The Colorado city is known by the nicknames “Steel City” and “Pittsburgh of the West.” You can’t help notice the rusting smoke stakes and furnaces along I-25 as you approach the city which is located about 125 miles south of Denver. It is a highly industrial city that kind of reminds me of the city I grew up in the east coast. However, what I’m talking about is Pueblo, Colorado.
In the late 1800s, it was one of the largest cities in Colorado. The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I), one of the largest steels mills in the country, was the primary employer. Immigrants flooded the city to work at the mills. Life was good until it wasn’t. Throughout the years, it was always a boom and bust situation in Pueblo, that is, until the early 1980s. Recession hit, steel crashed and the city sunk into a financial depression. No jobs, high crime. But the city hung on and we wanted to see the results of its effort to remake itself.
We had read that city had embarked on an urban renewal project called The Riverwalk along the Arkansas River which runs through the city. Plus, the city was also working on wooing businesses to the city like the largest solar farm company in the country. So we figured it was worth a stop to check it out…and it was certainly worth the three days we spent there.
To get a background on the impact of the steel mills on the city, we visited the Steelworks Center of the West. We haven’t visited this type of museum before. The museum is housed in CF&I’s former hospital. Its focus was the steel industry in Pueblo but I felt it was a bit too one-sided. Sometimes it felt more like a propaganda museum for the steel industry rather than an unbiased view of it.
Why is it that no museum we have visited talks about the environmental impact? What was it really like to live and work in an area belching pollution into the air? I’m not taking about revisionism just everyday life.
Next was a visit to the redeveloped area known as the Riverwalk located in downtown Pueblo. What a wonderful surprise. There were 32 acres that were redeveloped comprising both commercial and residential buildings. Parks, walkways, picnic areas, artwork, and waterfalls can be found throughout the area. We saw a number of new buildings being built including a large brewery (take note Kevin). Other older buildings, such as the Vail Hotel, were refurbished and repurposed rather than being knocked down. Plus, just a few blocks from the Riverwalk was the historic neighborhood known as Union Station. Union Station is a large railroad depot that has been converted into offices and other businesses. The surrounding couple of blocks also have restaurants and other specialty retail stores.
Still, despite its efforts, I think Pueblo has a bit of an uphill battle to fully remake itself. It is still depressed, the income level is very low and it feels seedy in many areas. Our new GPS insisted on taking us through some “interesting” neighborhoods. But, I did enjoy our visit there and, you know, I would probably stop there again to visit some of the places we missed.