Louviers – Colorado’s only bonafide “boom” town
By Joe Gschwendtner; courtesy photos
Ever see the Louviers (pronounced loo-veers) sign on Santa Fe several miles north of Sedalia? How many have crossed Plum Creek with the curiosity necessary to unravel a rather fascinating story? Yes indeed, it is quite a tale, actually explosive when you get all the facts.
Let’s start in 1906 … The American West was experiencing extraordinary growth in mining and transportation. So much so that E. I. DuPont de Nemours of Delaware (DuPont) sought a new location to manufacture dynamite. In May of 1906, a young DuPont engineer discovered Toluca, finding its rolling hills and location ideal for the company’s newest dynamite plant. After purchasing 1,800 acres the locale was renamed Louviers, for a wool growing town in France from which Éleuthère Irénée du Pont hailed.
Plant construction began almost immediately. There was but one goal: to manufacture high explosives for commercial use. Early on, the work force had no place to live, surviving in tents, caves, and box-board shanties. Known in the east as a beneficent company, DuPont decided to incorporate a company town into the project, furnishing simple, 384-square-foot cottages built on railroad ties, management homes, and eventually a village clubhouse, still operating today (including a two-lane bowling alley and library).
A ticklish and dangerous affair, DuPont had been making explosives since 1802. They knew that quality powder was one principal need of a new nation. Dynamite is the name for a family of explosives built around nitroglycerin, a highly volatile oily liquid. It wasn’t until Swede Alfred Nobel discovered how to make it safe (mixing it with inert ingredients called “dope”) that mortality rates among manufacturers and handlers dropped steeply.
To limit the inevitable, the plant was comprised of 94 buildings, those with critical functions backed up against a hill and surrounded by revetments. While DuPont had a marvelous safety record, there were seven total accidents according to Marlene Thomas, town historian. None were pretty. The first, in 1908 took the life of Luther Heckman. Only a head and finger were found later. Such was the nature of industrial accidents in a TNT plant. The next accident caused three fatalities. The coroner opined glibly that “it is the history of these accidents that nothing remains but a hole in the earth and bodies torn to shreds.”
Accidents notwithstanding, DuPont was good to its people. Until the real estate was sold off to its tenants in the 1960s, employees always paid modest rents, early on as little as $8 monthly. A doctor serviced all the health needs of the community as part of the employer/employee relationship. DuPont also sponsored a baseball team which for years was legendary in its successes. The field is still used today.
The 296 people in Louviers are proud of their history and rightly so; their town is on the National Register. Though the plant officially closed in the 1980s, few old-timers have taken a powder. Check out the clubhouse Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. You might just find one who will spin a yarn or two.