Thursday, November 12, 2015

James Benton Grant

1882 was a momentous year for James B. Grant. In July, ground was broken for what would be Denver's largest smelter, the Omaha and Grant, and in November, Grant would be elected the third governor of Colorado, the first Democrat to hold the office. He was thirty-four years old.
Born in Russell County, Alabama in 1848, Grant grew up in the Old South and served briefly in a Confederate regiment during the final months of the Civil War. With the southern economy in ruins, he set out for Davenport, Iowa and persuaded a well-to-do uncle, also named James Grant, to finance his education. Grant attended Iowa State and Cornell Universities, then the Bergakadmie in Freiberg, Saxony, studying metallurgy and mining.
Following his education, Grant began working as a mining engineer in Central City, but it was in the carbonate camp of Leadville that he would make his fortune and reputation. Examining ore in the region for the Pueblo & Oro Railroad in 1877, Grant visualized the profitability of building a smelter. In 1879, Grant enlisted financial backing from that same uncle, and formed a partnership with Edward Eddy and William James to construct the Omaha and Grant Smelter in Leadville. Processing ore from local mines like Horace Tabor's Little Pittsburgh, the smelter shipped $2,400,000 worth of metals the first year, contributing to Leadville's mining boom and influencing railroads to build to the camp. Grant was well regarded in Leadville, paying investors, suppliers, mining and coking firms promptly. On the night of May 24, 1882, a fire engulfed the Leadville smelter and it burned to the ground. Even as Grant and his associates scrambled to process ore already purchased, they decided to rebuild the plant north of Denver, east of the Platte River and near existing railroad lines. While the smelter was under construction, ore and fuel was shipped from the mountains, ready to be processed as reduction units were completed. The Omaha and Grant Smelter was fully operational by November, just as Grant assumed the office of Governor. Like other politicians in the Gilded Age, Grant was able to devote time to both his role as governor, improving conditions for Colorado's commerce and mining industries, and to the profitable smelting business.
Grant's success in the smelting business brought him considerable wealth, and in 1902, he built a mansion at 770 Pennsylvania Street in Denver. The following year, strikes by the Mill and Smeltermen's Union, outdated methods of reduction and a scarcity of rich ores led to the closure of the smelter. When Grant passed away in November, 1911, his wife remained in their big mansion for six years before selling it to oilman Albert E. Humphreys in 1917. Today, the smelter site is occupied by the Denver Coliseum and the Grant Humphreys Mansion is owned by Historic Denver.

Thirty-four year old James B. Grant, third Governor of Colorado, in 1882

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Death and burial in Globeville

Zombies, coffins, haunted houses - death is entertainment during Halloween, but for Globeville's early settlers, it was a constant companion and wakes and funerals were important rituals.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, the departed was given a three-day send-off with the coffin in the parlor of the family home, surrounded by flowers, and family and friends eating, drinking and sharing memories. Visitors often kept an overnight vigil with the corpse. Before motorized hearses were common, horse-drawn vehicles draped in black fabric with silver trim transported the coffin from the home to the church and then to the cemetery.
One of the largest and most memorable funerals was that of Antoni Benca's (Benson) in 1910. Aside from the sheer numbers, the service was notable because, on the way to St. Joseph's Church, the horses drawing the hearse suddenly refused to go any further in front of Konstanty Klimoski's home on 48th and Washington. The procession was forced to turn around and proceed to the church by another route. The incident contributed to an Old World superstition that the home of prosperous and ostentatious Klimoski was inhabited by a devil. More probable was the explanation that the horses were disturbed by the fumes from the Smith Brothers and Keith tannery on Washington Street.
By the 1920s, the Denver Tramway ran a funeral car from 38th and Walnut Streets to Mt. Olivet (the coffin still had to be transported from the neighborhood to the tramway stop, and then carried by the pallbearers from the funeral car to the gravesite, an uphill walk. Mt. Olivet Cemetery would later provide a wagon to meet the funeral party and carry the coffin). Mourners would then return to the family home for more food and reminiscing. 1.

1. Cuba, Stanley. "A Polish Community in the Urban West", Polish American Studies - A Journal of Polish American History and Culture. Volume XXXVI, Number 1, Spring 1979, pg 48

Antoni Benca's funeral 1910, photo ® Mary Lou Egan

Before Holy Rosary Church was built in 1920, Slovenians and Croatians held wakes and funerals at St. Jacob's Hall at 4485 Logan Street. Photo used with written permission from Alma Mandarich.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Preserving, canning, roasting in Globeville

The Eastern Europeans and Russians who settled Globeville in the 1880s came from humble roots where everything was preserved and nothing went to waste. Self sufficient and painfully frugal, families planted substantial vegetable gardens, as well as raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, grape vines and fruit trees in their tiny yards. In the spring, asparagus could be harvested along the Farmers and Gardeners Ditch or the banks of the Platte River. (the employees of the Globe Smelter even had a vegetable garden on the grounds of the smelter).
In an era before refrigeration, canning, pickling and salt were a means of preserving food. All summer long, fruits would be canned as soon as they were ripe - cherries in July, peaches and pears in August. Raspberries and strawberries turned into jam, apples into applesauce, while grapes were made into juice, jelly and wine. And there were dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, pickled watermelon rinds, onions, and beets. And, of course, sauerkraut.
In addition to "putting up" fruits and vegetables, people preserved meat in infinite varieties of sausage, pickled pigs feet, head cheese, and pork chops packed in a barrel between layers of salt. Sausage would then be smoked, and all would be stored in a cool cellar.
Today's residents continue the tradition of raising fruits and vegetables, in part, because there is no grocery store in the neighborhood, but also because they enjoy growing their own and preserving their culinary heritage. Tomatoes are still a staple and varieties of chili peppers complement tomatillos, onions, squash, and beans. Chili peppers are then roasted, skinned and frozen for use during the rest of the year.
In the fall, the aroma of smoked sausage rises from "Polack Valley" and the fragrance of chilies roasting throughout the neighborhood are reminders of traditions - of preserving food and your ethnic heritage.

Photo @ Freepik

Photo @ Mary Lou Egan

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Denver's First Labor Day Celebration Held at Argo Park

During the 1880s, Denver was booming. The arrival of the railroads attracted manufacturing, meat packing, food processing and small businesses. That growth spurt would include the Boston and Colorado, the Omaha and Grant and the Holdenville Smelters, brickyards, Denver Rock Drill and several meat packers offering jobs to both immigrants and American-born workers. Clusters of workers settled near their jobs in rural-sounding tracts like Garden Place, Greenwood Addition, Tacoma heights, and Cranberry Place. (Globeville would not be incorporated until 1891).
Industries focused on productivity, with workers toiling 12 hours a day, six, sometimes seven days a week, in gritty factories with few safety regulations, little fresh air, sanitary facilities or breaks. Women found employment in sugar factories, cigar making, commercial laundries or as domestic servants, while children could be found in factories, mines and agriculture. Injuries and deaths were common and left families very much alone and often destitute. The only holidays were Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Sundays, and employees were not paid if they took the time off.
Workers responded by banding together, campaigning for shorter hours, more pay, better working conditions and recognition of their right to organize. New York City was home to the first Labor Day celebration on September 5, 1882, a peaceful event organized by the Central Labor Union (CLU) promoting the notion of a 10 hour work day. By 1885, “Labor Parades” were being staged in a number of industrial cities across the U.S., and municipal ordinances recognizing the holiday emboldened workers to take part. The first statewide Labor Day law was passed by the Oregon legislature on February 21, 1887. Colorado followed suit, with the measure being put before the voters, passed by the Colorado Legislature and signed into law by pro-labor Governor Alva Adams on March 15, 1887.
The city's first Labor Day celebration was held Monday, September 5th, 1887 with Denver's labor unions deciding to hold picnics and concerts, rather than a parade, in Argo Park.
The Rocky Mountain News from September 6, 1887 described the festive celebration, reporting that around 2000 people attended, listening to a band play at the pavilion and speeches by Governor Adams and various labor leaders. 
The inaugural holiday was a celebration of a day off, as well as the contributions of workers. It would be many years, and hard-fought battles before labor won the many rights we take for granted today.

Workers pose in front of the Boston and Colorado Smelter at Argo
Photo Colorado Historical Society

Map of the area in 1887, before the appearance of the Globe Smelter 
and before Globeville is incorporated

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The odor - packinghouses

For many people a whiff of apple pie or fresh-baked bread can evoke memories of a visit to their grandma's house. For me, that sensory connection occurs when the breeze carries the odors from the Purina Plant in Swansea during a temperature inversion or ozone alert.
Visiting my grandparents, Ida and Andy Jackson, during the 1950s and 60s was a trip to another world. Although the construction of the Valley Highway had lopped off the western edge of the neighborhood and taken out most of the adjacent town of Argo, Globeville was mostly intact, with several small groceries, a drug store, hardware and numerous shoe shops and barbers. We walked everywhere - to the swimming pool at Argo Park, Holy Rosary Church and to the grocery where grandpa worked as a butcher (in anticipation of purchasing penny candy).
Also prospering in the 1960s was the city's largest industry, meatpacking. The Big Four, Swift, Armour, Wilson and Cudahy, as well as the smaller firms, Pepper, Litvak, Linders and Plus Poultry, were all within walking distance of Globeville. The stockyards held cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep and the feed to fatten them, all adding to the distinctive smell. But the most offensive odor came from several rendering plants  where “bone crushing, bone boiling, bone rendering, bone burning, fat boiling, gut cleaning...and the manufacture of fertilizer material..." occurred. * The stench, particularly during the summer, could take your breath away.
Residents of Globeville constantly complained and demanded that Denver regulate odors.
Denver passed regulations but they were difficult to enforce (and still are) and the city seemed to adopt the attitude the the neighborhood was already polluted and additional odors hardly made any difference.
In the end, consolidation and mergers accomplished what regulation could not. Firms like Monfort in Greeley raised, fed, slaughtered and shipped cattle from a central location, gradually eliminating the meat packers near Globeville.
I confess that the smell that permeated Globeville didn't bother me. I didn't deal with it every day and associated the stench with the happy memories of visiting my grandparents. The Purina Plant in Swansea is the last vestige of that era and sometimes, when there is a temperature inversion, I'll catch a whiff that takes me back to a visit to my grandma and grandpa's. It's apple pie to me.

*As defined by Denver City Ordinance No. 760.12

Built in 1928, Purina still provides jobs to the neighborhood.
Photo @ Mary Lou Egan

Saturday, July 4, 2015

4th of July, 1920

The Denver Catholic Register began, "The Yugo-Slavs * of Globeville celebrated the Fourth of July on Sunday by dedicating their beautiful new church at 47th and Pearl." The church, named in honor of the Queen of the Holy Rosary, was the culmination of years of effort.
Before World War I, Slovenes and Croats had been under the rule of Austria-Hungary, their language and culture suppressed and their young men forced to serve in the military forces of their oppressor. As early as the 1880s, they begin arriving in Globeville, recruited to work in the smelters, railroads and meat packing plants. Soon after they settled, Slovenes and Croats organized fraternal organizations that provided sick and death benefits, life insurance, and fostered singing and dramatic groups and social activities. These societies were a clearinghouse for information, a source of political power and the way to achieve common goals, one of which was to build a church of their own.
In the early years of the community, Catholics in Globeville could attend Annunciation Church at 36th and Humboldt, or Sacred Heart at 27th and Larimer, each about a two mile walk. After 1902, Slovenes and Croats could attend St. Joseph's Polish Catholic Church in the neighborhood, but the situation was far from satisfactory. The pastor, Father Jarzynski, felt that his mission was primarily to the Polish congregation and didn't offer to send for a priest who could say Mass, administer sacraments or hear confessions in the Slovenian or Croatian language. Southern Slavs, not feeling welcome, didn't contribute monetarily to St. Joseph's, adding to the hard feelings. The larger concern was that people weren't attending church at all - it was too much trouble.
In 1916, the community began organizing in earnest, with the heads of several fraternal organizations meeting at St. Jacob's Hall, appointing representatives from each lodge to raise funds in all their societies, in Leadville, Pueblo, Salida, and Aspen as well as in Globeville. A delegation was appointed to ask the new bishop, J. Henry Tihen, permission to organize the new parish, a block away from the Polish church. Permission was granted and the fundraising began, with delegates going door-to-door asking for money, glee clubs and dramatic societies giving performances, and businesses contributing. Father Cyril Zupan, OSB, agreed to take on the role of shepherd of the new parish, in addition to his duties as pastor at St. Mary's Slovenian Parish in Pueblo.
Ground was broken on May 27, 1919, the cornerstone blessed on August 17, and the building completed in April of 1920. A spring blizzard caused the dedication to be moved to July 4, 1920.
Bishop Tihen congratulated the congregation on their efforts, reminding them that poor people, rather than princes, built the cathedrals of Europe. Tihen also remarked that it was fitting to hold the religious celebration on the national holiday, for he said that true independence could only flourish side by side with religious freedom.

After 1919, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, were part of the newly created country of Yugoslavia, which means Southern Slavs.

Photo used with written permission Holy Rosary archives

Photo used with written permission of Betty  Zalar

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Father Joseph Albert Meznar

"Dear family in Christ" the bulletin would begin. The following pages, sometimes as many as four two-sided sheets, would continue with the scripture readings for each day, Mass intentions, prayers for the sick (and those who cared for them), comments on Sunday's readings, and parish activities as diverse as bingo nights, the fall festival, parish breakfasts, bake, craft and rummage sales. Although the grade school had been closed in 1969, the building was used for religious education classes, receptions for First Communion and funerals and meetings of the ladies society, men's club and Knights of Columbus.
Father Meznar was particularly proud of his Slovenian heritage and was thrilled when Rich Eurich and the Preseren Glee Club from Pueblo would celebrate a Polka Mass during the month of October (to coincide with the Feast of the Holy Rosary on October 7th), followed by a breakfast of Klobase and Potica. Another expression of Slovenian culture was the Easter procession around the block, parishioners singing Zvelichar (He is risen), with a strong man carrying the statue of the Risen Christ.   
Father Joseph Albert Meznar: was born in Denver on July 11, 1932. His father Joseph P. Meznar emigrated from Slovenia (then part of Austria-Hungary), worked as a bookkeeper at ASARCO's Globe Smelter and died in 1951. His mother Mary Rose Berce was born of Slovenian parents in Golden, and was a homemaker until 1951, going to work at the Denver Dry Goods for 29 years. She passed away in 1996.  Joseph Sr., and Mary Rose were married at Holy Rosary Church on May 7, 1928. Father Joseph and his brother Father Robert P. Meznar were both baptized and confirmed at Holy Rosary Church and graduated from Annunciation High School and St. Thomas Seminary. Father Joseph was ordained in 1958, Father Robert in 1960. Father Joseph served at Holy Rosary from 1982 until 2009,  overseeing a complete restoration and painting of the church in 1995, funded by the Western Slavonic Association and obtaining state historic designation for the church, convent and school in 1999 (5DV.349).  After struggling with many health issues, Father Joseph retired in November 2009 and passed away June 6, 2015.

Rich Eurich entertaining the crowd in 2006