He Moved a River to Build a World-Famous Hot Springs Resort
Visitors to Glenwood Hot Springs Resort in Glenwood Springs, Colorado may not realize it, but the resort's founder literally moved the mighty Colorado River to build a renowned hot springs resort and spa.
Glenwood Hot Springs is a dream come true. Visions can arrive in various ways—some manifest in dreams, some are a sudden spark of inspiration, some are formed from necessity—but for Walter Devereux, the dream of building a resort to rival the most luxurious spas of Europe was handed to him by Isaac Cooper. One of Glenwood Springs’ founding fathers, it was Cooper who originally dreamt of creating a hot springs spa.
Initially unreceptive to Cooper’s ideas after making a fortune in silver and coal mining, Devereux eventually turned his entrepreneurial sights to creating a hot springs resort. Not only did the tycoon embrace Cooper’s business idea, his own plans were even grander and more elaborate. Devereux set about to make his mark in Glenwood Springs by constructing the world’s largest hot springs pool, complete with a high-end hotel, a top-notch spa and a high-stakes gentleman’s casino. To make it all happen, however, he’d have to move the river to acquire enough land on which to build his legacy—fortunately for a man of Devereux’s wealth and influence, it was only a minor snag.
Thanks to a surplus of rowdy inmates overrunning the county jail—all with too much time on their hands and not enough to do—Devereux had a steady workforce at the ready. Moving tons of rocks and dirt was hard, labor-intensive work, but for the inmates it beat biding time behind bars. Devereux’s construction site aptly became known as the “Jailbird Rockpile.”
Moving the Colorado River (called the Grand River at the time) was necessary because it split into two, flowing around an island located in the middle of the waterway. To realize his dream, Devereux needed more land to construct the pool and bathhouse complex. Thanks to the brawn of his incarcerated workforce, he successfully rerouted the entire flow of the river to the south side of the island. The island, once in the middle of the Colorado River, has been the home of Glenwood Hot Springs since July 4, 1888, the grand opening date of the Hot Springs Pool.
With his own deep pockets and the backing of wealthy English investors, Devereux was able to build the resort of his dreams. He hired Theodore Von Rosenburg as the architect, and also to oversee the construction of the red sandstone bathhouse—a Glenwood Springs landmark that continues to be the centerpiece of the resort. At the time it was completed, the final price tag was $100,000—the most expensive building on Colorado’s Western Slope.
In addition to the ornate exterior of the bathhouse, the interior featured Roman baths, gender-separated parlors and a men’s-only casino. Other early resort amenities included an inhalatoriam where visitors could breathe the healing vapor. Two ponds graced the property—one for swans, the other for ducks. There was also a “cocktail” spring for imbibing the hot springs water, though these days most people prefer soaking in the geothermal water instead.
It’s said that if you wish to move mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting stones today. For Walter Devereux, it turns out the same is true for rivers. His dream lives on 130 years later at the world-famous Glenwood Hot Springs Resort.
Learn more about Glenwood Hot Springs at www.hotspringspool.com.