive-ins began to gain more attention and by the 50s they boomed in popularity. By 1958, the amount of drive-ins in the nation peaked at 4,063. According to an article by the Smithsonian, in 2008 there were an estimated 400 drive-ins still in existence; most of them privately owned small businesses.

From 1949 to 1990, Cañon City boasted a drive-in theater built by Harold and George McCormick. Their father, B.P. McCormick, at one time owned the Liberty Theater (Rex), Jones Theater (Skyline), and Sarah Theater (Opera House) in Cañon City, and the Rialto Theater in Florence. B.P. died in 1940 in a plane crash and the running of the theaters fell to his sons, Harold and George. Both Harold and George served in World War II and upon their return took over from Fox, who had run the theaters while the two were away. They acquired the land for a drive-in theater in 1948 and opened the Sunset Drive-In in 1949. (Currently Peerless Tire and Walmart).

Along with running the theaters, George was a city council member and Harold was a state representative. Unfortunately, George died in a plane crash in 1969 at age 57, the same age his father was when he died. Harold and his wife Jeanne continued to run the theaters and in a 1993 interview with Harold, he recalled how he and his wife managed the theaters while he held a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives. Jeanne would run the theaters Monday-Thursday and then Harold would drive back from Denver Friday afternoon and work until midnight Friday-Sunday and then go back up to Denver Monday in time for the 9 AM session.

The Sunset Drive-In closed in 1990 and was dismantled in 1991. Does anyone remember going to this drive-in?

Looking for more information? The museum is open Wednesday-Saturday from 10 AM – 4 PM. Contact us at (719) 269-9036 or historycenter@canoncity.org.

Sunset Drive In

Harold McCormick in front of Sunset Drive-In, 1986; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

speaker

Sunset Drive-In speaker; Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center artifact

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

Territorial Prison

Territorial Prison opened its doors for the first time on June 1, 1871 “one half mile from the business center”. The 30 acres of land had been donated for the prison by Jotham Draper, a pioneer and businessman. Anson Rudd had also offered 25 acres of his own but it had been deemed too close to town for prison use.

In 1867, it was approved by the 39th Congress that the net proceeds of the internal revenue of the territories of Nebraska, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, and Dakota would be set aside to build penitentiary buildings and the amount was not to exceed $40,000. The next step was to decide where in the territory of Colorado a penitentiary would be built. Thomas Macon, an attorney in Cañon City, spearheaded the bid for the city to gain the penitentiary. As the story goes, a group of legislators in southern Colorado supported Denver in becoming capital in return for support of Cañon City being chosen for the prison. Other cities challenged for the prison but in 1868 Cañon City was chosen as the location for the new territorial prison.

The location chosen as the site of the location not only provided natural barriers such as the hogbacks and Arkansas River, but also access to quarry deposits and water. Inmates would later work the quarries behind the prison for stone blocks. At the time of its opening, Mark Shaffenburg, the U.S. Marshal of Colorado Territory, was in charge of the prison. The first prisoner, John Shepler, arrived on January 13, sentenced to one year for larceny. Inmate No. 2, William H. Henderson, wasn’t far behind, arriving the same day with a manslaughter conviction. The first woman didn’t arrive until 2 years later in 1873 as prisoner No. 60 with a three year sentence for manslaughter.

The prison is now known as the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility and has built a rich, and sometimes bloody, history from its beginning of only 40 cells 147 years ago. Are you interested in learning more about the history of Fremont County? Stop by the museum Wednesday-Saturday between 10 AM – 4 PM, email us at historycenter@canoncity.org, or call us at (719) 269-9036.

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

Brookside

Brookside was incorporated as a town on May 22, 1913. The first land homesteaded in the area had actually been by a man named Sylvester Davis. In 1887 he filed a plat just north of what later became Brookside. In 1888, the town of Brookside was founded by W.D. Thatcher and Willard P. Strong who represented the Cañon City Coal Company. The land was platted and recorded while Davis’s land was recorded as Springfield. When the petition for incorporation was presented, part of Springfield was taken in as part of Brookside. The first elected mayor was Louis Fleming.

During its early years, Brookside was a company town. It was originally run by the Cañon City Coal Company until it was leased to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in 1896. CF&I operated the property until 1910. It closed because of too much bone in the coal, which according to the United States Geological Survey is “impure coal that contains much clay or other fine-grained detrital mineral matter.” After CF&I left, local men would operate portions of the mine, taking out a wagon of coal at a time. In its heyday it was reported the rail line carried 10-15 cars of coal a day. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe ran a spur into Brookside in 1892 to bring the coal out.

As a company town, saloons weren’t allowed within city limits. However, a loophole was found with the part of Springfield that had not been incorporated. All the saloon owners opened up there and the area became known as Hell’s Half Acre. Silent movie star Tom Mix was known to frequent Hell’s Half Acre and he liked to have shooting contests in the bar, using a lemon in a shot glass as his target. Cañon City residents, living in a temperance area, were also known to visit the saloons.

An early school at Brookside was a tall, skinny, two-story building that would lean in the wind if it was bad enough and school would be dismissed on really windy days. Cables were hooked into the building to hold it down. A new schoolhouse was built in 1921 out of brick and served as a school for Brookside until the district consolidated with the Cañon City district. The school was used as the New Hope School until it was leased to Fremont County Head Start. The building was taken down in 2010.

Brookside has a rich history, which this article only touched upon. If you’d like to learn more, stop by the museum during our open hours Wednesday-Saturday between 10 AM – 4 PM, send us an email at historycenter@canoncity.org , or call us at (719) 269-9036.

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

The 1918 Flu Pandemic

World War I claimed the lives of an estimated 16 million people but an even deadlier killer snuck in on the coattails of the war. An estimated 50 million worldwide were killed in the flu pandemic of 1918 and at least one fifth of the population was infected.

Katherine Anne Porter, born May 15, 1890, was one of those afflicted by the flu. She survived, unlike many others, and used the experience to bring to life her character Miranda in the short novel “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”. Porter was an American journalist and writer and was living in Denver at the time of the pandemic, working for the Rocky Mountain News. Like Porter, Miranda, also a newspaper woman, is struck down by the flu but survives. The story follows Miranda and Adam, the soldier with whom she falls in love with. During the course of the story, Miranda becomes ill with the flu but is cared for by Adam. When she finally recovers, she learns Adam died of the flu he likely caught while nursing her. The depiction of the flu pandemic and the suffering the afflicted went through is considered highly accurate because Porter pulled from her own experiences of being ill.

The flu pandemic is also known as the Spanish Flu because the first true reporting of the disease occurred in Spain. Due to its neutral status during the war, Spain did not have wartime censorship so coverage on the spread of the disease was widely reported. The influenza occurred in two phases during the spring and fall of 1918. A mild strain that lasted only around three days and caused few deaths appeared in early spring. Soldiers reporting for training brought the disease into the camps and overseas where the disease mutated into a more severe strain.

Within Colorado, nearly 8,000 died from the flu. Denver had a high mortality rate and in Silverton, ten percent of the population was dead within six weeks. It’s thought Colorado had high mortality rates because many residents already had weak lungs from tuberculosis and work in the mines, a disadvantage when fighting the flu and its complications such as pneumonia. To prevent the spread of disease, people were cautioned to wear masks and many public gatherings were banned.

While it was a smaller town allowing for greater isolation, Cañon City still had a very low death rate compared to the rest of the state. This was helped by the precautions that were taken. Public gatherings were not permitted very early on and schools were closed. Homework assignments were mailed to the students. The only students who returned to school were the seniors so they could graduate on time. The 1919 yearbook has an image of the senior class all wearing flu masks on the steps of the high school.

The public gathering ban was kept in place even when it seemed the flu was on the decline. The Red Cross opened an emergency hospital in the YMCA building on 5th and Macon to cope with the higher rate of illness. By the end of 1918 and the decline of the pandemic, Cañon City and the surrounding areas escaped with fewer than 50 deaths attributed to the flu.

Students and masks

Cañon City High School seniors; Source: CCHS 1919 Yearbook at Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

Looking to learn more about Fremont County and World War I? Stop by the museum Wednesday-Saturday between 10 AM-4 PM to see our exhibit on the WWI and the Homefront.

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

A Tale of One City

Back around the turn of the century, Cañon City boasted a unique club. It was purely a social club with no other objective than to gather and enjoy the works of Charles Dickens. It was one of only two clubs in the nation solely focused on Dickens, the other was the “All Around Dickens Club of Boston”.

The Dickens Club first met in January 1892 at “Greydene”, the home of Mabel Greydene-Smith, and there were twelve charter members. There was no constitution, laws, or elections within the club and the only officer was Mrs. Greydene-Smith as the founder. During meetings, one member would read aloud and the rest of the members would listen while working on needlework. Once all of the works by Dickens were read, the club started over and began re-reading each piece.

One important annual event of the club was celebrating Charles Dickens’s birthday. The celebration of his birthday in 1907 was held at the home of Mrs. Helen Lewis according to the Cañon City Record on February 14 of that year. The dinner consisted of seven courses with Dickens’s favorite flowers, red geraniums, used as table decorations. Each member came dressed as a character from one of his books which must have been quite the sight!

It’s unknown in what year the Dickens Club ended but it was still going strong in 1927 according to the Cañon City Daily Record on September 30 of that year. There was a reception hosted by the club for the delegates and visitors to the convention of the Colorado Federation of Women’s Clubs at “Greydene”. Accordingly, over 200 ladies were present at the event, which was “the social feature of the convention week”.

Dickens Club

Dickens Club, February 4, 1917; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

Are you interested in learning more? Stop by anytime Wednesday-Saturday between 10 AM- 4 PM, call us at (719) 269-9036, or email us at historycenter@canoncity.org.

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

Order of the First World War, Skyline Barracks No.1673. What was this organization?

In the 1962 Cañon City Directory, the World War I Veterans, Skyline Barracks No. 1673 was listed under veteran’s organizations. The commander was listed as Herbert Arbra. The president of the Auxiliary World War Veterans was Mrs. Eva White.

The organization was incorporated in 1958 by the 85th congress. There was a constitution and by-laws and an official ritual. Frank Woodruff Buckles was for some time a National Commander and was the last member of the organization at the time of his death in 2011. Upon his death, the organization was dissolved.

Barracks was the name given to the local chapters of the organizations and the members were called “Buddies”. Auxiliaries were chapters for women.

The limited information that we have on the Skyline Barracks No. 1673 are the listing in the  City Directory and two newspaper articles; one about two members realizing that they had served together in the same company during WWI.  The other is about the Auxiliary choosing convention delegates.

Does anyone know anything about this organization or have family members who were part of this organization? We’d love to learn more! Stop by the museum, call us at (719) 269-9036, or send us an email at historycenter@canoncity.org.