By Mary Lou Egan
Smelting was big business in Colorado, and from 1890 to 1900, accounted for two-fifths of the state’s economy. When industrialist Nathaniel P. Hill chose the high ground north of Denver to locate his smelter in 1878, there was nothing there but prairie.
In order to attract workers, he contracted Robert S. Roeschlaub, the architect who designed the Central City Opera House in 1877, to design the smelter and a village for his employees. The Boston and Colorado Smelter occupied land between West 44th and 48th Avenues and Broadway to Fox Street. The town was situated between West 44th and 48th Avenues, and from Fox Street to Pecos Street.
For the smelter, Roeschlaub drew up plans for an ore house, smelting plant, a refinery, and an elegant office building. An eight foot wall surrounded the industrial buildings, separating them from the village. Roeschlaub then laid out the company town, with a hotel for single men, small homes for employees and their families, several stores, and an elementary school.
The village was christened Argo, like the name of the ship in a Greek myth. In the story, Jason sailed the vessel while searching for his birthright, the golden fleece. Initially, school children walked to a two-room structure built in 1879.
But by 1890, Argo’s population had increased to 1,600, and a larger four-room brick building was erected. The school, generously endowed by the smelter and the railroads, contained all that was modern for the time: central heat, running water, and indoor toilets that flushed.
One student, Ivor O. Wingren, had a vivid memory of the school.
“In August 1902, my father moved the family from Cheyenne to Argo because it was close to his work at the Pullman shops,” Wingren wrote.
Wingren entered the seventh grade at Argo, which was taught by Elizabeth Howland. He also recalled teachers Maude Long, Nellie Hamilton, and Mabel McCammon.
In those days, an eighth grade education was considered adequate for industrial jobs and few young people went beyond that level. Wingren wrote, “Only two from our class went to high school in the fall of 1904. Bill Skinner went to East High and I went to Manual.” Wingren went on to become a lawyer, then an assistant to U. S. District Attorney Ralph Carr, succeeding Carr in 1947.
The Boston and Colorado Smelter suffered a fire in the refinery on Sept. 7, 1906, which spelled the end of the company. The plant was gradually dismantled and residents of Argo found other jobs and moved away.
Mary Lou Egan is a fourth-generation Coloradan who loves history. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.