By J. Berndt MONTROSE–(February 6) Take a few steps back in time to the 1800’s, when a man by the name of Curtis Haskill and his wife opened a general store and a toll gate, right off of West Main Street nestled in the trees down by the river. The Haskills’ business thrived while Dave Wood’s new freighting company transported goods along the new road, a shortcut to Telluride and other western slope mining towns. Business slowed for the Haskill store as the railroad, which arrived in 1891, became more regular in the Montrose area. This directly affected Mr. Wood’s business as well, by providing a more efficient means of transporting goods. Times were changing for Montrose, as the railroad brought people in from all over the states hoping to get in on the beautiful scenery and the cash crop that was being mined in the surrounding mountains.
Soon the general store building would turn into a space for locals to congregate and take advantage of the large dance floor. This was also a popular place for the men who were stationed out south of town at Fort Crawford. That is, if they had the night off from chasing the native Utes off of their rightful homeland. The soldiers could be found dancing the night away at Haskill Park with plenty of booze to drown any regrets.
“It was legal and above board and no one thought anything about it. Every town had its red light district,” said Haskill’s granddaughter-in-law, quoted in the book, Montrose-Take a Closer Look-A Walking Tour (Cox/Norman 2006).
Irish Annie, a local madam, managed a “resort” on the property. There were apparently a few days where a group was reported drinking and carousing about. The excited individuals had exceeded their right to party on Sunday night and by Monday morning Sheriff Callaway had arrested Mrs. Ann Blanchard, Emma Allen, James O’Neill, as well as the “colored cook.” Sheriff Callaway said the group was being unusually loud and boisterous, O’Neill was very much intoxicated and had to remain in jail until he quit breathing fire and sobered up. The headline read, “Orgies again at the Haskill Park house.”
In the late 1920s, Montrose had built up its first tourist trap with a new and improved Haskill’s Park which soon changed its name to Arcadia Park. Two men, Andy Rasmussen and H.C. Gretty, Jr. took over the building soon after Haskill and his wife moved to California to get to a lower elevation, due to health conditions. Andy and H.C. had a dream and a big one at that; they wanted to construct a comfortable fun place for people traveling on the railroad. Montrose‘s first tourist draw was a success, providing nice campsites to stay for the night or the weekend and not far from the train depot. This was where parents and kids alike could come to be amused.
Arcadia Park soon built itself up to be Montrose’s one and only theme park, with a carousel featuring hand-carved horses, the earliest in movie technology, and boats on a small lake that led to a man-made island. This was paradise for all the people riding the rails in search of a new place to call home. It was Oct. 22, 1930, almost two years after A.C. Haskill passed away in California, when Arcadia needed a makeover, and the owners decided the best way to show off the new improvements was to have a grand Halloween party. The 18-hole miniature golf course was up and running with a boa constrictor, large elephant, and a lion with eyes that would glow; this was possible with an electric current, genius–in those days. They also added 850 more feet of dancing space, with freshly sanded floors thanks to White, Okey, and Jones.
At one time, the Arcadia Park advertised they were bringing in some big names such as Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. As the years passed the building changed hands several times, becoming popular in its later days for being the Lazy JR. It was a place many locals would go to eat with a good view of the river (something this town has failed to accomplish since). After dinner everyone was free to dance the night away to some good live country or rock and roll.
It seems like everyone I ask about Arcadia or the Lazy JR stutters and begins the conversation with a devilish smile. There are many stories out there but I felt everyone was a little short or maybe just a little fuzzy. Some memories are better kept locked up, meant for only those who had the privilege of experiencing them.
On Feb. 4th 1996 there was a fire. Gray smoke lingered over Montrose on that night as a vital piece of history burned to the ground. Haskill Park was no more, a 100-year old structure gone, but a century of memories cannot be erased so easily. I was only 12 when this happened so I have no personal stories to tell of my own, but next time I find myself driving over the bridge on West Main I will think to the stories, and the pictures of a time not so long ago.
A special thanks to Sally from the Montrose Historical Society for her support in helping me find what I was looking for. Source information was obtained from past issues of the Montrose Daily Press and one other local newspaper, as well as Montrose Take a Closer Look A Walking Tour Guide by Marilyn S. Cox and Cathleen M. Norman (Preservation Publishing, 2006). The history of Montrose is important and it is our job as a community to keep local history alive and it’s crucial to show that you care.