MONTROSE HISTORY AWASH WITH WATERS OF IRON MIKE

Montrose’s second Hotel Belvedere, (above) which was connected to a public bath house, was built in 1896 at South First and Uncompahgre, after the first Hotel Belvedere (located at Main and Selig from 1889-1894) burned mysteriously as a firemans’ ball took place in the dining room. The second Hotel Belvedere lasted until 1976, when it was dismantled. Photo courtesy Denver Public Library Digital Collection.

Montrose’s second Hotel Belvedere, (above) which was connected to a public bath house, was built in 1896 at South First and Uncompahgre, after the first Hotel Belvedere (located at Main and Selig from 1889-1894) burned mysteriously as a firemans’ ball took place in the dining room. The second Hotel Belvedere lasted until 1976, when it was dismantled. Photo courtesy Denver Public Library Digital Collection.

By Caitlin Switzer

 

MONTROSE—(November 6, 2013)  Today, remnants of the well and drinking fountain known as “Iron Mike” remain in Centennial Plaza, beside a picturesque fountain where children love to splash and play during the summer months. For more than a century however, visitors flocked to Montrose’s Downtown to bathe and drink in the mineral-rich waters of this artesian well.

Montrose Historical Museum Director Sally Johnson, who came here as a child in the 1970’s, recalls the first time she took a drink from the fountain.

“It was supposed to be healing,” Johnson said, “But it tasted awful.”

Nevertheless, Iron Mike was a Montrose mainstay for more than 100 years. The well itself was drilled in 1888 by Montrose’s first blacksmith, and quickly became a center of community life, though the Downtown bathhouse was dismantled in the 1970’s and the drinking water was turned off shortly thereafter when testing proved it unfit for human consumption.

“As far as I know, we have three artesian wells here,” Johnson said, “But the other two are on private property, one at Fruit Park and one on the Hogback. In the old days, when you went to get a drink everyone drank from an old tomato can. A lot of people would drink a gallon every day, to keep their health up, and many used to make lemonade from the water. My grandma, Josephine Williams, used to say that if you drink from the waters of Iron Mike once, you will always come back to Montrose.”

The first pipe was eventually replaced courtesy of the local Methodist minister, who also donated a pump, and was again replaced with lead pipe in 1907 by Joe and Sid Hartman.

“The original fountain was donated to the city by T.B. Townsend in 1910,” Johnson said. “It used to be a tall shape with a lot of rock. In 1955, the Lions Club replaced the fountain.

“There also used to be a bathhouse at Centennial Plaza, the Belvedere, from 1896 to 1976,” Johnson continued, “You could have as many as 50 people in the building. Unfortunately, the sewer was not good, and it ran everywhere.”

According to Montrose Historian Dona Freeman’s compilation of local history and news items, 100 Years (1882-1982) Montrose Colorado, the bathhouse and Iron Mike (then known as the Townsend Fountain) were making the local newspapers as early as 1896.

“The electric light at the bathhouse is of very little benefit to people who visit the artesian well during the evening. One can find people groping about in the dark at almost any time up to midnight, and ladies seldom escape without soiling their dresses,” noted one Montrose Press article. “We noticed a stranger a few evenings ago, stretched across the sidewalk, drinking out of the trough which carries off the refuse. He could not see the parson’s pump on account of darkness. Now if the town furnishes the electric light solely for the benefit of the bath house, we shall have to insist upon Mr. Rhoades stationing himself at his pump with a lantern during the evenings; but if the light is intended for the convenience of people visiting the well, it should be moved p.d.q. D’ye hear?”

In 1975, the remains of the bath house were dispersed.

“The Belvedere auction sold about everything that could be moved, except the 107-year-old piano which was prominently advertised. The piano has historic significance, and Ed Nelson wouldn’t part with it for less than $1,500, which wasn’t bid,” wrote the Montrose Press at the time.

“When it was torn down, they let people come in and take the wood,” Johnson said. “I have some of the hardwood in my floors, and I have the fire escapes.”

In addition to the aforementioned electric lights, the bath house was heated, she said.

According to Wikipedia, “artesian” denotes a confined aquifer containing groundwater under positive pressure, causing the water to rise to a level where hydrostatic equilibrium has been reached. Such wells are named after the former province of Artois in France where many artesian wells were drilled by Carthusian monks beginning in 1126.