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by Gentrye houghton

Echoes of a Legacy: A History of Firehouse Road

In an attempt to squash unions, deter strikes, and improve his company’s image, John Cleveland Osgood embarked on a journey during the turn of the 20th century of welfare capitalism and Redstone became his crowning jewel for a grand social experiment. This trial ultimately created the community of Redstone, in which Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) would build a town for their stonemasons, coke workers, and their families. 


In discussing the design plans and why Cleveholm Manor (now "The Castle”) is situated a mile from the rest of town, Norma Kenney’s book, “The Hidden Place: Redstone,” claims that “the Osgoods did not intend to mingle with the working class.” It was their belief they would have nothing in common and differing social interests with the workers and their families. 


However, it is in the construction of the community buildings that we see their interest for the people who worked and lived here; especially in building the Redstone Schoolhouse and Clubhouse. Both buildings sat up on the hill from the Redstone Inn, and, according to Kenney, they “were beautifully constructed with stone foundations and with fitted stone that formed the archways of entrances.”


CF&I controlled every aspect of life up the Crystal, including all of the homes, community buildings, and programs offered to residents. In July 1901, Dr. Richard Corwin, who had already been in charge of the company’s hospital at Bessemer for a couple of decades, was appointed the head of CF&I’s Sociological Department. Corwin was enthusiastic about the task to improve conditions in the camps, and immediately launched programs in education, social training, housing, and communications.


Redstone Schoolhouse


Built overlooking the village on the property that is now 102 Firehouse Road, the Schoolhouse was probably more important to the community and their welfare than any other building. With large classrooms full of windows, electric lights, adjustable desks, and slate blackboards, the furnace rooms were located in the basement along with lockers and “modern lavatories with hot and cold water,” describes Kenney, the school epitomized the administrative interests in an individual’s advancements. 


As a direct reflection on the social betterment of their workers, John and Alma, Osgood’s second wife, took a personal interest in the educational work in all of CF&I’s camps, but especially in Redstone. “He made certain that Redstone had the finest school building… It was an imposing structure with a stone entrance tower and massive Tudor arch,” a description from Darrell and Jane Munsells’ 2019 book, “Redstone: John Cleveland Osgood’s ‘Ruby of the Rockies.’” Munsell continues, that by “December 1903, 23 kindergarteners, 28 primary pupils, and 18 fourth through seventh graders were enrolled under the supervision of two teachers.”


Munsell also explains that the educational programs set forth by Corwin were designed to provide cultural assimilation for the immigrants who resided here. Domestic sciences in the way of cooking, sewing, and other household affairs were offered to girls and women, with vocational training for boys, and night school for adults that included courses in English, algebra, geometry, and American history. 


To teach American values and “proper” gender roles, clubs were established for both boys and girls.

“Lady Bountiful,” as Redstone’s citizens referred to Alma, “was especially fond of the children,” describes Munsell, “and the village school was a special project. She made certain that the library contained the best reference books available as well as a large collection of literary titles selected to promote a well-rounded education.” The library in the Redstone Schoolhouse featured 422 volumes of work, including such authors as Irving, Cooper, Scott, Kipling, and Dickens.


She threw lavish Christmas parties in which the Osgoods would come from “the big house” to attend. Although these parties were hosted in the Clubhouse, these gatherings also promoted an educational agenda. Assimilation took many forms, not only did Alma ask the children to write letters to Santa, which were delivered directly to her, but Christmas parties, and other school programs, were used by the Sociological Department for the “Americanization” of Redstone’s large immigrant population and a prime time to introduce and practice standards of etiquette. 


“Beginning in 1901,” describes Munsell, “the company provided each child in the CF&I community with a small gift of oranges and a half-pound of candy, and, if age-appropriate, each girl received a doll and every boy a drum. By 1904, the gifts were diversified. The Colorado Supply Store, a CF&I auxiliary, continued to provide dolls and drums but also building blocks, baseballs and bats, locomotives, stuffed animals, storybooks, toy kitchen dishes and utensils, and toy automobiles. In Redstone, the Osgoods augmented the company’s contributions with generous gifts of their own,” often traveling to New York to retrieve such trinkets for the nearly 400 residents.


Although Osgood lost his shareholder majority of CF&I by 1903, the February 6, 1904, issue of Camp and Plant, the weekly company-funded publication that was widely distributed throughout all the camps, claims in a caption underneath a photograph of the Redstone Schoolhouse, “This almost ideal structure, which was built and presented to the school district by John C. Osgood, has ample provision for kindergarten, domestic science, and manual training work.”


Even after the Osgoods left Redstone, around 1911, Kenney asserts that “always there was a school at Redstone. Pupils living around the village and ranch made up the enrollment. The large Schoolhouse overlooking the town was used most of the time but when the enrollment dropped, rooms in different cottages were used to accommodate the children and teacher in a rural type of school situation.” A sentiment that was also shared during our interview with Michael Mechau, who was once a student of Mrs. Kenney’s. Classes were held in various places until 1960 when the state mandated the reorganization of the district, and Redstone became part of the Roaring Fork School District.


Kenney was born in Aspen in 1899 and sent to Redstone in 1922 upon her very first teaching assignment. She and her husband, John, resided in a home on the Redstone Boulevard and were both instrumental in keeping the town alive after Osgood’s death. Though the schoolhouse itself would meet its demise a couple of decades later.


Redstone Clubhouse


The Redstone Clubhouse was built for $25,000, approximately $724,000 today, for the workers’ rest and leisure after a hard day at the coke ovens. The miners were even encouraged to shower at the Club before returning to their tidy homes and families. It's also no surprise that the Redstone Clubhouse was the most pretentious in the entire CF&I system. 


Sylia Ruland’s “Lion of Redstone,” states that “the miners of the model village enjoyed the most elaborate of the company’s clubhouses. Along with the bar, lounge, and game rooms found in other company clubhouses, the Redstone Club boasted the only theater complete with dressing rooms, electric lights, scenery, and an arch-illuminated stereopticon.” (From oxforddictionary.com, a stereopticon is a slide projector that combines two images to create a three-dimensional effect.)


On the first floor, there was a large lounging area complete with furniture from the Gustav Stickley firm, a reading room and library, billiard and pool room, and of course, the bar. Also on the ground level was an apartment to house the manager and his family. The reading room contained papers in different languages and the best of the weekly magazines; while the showers, baths, and dressing rooms were found in the basement.


A well-lit stage was located on the south end of the second story as part of a large ballroom that hosted school plays, home theatricals, and the acclaimed Christmas parties. According to Kenney, “The narrow boards of the floor, when properly waxed, made an excellent dance floor. The grand march, dreamy waltzes, the fast two-step, polkas,” and others were danced to music provided by local musicians; on these special occasions, “supper” was served by the management at midnight. Kenney also observed that when the chairs were placed evenly in the dance hall, the room could accommodate close to 300!


“The third floor featured a large auditorium,” describes Munsell, “with a stage equipped with … all the modern features required for theater productions. All kinds of activities — including lectures, lantern shows, plays, concerts, and talent shows — were held in the facility. Concerts by the Redstone band … and performances by the mandolin club were popular attractions. Osgood prided triple silver plate instruments, ‘the best that could be had from Lyon and Healy of Chicago,’ and uniforms for the band members.”


While the Clubhouse seemed to be the center of Redstone’s social life, in “The Hidden Place: Redstone,” Kenney points out that “men who loved their wives and children did not want to spend evenings at the Clubhouse. …The use of the community Clubhouse actually became secondary. I have not, as yet, found proof that it was used and enjoyed by the majority of the laborers. People loved their homes more and found rest and leisure there in preference to outside activities.” She claims that the school was widely used for public gatherings, including elections, over the use of the Clubhouse itself.

Camp and Plant outlines the management and membership structure:  


“The Club is incorporated for social purposes, and is governed by a board of directors composed of 13 active members who elect a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Active memberships are required to pay an initiation fee of $1 and six months dues in advance, at 50¢ a month.”


Women were denied membership, quite possibly one root deterrent for Clubhouse use that Kenney mentions, although they were not completely barred from participation. Women were invited to special events, as well as a “Ladies Evening at the Club” held on Wednesday nights for the wives, daughters, and visiting friends of members.


A placard was placed in the entrance hall with the Clubhouse rules written in English, German, and Italian. Among these was the “No Treating” rule, which was also displayed over the bar in each of the CF&I clubhouses. “Believing that widespread abuse of alcohol in the camps was a serious problem that affected job performance and created unsafe working conditions,” says Munsell, “both Osgood and Richard Corwin were reluctant to allow workers access to alcohol, but Osgood accepted saloons as a necessity of camp life.” 


Corwin, initially, removed the sale of alcohol throughout the camps, and instead of complying, the miners resorted to bootlegging. Ruland states, "As a result drunkenness became more of a problem than before. In the town of Coalbasin, the miners anticipated the Fourth of July by smuggling into town eight barrels of beer, four kegs of whiskey, and a large amount of wine. The drinking spree incapacitated the camp for days.” Thus the inception of the "No Treating” rule.


“This time the clubhouses were allowed to serve liquor but with well-defined rules,” continues Ruland. “Osgood spoke at the ceremonies for the Coalbasin Club: ‘The club will sell to its members or visitors, wine, beers, and liquors, but in order to promote their temperate use and believing that each member has the intelligence to buy what he wants, when he wants without suggestion from anyone, no treating will be allowed.’”


Although the rule seemed to work, neither Osgood nor Corwin was satisfied with their efforts; yet, CF&I received national cognizance for steering thousands of employees and their families from the affliction of drunkenness. 


Redstone Firehouse


Ruland claims that the Firehouse was built after the decorated tree caught fire one year during a Christmas party at the Clubhouse. “At Alma’s insistence,” Ruland says, “a firehouse was built near the clubhouse and by the following Christmas all fears of another ruined party were erased.”


Today, the Firehouse still stands on a hill behind the Redstone Inn and originally at the back of the school. “Being well equipped with a hose cart (still present today) and carbon dioxide chemical cart,” describes Kenney, “firefighters could get down the hill in a hurry. It was built with all the necessary conveniences of a home and had living quarters on the second floor.”


Kenney continues, “Adjoining the fireman’s apartment was the large practice room. It was here the volunteer firemen could meet and do some necessary exercises to keep themselves in trim. They also could practice sliding down the pole, as a strong metal pole connected the big practice room with the ground floor. The big room served as a practice room for the Redstone band and as a storage place for their instruments. On the roof, a bell in the bell tower was ready to send the alarm should a fire have started.” During our interview, Harry Remmers gives a little chuckle when talking about the bell, “It’s really loud, and rivals the Church at Redstone should we ring the bells at the same time.”


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Out of sympathy for their brothers in the east, miners walked out of nine CF&I camps in 1903 and left the company weakened financially. Osgood burrowed heavily from heirs of Jay Gould and both John D. Rockefeller Junior and Senior to successfully defend a take over bid from John "Bet a Million" Gates. While Osgood won that battle, he no longer retained the shareholder majority nor his title as the “Fuel King of the West;” he continued to own the town and manor but CF&I controlled the mines; however, the grand social experiment had come to an end. 


The village began to gradually shut down after 1909, and Redstone seemed to no longer have a purpose. With only a small caretaker and railroad staff, “between 1910 and 1924,” explains Munsell, “the larger buildings were literally packed away in mothballs. Maintenance workers prevented the major buildings and the underground water system from deteriorating completely.”


John Kenney, Norma's husband, was brought on in 1921 as the maintenance superintendent until his death in 1960. It is quite evident that the Osgoods leaned heavily on Kenney to keep the town going, especially during the Great Depression and World War II years.


John and Alma divorced during the first World War when she traveled to Europe to provide aid under the American Red Cross. Osgood married for a third time to Lucille Reid during October 1920, and the couple returned to Redstone in the fall of 1924 with plans to reopen the manor. Osgood’s health began to deteriorate, and “by the summer of 1925, however, it became apparent that her role was about to change,” says Munsell. Suffering from cancer, John Osgood perished in his room in Cleveholm on January 4, 1926. 


Lucille, as his named beneficiary, inherited a fortune and remarried in 1933 to Huntley MacDonald; shortly after, they returned to the Crystal Valley and reopened the Inn. However, the depression years followed by WWII complicated their efforts to revitalize the town. “In a move to lower taxes, Lucille began the process of dismantling or selling properties,” Munsell says. “In 1937, she accepted a down payment on property from Frank Mechau, the well-known artist, who moved to Redstone with his family the following year to establish a progressive art studio and apprentice program for selected students.”


At the time, the Mechaus resided in Glenwood Springs, and in “A Life Well-Rooted: Women of Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley,” Paula, Frank’s wife, shared with the author, Meredith Ogilby, the couple's experience of traveling to Redstone in the late 30s:


“Let’s go look at the clocktower,” Frank said to Paula, speaking of the Redstone Inn. Paula brings the moment up close. “Mrs. MacDonald, the third wife of JC Osgood, saw us there, welcomed us, and asked where we were from. As we visited she told us that for the first time she was selling houses individually and wondered if we were interested. Frank leaned over and whispered to me, ‘Do you realize nobody lives here?’ I didn’t care, it was so beautiful and I answered ‘What is the price?’”


The family resided on eleven acres that included the Firehouse and moved into the home now at 81 Firehouse Road. “The Schoolhouse nearby provided invaluable studio space for Frank,” explains Michael Mechau, Frank and Paula's son, “because of its large rooms and high ceilings. This enabled him to paint several murals there and accommodate teaching four of his students."


He continues, “In 1944, Mrs. MacDonald made the terrible decision to tear down and sell the materials of the Redstone Schoolhouse and the magnificent Clubhouse next door. As a result of the loss of the wonderful studio space that the school had provided, for a year or so Frank painted in the Firehouse." 

However, in 1945 the family traded Lucille for a home two miles upriver. This home remains in the family today, owned by their four children, this is also the home where the Osgoods resided while Cleveholm was built, and is also where Frank did his last paintings before his untimely death in 1946.


Today, the original Redstone Firehouse has seen three owners since Frank Mechau used it as his studio. The Reisners purchased the property in the late 40s, converted it into a home with the help of Aspen architect Fritz Benedict, who was a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright's, and are buried on the property. The sandstone porch you see today came from Mt. Casa and it's believed once belonged to both the school and clubhouse.


Clark and Bonnie Cretti purchased the Firehouse in 1980 and installed the beautiful garden landscape that you see today. In 1998, the Firehouse as well as the home across the street, once home to the Schoolhouse and now a home that was completed in 1989 by Peter and Ann Martin, were both featured in "Colorado's Great Gardens.” That same year the Firehouse once again changed hands, to Harry and Marlene Remmers, who resided in Boulder at the time.


Around the year 2000, the Remmers embarked on a massive renovation project that would end up taking 13 years to complete. Restoring structural integrity was the name of the game for this project, as well as updating the interior. “It was so dark, and there was so much wood — on the floors, on the walls, on the ceiling — I felt like I was living in an acorn,” jokes Marlene. 


Although the original fireman’s pole was not standing in the home at the time of purchase, the Remmers son-in-law found it a little further up the hill but still on the property. Marlene continued to teach first grade at the Boulder Country Day School and only came to Redstone during the summers, “That's probably why it took us so long," she chuckles. With pride and excitement, Marlene showed us the home describing the love and hard work they poured into it. 


"There were so many leaks, and the chimney was falling apart. We even found original window framing under the drywall in our living room and were able to put the glass back in them, but the foundation business was the most challenging,” she says. Not only did they level the foundation, but they also saved the exterior columns that were rotting from the ground up.


“My students and their parents got so interested in the project,” Marlene exclaims, “at the beginning of the school year, they'd want to hear all about the work we'd accomplished over the summer. They ended up contributing the hummingbird chandelier in the kitchen because they knew how much I love hummingbirds.” As a finishing touch, she'd chosen a cast bronze sink that gave an option for varying designs on the front plate. What did Marlene choose? Hummingbirds of course!  


Though, Lucille ended up tearing down 25 of the original cottages and sold the mansion in 1944. The Osgood legacy carries on as the Crystal Valley community continues to breathe life into these old sites and structures. As both the Martins and Remmers prepare to move on to their next chapters, it is through the lips of each of us, that the whispers of heritage live on.

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