The Lure of Almont

I recall the smooth whirring sound of my 4-wheeled homemade skateboard under my feet perfectly amplified off the domed shaped roof as I circled around and around on the wood floor in “The Pavilion”. The faster I went inside that circular old building with the chest high windows passing by me, the more the walls and the well worn plank benches seemed to spin in a kaleidoscope, the rough sawn rafters overhead adding to the effect like spokes of a wheel from the two huge upright logs supporting the roof. The walls seemed to speak with laughter and music of days gone by as if my motion was pulling it out of them.

On the east side I would ride past the bandstand, then empty, save for two old pianos standing silent just waiting to be played. Gliding by the old counter fronted with barked pine slabs and topped with a smooth pine finish, I could just see the hand made sandwiches being passed to some weary soul at the intermission of the weekly dances once held there. I wonder at that skateboard and it’s contrary one-way direction of counter-clockwise? I love to dance, as I had learned from my Father and Mother and she from her Father on that floor, and it was as if the board knew that was the direction I should travel as one would in a dance.

The town of Almont, named after a racehorse, was renowned for it’s fishing in the late 1800’s and most of the 1900’s, and fish the people did, luring many a trout the size of your arm. The railroad had a spur there where the “muleskinners” would meet it with wagonloads of ore from the Spring Creek and Taylor Park mines. There was a formidable station and platform as well where people also waited for the train.

Tony and Rosa Watzling and their 2 children Virginia and Joe moved to Almont in the early years of the 20th century to homestead the southeast side of the Taylor River. They had a third child Evelyn, born in the original house. Tony having been hurt in the mines of Cripple Creek, Victor, and Aspen had his fill of them, and endeavored to start a fishing/tourist resort as a means of survival. He built a few cabins and a house with an attached store called Watzling’s Grocery, and they did everything from catering to the fishermen and cooking for the muleskinners to making hundreds of tamales to ship to other mining areas. Tony’s health eventually failed him entirely and he passed away in the second decade of the 20th century.

Rosa mailed her brother, Frank Salisbury in Aspen to please come and help. They had already sent many mailings to him about the great fishing and their resort of a few cabins. Frank came there in April of 1920 with his wife Edna Isabel and two children, Harry F. and Thora Belle. Frank got right to work on fixing things up for the coming fishing season, and wasted no time in adding to the place that first year by building a grand pavilion to satisfy his yearning for the dance and to gain a bit more income for the families involved.

Where he got the lumber for the floor of that dance pavilion is unknown, but an educated guess leads me to believe he ordered it through Harry Endner who had supplied the mines of Crested Butte from his Ohio Pass mill and later had a lumber mill in Gunnison. At any rate, the Maple he came up with was meticulously lain one board at a time to smoothness and stability unmatched. He came by his skills honestly for his father Joseph Salisbury born in England was a master carpenter from New York to Salt Lake City, then Aspen, Colorado.

The building is of frame construction with a river rock foundation added a few years after the original erection of the structure. The tumbled smooth rock abounds in the small river basin in Almont, and enclosing the bottom was easily done. The rockwork has two doors in it to access the floor from underneath, which needed “shoring up” every spring to make it solid and level and is still done even now. Slim shingles placed atop short upright pieces of log on the virgin ground supported the long 2×8 courses of rough sawn boards running underneath the floor, this achieved solidarity and levelness to this day mostly unchanged and unmatched. The original window openings were screened, and drop down canvas flaps kept inclement weather outside.

Great care was taken every week to “treat” the floor. Kerosene oil was mopped onto the floor, and what did not soak into the beautiful wood was picked up by pushing sawdust across it with a large push broom to leave a clean surface sometimes sprinkled with corn meal to make a dance step smooth. Everyone living there was involved in preparing for the big dance each summer Saturday including the children and later their spouses as they grew to adulthood. Much of the family made sandwiches the day of the dance, while someone else brewed coffee on a wood and coal stove in the large copper boiler, and still others stocked the ice boxes behind the large counter with pop, kept cold by ice cut from the rivers in winter and stored all summer in the sawdust filled “ice house”.  The ethic then as now was: “work hard, play hard” for the people of the Gunnison valley.

Bands came from all over to play at this great Pavilion on a warm summer night. The gathering was a big deal to everyone including the musicians; they could not wait for Saturday night. Many of the bands came from Crested Butte. Generally they consisted of a piano player, accordion maestro, drummer and a couple of accomplished saxophone/clarinet players. They would all pile in someone’s car and make the drive to Almont over rough and unpaved roads after working a 12-hour shift in the coalmines or other laborious tasks. Many of them could not read a note of music, however it was in their blood and emanated forth to grace the room with sound and rhythm.

Big band music was the order for most of the dances there. Waltzes were popular as well as the Foxtrot and other “Ballroom” dances of the era. Two of the groups that played these tunes were the Charlie Curanto Band from Pueblo early in the existence of the Pavilion, and Bill Bailey’s band from Crested Butte, which consisted of John and Hank Arnott, Joe Vilotti and others that rotated in from time to time. “Sis” Miller is remembered as having played piano for almost all of the bands at one time or another. The Tony Salinger Band with Emil Spritzer, and Frankie Carricato, then Willard Ruggera’s group consisting of him, Joe Saya and Sis Miller were very popular and regular performers in Almont. The musicians got 60% of the door earnings that amounted to $3.00 to $7.00 per musician, which was big money then. The music in place – let the dance begin!

Attending one of these dances at the Pavilion was something everyone looked forward to, the highlight of the summer for many, and whether you hailed from the ranching and supply town of Gunnison, the mining town of Crested Butte or all points surrounding the two, you paid Sebastian Gardener the bachelor from Spring Creek, or C.H. Miller who originally owned the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery,  $1.00 a couple at the door no exceptions. If you felt compelled to fend off fellows wanting to dance with your girl they would see to it that you did that outside. Libations were not sold inside and you were obliged to keep it to yourself outside as well, particularly since some of this era of time fell under Prohibition. While watching the door one night, Sebastian Gardner turned his back just long enough for a young man to get by him without paying. He accosted the man and blocked his escape, but Gardner was so incredibly bow-legged that the man ducked right through his legs much to the humor of everyone watching. The stacks of sandwiches and bottles of cold pop were purchased for 25 cents and 15 cents respectively by over a hundred hungry dancers during the only break in the music, which lasted one half hour between 9:00 PM and midnight.

The May opening and the summers last dance in September were two of the largest affairs with 150-200 people attending, but by far the biggest event held every summer was the annual fish fry enticing everyone county and sometimes state wide. Originally it coincided with Cattleman’s Days.  To compliment the fish fry the pavilion hosted an afternoon “Jitney” dance.  They roped off the center of the floor and charged 10 cents a ticket, or 3 for a quarter for one very short dance. Ironically, the word “Jitney” according to Webster’s means: “A vehicle carrying passengers for a small fee”. The perimeter was surrounded with onlookers and people waiting their turn to dance. At nightfall they would have a regular dance for all the stuffed visitors.

The big times they had there ended about the time they took up the railroad tracks to Crested Butte in the mid 1950’s as far as the dances went, but Almont continued to grow with tourists still wanting to fish. The Pavilion got one last regular gasp in the early 1960’s and through part of the 70’s with 4-H square dances being held there every Saturday night in the summers. Though people that still remember those far gone times in the first half of the century will all tell you that it was just not the same as the elegant waltzes and the music of the big band era.

The old floor and building are relatively unchanged now in their 95th year. You can travel back in time just by stepping inside, and I feel sure you can hear the music. The current owners of what is now Three Rivers Resort do host two polka dances surrounding the 4th of July each summer and the pavilion I know would want its’ floor danced on if you find the time to travel the paved highway.


Dedicated to the master carpenter, my Grandfather that gave us that building to dance in, and the bands that created the music.

Special thanks to my Mother Thora Belle (Salisbury) Cranor, my Aunt Anna (Harry F.) Salisbury, Emil Spritzer, Evelyn (Watzling) Mills and Mark Schumacher for their contributions large and small.

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