Thus did the 1905 volume, entitled “Leading Men of Colorado” describe Ed Hughes, a whiskey man, in a biography. It described in some detail his multifaceted business and community activities but failed to capture how Hughes, the dapper gent seen right, helped transform a Colorado town from a frontier haven for gamblers and gunmen into a tourist destination for the gilded gentry.
Hughes was an Easterner, born in April 1856 at Flemington, New Jersey. He was the son of Jared and Rhuhama (Hartpence) Hughes, both native Pennsylvanians. Father Jared was a farmer and livestock dealer who was successful in business and active in local Democratic politics. The 1870 census found the Hughes living in the Garden State. “Edwin” as he was listed, was 13 years old and part of a family of seven children.
Ed Hughes did not in fact “start in life with nothing,” and was able to extend his schooling in Flemington until he was 17. He seems to have had no stomach for farming, however, and early moved to Bushnell, Illinois, where he worked in a butcher shop and clerked in a hotel. After toiling in Bushnell for about six years, he moved west in 1879 to Leadville, Colorado, a boom town founded on the nearby discovery of silver deposits.
In Leadville, he learned the bottling trade and appears to have had a strong talent for it. He worked there for five years but perhaps sensing the demise of the town as the silver played out, moved to Aspen, Colorado, about 130 miles away over rugged terrain. There he worked in another bottling operation owned by a man named Charlie Lang. Hughes soon rose to the manager’s position. Perhaps recognizing that bottlers were largely unknown but needed in the West, after a year and a half with Lang in Aspen, in 1887 he moved up the road 40 miles to Glenwood Springs and started his own bottling company.
Glenwood Springs, originally called “Defiance” by its rambunctious residents, was anything but a tourist hub. Located in a mountain valley at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork River, many more saloons, gambling houses and brothels existed than grocery stores and restaurants. As one local historian has put it: “More saloons existed here than a city needed, honestly, but we had them.” They were the scene of some fatal gun fights, one the same year Hughes arrived, when two men were gunned down in a single incident. Harvey Logan, aka “Kid Curry,” a notorious bank and train robber, frequented the town and was shot by a posse on its streets. Finally, Doc Holliday, the gambler and fast gun from the “Gunfight at OK Corral” lived there and is buried in the city cemetery. An early photo shows the mud-rutted main street of Glenwood Springs.
As a newcomer, Hughes had the wisdom to see the potential of the area in the extensive geothermal resources that existed, most famously in hot springs. It was an era when many believed that mineral waters held restorative qualities and could even cure diseases. He saw that a market existed. The arrival of railroads, the Denver and Rio Grande from the east, the Colorado Midland from the south, meant that people could travel to Glenwood Springs in relative comfort. Hughes would provide encouragement.
Using the “skills and inventive genius” attributed to him Hughes managed to corner the market on capturing and bottling the water. He called it “Yampah Water” after the spring from which it came and claimed it had medicinal qualities. Shown here is a labeled body of Yampah Water.
Hughes also bottled ginger ale, cider, sarsaparilla and beer, calling his business the Glenwood Springs Bottling Works. Hughes embossed his bottles, helpfully providing the date of their creation. Shown here and below are clear Hutchison stoppered bottles from 1899 and 1900. Other dated “Hutches” have been found dated 1892, 1903, 1909 and 1909. The 1892 bottle had a base mark identifying it as the product of the Colorado City Glass Co. of Golden, the only one so marked.
In January 1888, Ed Hughes married Helen Heichmer, the daughter of Martin and Annie Heichmer, both immigrants from Germany who first settled in Pennsylvania. Helen was born there, one of nine children and in 1879 relocated with her family to Colorado, where she met Ed. With his marriage, the peripatetic Hughes saw reason to settle down in Glenwood Springs. The 1900 census found them there with two children, Charles E., 12, and Helen L., still an infant.
As the 20th Century progressed, residents of Glenwood Springs began to see the economic benefit of improving the town. Hughes, an ardent Democrat, was elected to the town board and became a force behind construction of better streets and sidewalks. A ban was placed on gambling and prostitution, one enforced by stiff fines. One sign of the times was an advertisement for mineral baths that featured a dainty young girl almost fully covered in a bathing suit beckoning tourists to Glenwood Springs — a far cry from the fancy ladies that earlier had graced the town.
With heady profits from his mineral water, sarsaparilla, and other beverages, Hughes in 1894 added a wholesale liquor business. Although Glenwood Springs was in the process of shedding its rowdy reputation, saloons still abounded. The photo above shows Hughes’ store as a horse-drawn wagon delivered barrels of Budweiser. The address was 824-826 Commercial Avenue. The bottom floor was Hughes’ sales area; upstairs rooms were rented out as residences. As a wholesaler Hughes was drawing whiskey from barrels brought by rail from sites eastward and decanted into ceramic jugs bearing his name. Two varieties are shown here, the one on the right dated 1910.
Ever the canny businessman, Hughes apparently decided that just as he controlled the mineral water from the local hot springs, it might be possible to monopolize the flow of liquor to local drinking establishments. An example of his strategy was a deal he made with his old boss, Charlie Lang, who had come to Glenwood Springs from Aspen. In exchange for selling Lang the Mirror Saloon — land, building and fixtures — for the bargain basement price of $6,500, Hughes extracted a promise. Lang would purchase all his liquor, beer, tobacco products and other supplies exclusively from him for the next three years. If those terms were violated, Lang’s mortgage would be immediately due to Hughes. This example was cited recently to illustrate “…the monopoly Hughes had in Glenwood Springs to dictate pricing, supply and even the establishment of saloons.”
Apparently this gambit by Hughes was short-lived. A scandal involving him and other city officials was reported to have ensued a year later, the nature of which was not revealed. Whatever its magnitude, the scandal does not seem to have impeded Hughes’ rise to wealth and influence. His bottling plant continued to flourish, said to incorporate a number of “efficiencies” Hughes had invented and patented. The entrepreneur also acquired area substantial real estate, encompassing both ranch and mining lands.
Hughes’ most important acquisition was the Hotel Colorado. Established by silver magnate and banker Walter Devereux, construction of this structure, patterned after the Villa de Medici in Italy, began in 1891 and finished in 1893. Shown above, the building was made of cream-colored Roman brick and Peachblow Sandstone, boasted 12,000 yards of imported carpet, and featured grounds covered with 2,000 rose bushes. The date of Hughes’ purchase is not certain but he owned it for some years in the early 1900s. In addition to using the ample profits of his liquor and bottling interests, he also issued bonds to raise the money, calling this enterprise the Glenwood Hot Springs and Hotel Company.
Hotel Colorado became a favored destination for Easterners lured by the mineral water baths. Arriving mostly by train, they reveled in the comforts it afforded as well as its firework displays, live music and elegant dining. After extended stays there by Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Hotel Colorado gained the name “Little White House of the West.” With considerable help from Ed Hughes, Glenwood Springs had become a retreat for the rich and famous.
Ed Hughes died in 1915 at the age of 59. He was buried in Glenwood Springs Pioneer Cemetery. Looking on as he was interred were his wife, Helen, their children, and contingents from both the local Elks chapter and the Knights of Pythias, to which Ed had belonged. With his death much of the financial empire he had created collapsed. Helen Hughes found herself unable to pay interest on $75,000 in bonds owed to investors in the Glenwood Hot Springs and Hotel Company and was forced into bankruptcy. At the consequent sheriff’s sale in February 1916, according to the Aspen Democrat-Times, the Hotel Colorado, hot springs and other valuable Hughes properties valued at between $250,000 and $400,000 were sold to a local businessman for the paltry sum of $78,535. No other bidders appeared and the transaction took only a few minutes.
Hughes Wholesale Liquor fared only slightly better. It was managed and later owned by Ed’s brother-in-law, Joe F. Benedeck. He operated for a few months until Colorado went dry in December, 1915. It later became Benedeck’s. a wholesale merchandise store that remained in business until 1972 when the family sold the building. By then Glenwood Springs thoroughly had shucked its rowdy reputation, advertised by the Chamber of Commerce as a “family friendly vacation destination” offering attractions like rafting, kayaking, climbing, hiking and fly fishing. From his grave I imagine Ed Hughes is smiling.