Part of our mission at Old Primero Historical Foundation is to help make possible new documentary films that shed light on American history and the men and women who have contributed to the development of of American culture and life. Our interest is in preserving the history of ordinary people who served our nation during times of danger and unrest, who made a difference during times of exploration and development, and who pursued the American Dream and a better life.
To this end, a new documentary series on the American West continues with the third film by documentary film producer/director Vernon L. Williams. The Cokedale, Colorado story begins in the isolated and deserted canyons of southern Colorado where many new immigrants were drawn to the frame houses, schools, churches, and community buildings and signals a new beginning for families in southern Colorado. These stories of the peopling of the American West explain much about the culture and character of the American people. OPHF is determined to bring those stories of the past to generations of new Americans now and in the future. Film is the media that can bridge the gap between the past, the present, and the future. Towards that end, OPHF is pleased to introduce Cokedale, Colorado for all who want to discover the people of our past and how they have shaped our nation.
A Model Company Town and the Promise of Hope and Community
American Smelting and Refining built a new company town in 1907 and touted it as a “Model Town.”
Baseball became a popular sport in Cokedale as their team played other company town teams.
Three hundred and fifty coke ovens were built opposite the town to process coke for use as fuel in industrial plants.
Explosions and cave ins were an ever present danger and risk for Cokedale families.
A sense of community brought families together as Cokedale looked to their future with hope and optimism.
The Gotlieb Mercantile Store in Cokedale brought new meaning for company stores in Colorado.
“They used to come up here from Trinidad, and they would have Mass at the schoolhouse. But we had no church in those days.”
In 1907 the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) built a company town in Reilly Canyon, about 12 miles west of Trinidad, Colorado. Anxious to mine the coal in the local canyons, ASARCO’s Cokedale attracted hundreds of families to move into the southern Colorado area to sign on for jobs with the company. Many of the new comers arrived from eastern or southern Europe with few possessions but were determined to make a new life for themselves. Most immigrants were convinced that hard work and a thrifty outlook would insure that the American Dream was theirs for the taking.
This film is the story of people–people who came to Cokedale and lived out their lives in the struggle that proved to be the norm for miners and their families in the early part of the twentieth century West. In 1947 the Cokedale story came to a close as the nation turned to other fuels to supply the growing industrial output of post-war America. Between 1907 and 1947, thousands of men, women, and children lived in Cokedale as families grew up and the community matured.
Length 58 minutes