Rumor has it, that when James McCandless, the founder of Florence, came west, he was fleeing the law and murder charges back east. But, in the rural west, he was able to marry, build a big home, and safely ensconce his mistress in a beautiful abode across the street.
Charles Giebler, Florence’s mayor, was delighted and shocked by this tale, the details of which he heard for the first time at Saturday’s birthday event for the city. The town, population of 3,885, was founded 125 years ago. Back then, it was an natural resource town, with around 20,000 residents at its height in the 1890s, said city manager Mike Patterson.
The Fremont County town is best known to outsiders as the home to the highest-security federal prison in America. “Supermax” houses inmates including convicted Al Qaida terrorists. Today the big industry in town is selling antiques, although an Australian company, Incremental Oil & Gas, will be moving into the area soon, Patterson said.
With or without the oil, Giebler feels that Florence, where he’s lived for nearly 20 years and owns multiple businesses, is thriving.
“The economy worldwide is bad, nationwide it’s bad, statewide it’s bad,” he said on Saturday. “But I think we’re doing better than we were 10 years ago.”
If anything, Saturday’s modest celebration — Patterson guessed it cost the city around $2,000 — was an homage to the small town lifestyle dearly beloved by its city leaders, long-time residents all, but most of them transplants from other states. The event organizers — among them local morticians, restaurant owners, part-time grave diggers — watched as the inflatable play house brought in for the festivities slowly deflated around 4 p.m., and planned how they were going to set up the night’s entertainment, a beer garden in the town park.
“We weren’t sure how it would go,” said Patterson.
It seemed to be going well. Hundreds of children played and gorged on the locally catered food, while their parents and grandparents played bingo with the hope of winning a guitar for Smashing Guitars, a local shop owned by Giebler.
So, will they do it again?
“Well, we only have a 125th birthday party every 125 years,” joked Drew Lamoreux, who’s head of the local Rotary club and a member of the chamber of commerce.
Patterson thinks Florence’s founding by the eccentric McCandless is definitely worth raising a glass to on a yearly basis. If nothing else, the event gives local businesses and local bands exposure.
“I mean, we’re a small town if we don’t promote our businesses, they’re not going to succeed,” Patterson said.
The city leaders and event organizers represented a sizeable chunk of Florence’s industry.
Giebler owns a local mortuary, plus a restaurant and the guitar store. He also serves as a bishop at a local church. He was appointed mayor in August after the former mayor resigned.
At one point, Giebler lived in a 123-year-old building possibly built by McCandless.
Florence may not be Denver, or Colorado Springs, but it’s home, Giebler said.
“She’s been resuscitated,” he said of his hometown. “She’s living again.”
Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261