After a day spent deep underground doing back-breaking work, many miners wanted an escape at the end of the day, often in the form of alcohol. Unfortunately for them, many of the mining companies kept their towns dry, meaning the miners had to look outside of where they lived and worked for their alcohol needs. The miners who resided in Brookside got lucky. When a survey had been done platting Brookside, a half-acre east of the town was overlooked. This area was not controlled by the mine so saloons, dance halls, and brothels opened free from the control of drys. The drys of the county called it Hell’s Half Acre, a designation that was cheerfully accepted by the rowdy locale.
You can only imagine what sort of trouble an area only populated by saloons and drinking dens might be involved in. An article in April 1898 in the Florence Daily Tribune reported an incident in which a robber held up a saloon and relieved the owner of $175 and a patron of $110. Two horses were also taken from Brookside which was probably considered the greater crime.
In August 1900, there was murder and robbery of two miners returning from Hell’s Half Acre one evening. The Cañon City Times told how the two men had spent their evening drinking and upon returning home to Brookside, were set upon by two robbers. The miners, who were Hungarian and likely spoke little English, may not have comprehended what was being asked at first and so did not comply quickly enough for the robbers. One miner was shot through his body and died. The other, despite being shot three times in the head, was only stunned. Two men, seen at Brookside that evening who could not provide sufficient alibis, were questioned by authorities.
The Colorado Motion Picture Company used Hell’s Half Acre for movie sets at times but likely were surprised by an unexpected event while filming in April 1914. While filming a stunt, the actors shot off their guns quite a few times with blank cartridges. Within minutes, the hill between them and Brookside was full of guns with real bullets. These guns were held in the hands of mine strikers who wanted to determine in what context the shots were fired. After it was explained to them, they drew back, likely to the relief of the picture company.
Eventually, Fremont County and later Colorado went dry, forcing the closure of the saloons at Hell’s Half Acre.
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.