Colorado Fuel and Iron: Culture and Industry in Southern Colorado


The Beginning

Four years before Colorado became a state, the birth of the steel manufacturing presence in Pueblo began when General William Palmer founded the Colorado Coal and Iron Company. With its convenience to raw materials and water resources, Pueblo was the ideal location to serve the needs of the western part of the nation and the industry prospered and dictated the growth of Pueblo and the southern Colorado region.

In 1872, General William Jackson Palmer organized the Central Colorado Improvement Company to establish the town of Bessemer, then a community of fewer than 700 people. As the labor force of the steel mill multiplied in the 1880s, clusters of makeshift homes blossomed west of furnace site, which contained homes built of scrap lumber, sheet metal, and canvas. Residents named the settlement immediately surrounding around the future steel mill in honor of the superintendent of construction Colonel W. W. Taylor. “Taylorville” remained the popular name until 1881, when the company insisted that the proper designation for the area be known as the “Steel Works.” Later that year, the company began to establish a formal town called “Bessemer,” named for Sir Henry Bessemer, the English scientist who developed a method of blowing air into the pig iron state of the steelmaking process. Through the South Pueblo Homestead and Investment Company, a large number of free standing homes were built. Upon completion of the construction program, the temporary homes were razed.

Formally incorporated July 15, 1886, Bessemer consisted of a five member town council, businesses, and civic structure. The town hall, originally located at Charles Street (today’s Abriendo Avenue) and Central Avenue, soon became too small for civic functions and was rebuilt on the corner of Mesa and Evans Avenues. Groceries, bakeries, and retail shops dotted the area and a primary street ran through the center of the town, called Northern Avenue.

When developed, the town of Bessemer was 3,460 acres. The new town provided all municipal services including dozens of retail shops, tailors and dressmakers, grocers, coffeehouses, saloons, and barber shops along the principal main street, Northern Avenue. A city hall building built on the southeast corner of Charles Street (later renamed Abriendo Avenue) and Central Avenue housed city offices, jail, municipal court, fire station and community meeting room.

The ethnic mix of individuals who came to work at the CF&I mills is what truly makes the neighborhood of Bessemer unique. Germans, Slovaks, Hispanics, Japanese, Russians, Greeks, Italians, Croatians, and Czechs all filtered to Pueblo to work in the various departments of the smelters or steel mill, bringing with them various traditions of their homelands. In 1916, there were more than 42 languages spoken at the steel mill.

Though these ethnic groups worshipped differently, most of the men and women of faith employed at the mill attended regular services at one of Pueblo’s many diverse houses of worship. These same houses of worship are still standing today in various parts of the city.

In addition, this diverse mix of immigrant workers had other things in common, one of those being a strong desire to unwind after a long hard day (or night) at the mill. This often led them to their favorite bar stool at one of the local taverns, where they would unwind with a nice cold beer (or a nice warm shot of tequila, slivovitz, ouzo, or brinjevec,). They would curse their bosses (and sometimes their wives), sing songs, gamble, cuss, and drive an economy that was wholly dependent on them for its survival.

Those who lived in the neighborhood had the option of purchasing affordable homes built and leased by CF&I’s Minnequa Town Company. The subdivision, called Minnequa Heights, contained hundreds of four-and five room homes west of the steel mill. Though most of the residents were employed by the steel mill, many others worked for area businesses or for one of Pueblo’s smelters. Boarding houses were also built by the company and rented to single men. As Pueblo was considered an “open” town, residents had the option to purchase homes from competing mortgage companies.

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