Family photo albums capture Colorado Springs at turn of the 20th century

Published: January 26, 2014, 8:00 am, by Bill Vogrin
The John S. Wolfe ranch at what is now 905 Cheyenne Road. Photo is dated 1887. Today it is the site of a Colorado Springs park: Harlan-Wolfe Ranch.

The John S. Wolfe ranch at what is now 905 Cheyenne Road. Photo is dated 1887. Today it is the site of a Colorado Springs park: Harlan-Wolfe Ranch.

Who doesn’t like old photos?

Especially when they give you a glimpse into places you love.

So I was tickled when John E. Norton called offering me a look at the family’s albums.

They are filled with black-and-white photos dating to 1887 of the John S. Wolfe ranch as well as landmarks across the West including Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, Taos and Santa Fe, N.M., Boulder and more.

You can see a slideshow of photos that I’ve posted on gazette.com. Many of the photos are instantly recognizable while others are a mystery.

The album describes the photo as: Amy Graves cooking at the stove.

The album describes the photo as: Amy Graves cooking at the stove.

I especially like one that shows an elderly woman cooking on an ancient stove with an iron skillet and another of a little girl on a three-wheel bicycle.

Norton, 65, is one of those folks with deep family roots in the region.

His mother, Ruth Edwards, was born here in 1912. Her father, Emery Edwards, had relocated to Colorado Springs from a family farm in Washington, Kan., in the far north-central part of the state.

In the 1940s, Emery opened Baker’s Service Supply Co., selling kitchen supplies, on the southwest corner of Wahsatch and Pikes Peak avenues. And the family bought a cabin in Green Mountain Falls in 1944, Norton told me.

During World War II, Ruth joined the USO and met John J. Norton at the Army Air Depot in Pueblo.

John J. Norton was born in Boston in 1908, the son of an Irish immigrant. He went to work at age 12 running a paper route in Boston after his father died.

This photo shows Pikes Peak and the Pikes Peak Highway and Cascade from across Ute Pass.

This photo shows Pikes Peak and the Pikes Peak Highway and Cascade from across Ute Pass.

Norton doesn’t know the circumstances of their meeting in 1943. But the two stayed in touch as John J. Norton shipped off with the Army Air Corps, ending up stationed in Alaska, and Ruth relocated with the USO to Great Falls, Mont.

When the war ended, the couple was wed in Great Falls on Aug. 15, 1945.

Trained in finance and book binding, Norton took his bride to Massachusetts where he managed an office supply store in Quincy for $45 a week, as he told The Gazette in a 1994 interview.

The Golden Cycle Mill at 21st Street is the caption on this photo.

The Golden Cycle Mill at 21st Street is the caption on this photo.

But Ruth was missed by her family and the couple relocated in 1949 to Colorado Springs with two children, including John E. Norton.

“His first job here was at Out West,” John E. Norton said of his father, mentioning the newspaper founded by Gen. William Jackson Palmer which eventually evolved into The Gazette and is the oldest business in the city. It also was involved in general printing and office supplies.

Then the elder Norton worked for the Democrat Publishing Co., but left when he was refused a $5 raise.

“So I just went out and opened my own store,” the 86-year-old John J. Norton told The Gazette in 1994.

There are many photos of the Garden of the Gods in the albums, including this page.

There are many photos of the Garden of the Gods in the albums, including this page.

He bought a typewriter company and in 1954 expanded it into office supplies, creating Norton Office Supplies.

After opening on South Tejon Street he soon moved to 125 E. Bijou St., on the southwest corner of Nevada Avenue, where the business would remain nearly 50 years and include several family members including sons John E. and Kenny Norton.

In 1994, as he celebrated 40 years in business, the elder Norton told The Gazette of his early days here.

The Flatirons are seen behind the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The Flatirons are seen behind the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“We were here when it was a sleepy town of 30,000 people,” he said. “I knew everyone around here.”

His business grew with the town and in 1994 it boasted 30 employees and $1.5 million in sales. His list of clients read like a “who’s who” of businesses in the Pikes Peak region including Fort Carson, The Broadmoor hotel and many more.

At the time, he worked six days a week and could be found behind a huge wooden desk, buried in paperwork.

However, the Springs exploded in population in the 1990s, attracting national giant office supply chains with deeply discounted prices that made it difficult for Norton to compete.

Rainbow Falls outside Manitou Springs is seen before the construction of the U.S. 24 Highway brdige in the 1920s.

Rainbow Falls outside Manitou Springs is seen before the construction of the U.S. 24 Highway brdige in the 1920s.

After Ruth and John J. died in 1999, the sons kept the business going until 2004, John E. Norton said.

“I think after Mom and Dad passed away, I lost heart,” he said. “And things were already trending downward for a long time due to the competition.”

He sold the building in 2005 and retired.

Norton said he has been immersing himself in family history and was struck by my recent story of Anna Magee and her grandfather’s 1874 journal that chronicled his prospecting for silver and gold with Bob Womack in what is now the Cripple Creek area.

“I thought your readers might enjoy seeing some of our family photos,” Norton said.

I think he was right. Let me know what you think.

Typical page in the Edwards/Norton photo album. The caption describes a bonfire at Washburn Field at Colorado College.

Typical page in the Edwards/Norton photo album. The caption describes a bonfire at Washburn Field at Colorado College.