Blast From the Past

Way back when, a cantankerous old guy named E.H. "Brownie" Brown climbed atop his taxidermy shop south of U.S. 85 near what would become Highlands Ranch and posted a sign painted in big red letters: "Hellsville, USA."

Brownie wanted the world to know exactly what he thought of the DuPont dynamite factory at Louviers. One of these days, he predicted, the company town would be blown to hell--and his business blown up right along with it.

But as it happens, Brownie Brown met his maker first, through quite natural causes about eight years ago. His survivors pulled down the sign, closed the shop and moved along. Louviers (pronounced "Loo-veers") still stands where Brownie left it. And despite the occasional explosion, death and dismemberment, the town has survived the past ninety years more or less intact.

Today Louviers looks much as it did when DuPont ran things: Tidy rows of clapboard houses the color of after-dinner mints. Birdbaths bubbling. American flags flapping. Evergreens rustling. Wind chimes tinkling. Old men strolling with their granddaughters to check the mail.

Walk through the village and you'll get the impression that nothing much happens. Not much moves. Not much changes. And for the 300 or so people who live here, that's just fine.

"There's nothing to do here," admits Jaime Smith, who volunteers to serve as an informal tour guide. "We don't have any antique shops or boutiques. So the people who come through here just keep going. Even so, I think a lot of people would rather live in a place where there's nothing to do than someplace that has too much to do. But that's my own editorial."

Smith moved to Louviers from Denver in 1967. When he showed up, villagers thought he was a new corporate honcho. Not because of what he did or how he looked (he's a health-care educator who wears a black beret and blue jeans and has long hair and a beard), but because of where he lived.

Smith bought the biggest house on the biggest hill. And in Louviers, where a resident's position at DuPont determined the size and location of his home, people assumed that Smith was taking on a job with big responsibilities. Instead, he brought big responsibilities with him: a wife, twelve kids and an assortment of pets, including a green parrot and an ankle-biting Australian terrier.

"They probably thought I was going to open an orphanage," Smith says. But he and his family soon settled in, sinking their roots deeper than those of the cottonwoods along Plum Creek.

Louviers was founded in 1908, after DuPont decided to expand its dynamite empire west of the Mississippi. The company found the perfect spot about 26 miles south of Denver. In a clearing above a creek, it built a factory, 85 houses, one church and one village club.

Like other company towns, Louviers, named after a village in France, was constructed according to a simple, practical design. Neighborhoods were divided into three sections, arranged according to company hierarchy and assigned numbers instead of street names.

Workers lived at the bottom of the hill in a section called "the Flats," where 384-square-foot homes were built on railroad ties. In the early days, they didn't have plumbing.

Foremen lived a little farther up the hill in a rectangular block where homes were a little bigger and a little nicer. The area was called "Silk Stocking Row" because the men who lived there could afford to buy silk stockings for their wives.

At the top of the DuPont heap was Capitol Hill, where the manager, assistant managers and company doctor lived. Their homes had stone foundations, multiple stories, open porches, large yards and lush gardens. From Capitol Hill, executives oversaw not only the Louviers Works--the dynamite plant located to the north--but the town's activities as well. DuPont expected Louviers to become a model community and ran things accordingly.

Villagers shopped at the company store, sent their children to the company elementary school, got their hair cut at the company barber shop, shot eight ball at the company billiard hall, held picnics in the company parks and danced at company-sponsored dances.

DuPont, in turn, provided electricity and coal and charged rents as low as $7 a month. If someone needed his house painted, the company sent over crews from the plant. If garbage had to be hauled, workers took care of that, too. And if a delinquent child broke a few windows, company officials suspended his parent's pay.

"In some ways, the company made life-or-death decisions for a lot of people," Smith says. "It had considerable influence over people's lives."

The Louviers Works, meanwhile, churned out an average of 584,375 pounds of explosives per month in its first year alone, providing explosives for mining, oil exploration and road building throughout Colorado.

From the beginning, safety was on everyone's mind. Company divisions posted "rooster boards" with announcements like this one: "The Acid Department has something to Crow About: It has been 413 days since the last injury." Although three fatal accidents occurred within the plant's first three years, no one else died at the Works until 1940 and, after that, until 1971. The total body count: ten men.

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