Museum Blog

Absolutely Radiant

Radiant was a coal camp that began life in 1904. According to the Florence Tribune on November 4, 1904, it was “just seven miles southwest of Florence” that was “attracting attention all over the state.” At the time the camp was constructed 40 houses (of two and five room construction) were planned, as was a boarding house, machine shop, stables, offices, and a large warehouse. The mine was owned and operated by the Victor-American Fuel Company.

Map of Fremont County by Nancy C. Hirleman, Cañon City marked with purple, Radiant marked with red, 1983. Object ID: 2007.017.101

By February 1905, there were already no vacant houses in the town. Just a year later, a petition was put forth asking for a new school district be formed for Radiant. Fox and Smith Construction Company was contracted to build a school in 1914. It was completed January 1915 and was christened the “Whittier School.” Radiant District #38 operated until 1930 when it was annexed into Coal Creek District #15 due to low enrollment numbers.

As was common with coal camps, Radiant boasted a baseball team. In July 1915, the team played against Cañon City as part of the festivities of the Fourth of July. The article regarding this event also makes note of the name change of Radiant to Pyrolite. According to the Cañon City Record on September 7, 1916, the name was changed due to confusion in the post office.

How Town Got Its New Name

People over the county have wondered from time to time why Radiant was changed to Pyrolite. It seems that there is another postoffice [sic] in the state called Radium and similarity of the name to Radiant got the mail clerks confused and they asked to have one of the names changed. Radium happened to be the oldest postoffice [sic], so it was up to Radiant to make the change.

Postmaster Givens sent in a list of six names to the postoffice [sic] department from which they were to pick the name. Postmaster Givens’ sixth choice was Pyrolite, but it was the first choice of the postoffice [sic] department, so Pyrolite it became.

Despite all this, Pyrolite didn’t quite stick and the town was renamed once again sometime before 1927. The 1927-28 City Directory lists the town as “Kenwood” with a population of 200. A daily auto bus service ran between coal camps with Kenwood listed as 12 miles from Cañon City by auto road. The mine shut down in 1929, causing the town to be abandoned. However, the homes did not stand empty for very long.

The Federal Emergency Relief Administration began leasing the property in 1930 to establish a camp for the many unemployed men due to the Great Depression. The camp provided food, housing, clothing, medical care, and even education to the men that lived there. If the men chose to stay, they were expected to work or go to school but were free to leave at any time. The Works Progress Administration took over in 1935 and the men were paid to build roads and forest boundary fences. After the camp closed in 1937, the buildings were sold at auction.  

Moving house 302 from Radiant-Pyrolite, ca. 1940. Object ID: 1999.110.041; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

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