Summer-Fall 2011 Telluride Magazine

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Page 52

historic places ▶▶

bridal veil power station

waterfall aerie

The strikes were brutal: When Wells hired non-union replacements, the miners surrounded the Smuggler-Union in a display of militancy and the resulting clashes left three men dead. It was just a warm-up for the mill strike of 1903, when Wells conspired with the hapless state governor to bring in the Colorado National Guard to quell labor unrest. Naturally, the militia’s presence made it easier to keep his mill open and running with replacement workers. Wells helped arrange the arrest of The Saint on false murder charges and regularly blacklisted workers at the Smuggler who joined the union. In turn, they called him the “Captain of the Cavalry Troop from Hell.” Undeterred by the conflicts, Wells hatched plans for an extravagant mine manager’s house. “He was born to privilege, confident his actions were always right, correct in his deportment, convinced laborers were beneath him,” wrote historian MaryJoy Martin in The Corpse on Boomerang Road. Wells was “a shining thing of the Mystic Shrine, willing to be lord and master.” What better than a house on the cliff, where he could entertain in style while looking down at the workers below? At first, he was rebuffed by his bosses. Wells went to them and asked for a house; if the mine managers in Silverton and Ouray had fine homes, he wanted one, too. No, came the reply. But a patient Wells bided his time, then courtesy telluride historical museum cunningly proposed putting a hydroelectric plant on Bridal Veil Creek. This time, he was successful. Powering the mines wasn’t cheap, and it was costing the Smuggler-Union a fortune to haul fuel into the high country; smallscale hydro operations were the answer, and they started sprouting up in the mountains. On top of the hydro plant that Wells built, his 12room dream residence began to magically develop. He decorated it in the finest mission-style furniture of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and in 1907, he moved in. The way he obtained the house was “clever,” says his youngest daughter, Marianne Wells Glaser, who is now 84 and lives in Halleck, Nevada. “He had a commanding way about him.” But the acquisition of Wells’ fancy home wasn’t coupled with success. According to lore, he used the house for romantic trysts, including a long, scandalous affair with a married woman. As he lived it up, however, his power and influence waned. His wife divorced him and 52

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Wells left Telluride for good in 1923. He remarried in Nevada, but his mining fortunes continued to diminish. In 1931, he shot himself in despair, leaving behind a second family that was nearly destitute. In Telluride, too, fortunes were declining. The Smuggler-Union closed by 1928, the price of ore flat for years. The town was shrinking and mining operations were shutting down. Through the Depression, mines were slowly sold off and consolidated. The Idarado Mining Company bought many of the mines in 1953, including the Bridal Veil Power Station. The next year, they turned the generator off, the house went dark, and it began to fade bit by bit. Furnishings and other pieces were hauled off by trespassers and neglect took hold. Marianne Glaser has few memories of her father while he was living and has come to mostly know him as a historical subject. She had never been to the Bridal Veil Power Station until she was invited by its most recent resident, Eric Jacobson, an engineer who began its restoration in 1988. She credits Jacobson with “picking up all the good, bad and ugly about those years” and bringing Bridal Veil back to life. “He’s ambitious,” Glaser says of Jacobson. “He has the same sort of flair I’m sure my father had.” a new era Like Bulkeley Wells, Jacobson has a bit of mad genius about him and a larger-than-life persona. Locally, he is known for railing against the town government, which he dismisses as “all talk.” Growing up near Grand Junction, Jacobson visited the abandoned Bridal Veil plant as a child; its inner workings and mechanics made a deep impression on him. While he was in college, the oil crisis resulted in a federal push to reopen abandoned hydro plants, sparking a quiet rush. The National Energy Act of 1978 made it possible for anybody to file a permit to restart idle facilities; they didn’t have to own the property, and an absentee owner could even be forced to sell. A market was guaranteed when utility companies were required to buy the power at a regulated price. The Act was designed to spur small-scale power generation and reduce the need for oil imports. Idarado, in the business of gold mining, was not paying attention. Jacobson, freshly schooled in the ways of federal permitting after a summer job, saw clearly that the government had opened up a back door to the Bridal Veil Power Station, even though the front door had been left locked by its owner. “When I landed in the hydro business, it was destiny,” Jacobson says. He filed for a permit in 1981 and, after seven years of legal resistance from Idarado, Jacobson was granted a 99-year lease to operate the hydro plant and live in Bulkeley Wells’ residence. Jacobson spent the next three years restoring the plant, which had been stripped of many of its parts, as well as the system of ancient pipes that pulled water from Blue Lake down to the generator. He found an electrician who could handle the rewiring and convinced him to drive up the steep switchbacks every day for three months to do the job. The powerline was restrung down to the old Pandora site below, and then the aerial tramway back up to the house was rebuilt. Eventually, the old generator turned over and restarted, and the power station began to produce about 300 kilowatt-hours of electricity. In 1991, Jacobson started restoring the house and its rooms, one by one. The old-timers from Idarado were especially good about giving back pieces that belonged to the home, Jacobson says. Furniture the mining company discarded in 1954 was stored in a chicken coop in Nucla for more than 30 years. Bulkeley Wells’ pool table and light fixture were returned from Norwood. Altogether, about 50 original pieces have come back. At the time, Jacobson lived above the waterfall