CANON CITY, Colo. — About 10,000 residents of Canon City do not get to see the mountains the city sits below, because they are in prison. This prison is home to criminals like the Unabomber, the Boston Bomber and the man who attacked the World Trade Center in 1993.
Many jobs in the town are related to the prison and several structures in the town are vacant and in disrepair. Residents say the stone walls and boarded windows don’t tell the whole story of Canon City. People smile at each other as they walk down the streets, and residents say that’s not necessarily true in other places.
With the help of tax credits, resident Stan Bullis purchased several buildings and is in the process of restoring and reshaping the city’s story. His passion is to bridge the old to the new, and make it relevant for the next 100 years.
Canon City is two hours south of Denver and sits in the valley of the Arkansas River. Trappers and hunters arrived in the 19th century, and then miners.
The beauty of the town attracted the silent film industry, including stars like Tom Mix, who was the original big screen cowboy.
The Selig Polyscope Company, a Chicago film company, set up shop in Canon City when people started to demand more realistic backgrounds on screen. Silent movies came to an end in Canon City in 1914 when an actress was killed in an on-set accident.
Mix returned to the town 20 years later for “The Miracle Rider,” and over three decades later, John Wayne shot “True Grit” there.
Many of the stars stayed at the Saint Cloud Hotel. In 1883, the hotel was 30 miles away from Canon City, but the area became a ghost town once silver mines closed. In 1887, the owners of the hotel moved it to Canon City.
The town embraced how the hotel housed movie stars for decades, but then the Ku Klux Klan made the hotel its headquarters in the 1920s. They persecuted mostly anyone not born in the U.S. and were the least happy with the mine workers who were from Italy and Slovenia.
The future of the town now is hospitality and tourism, starting with Main Street. Bullis’ portfolio features six buildings, including a movie theater, a post office and the Saint Cloud.
“I think these old buildings hold a sense of time and place and host a level of presence,” Bullis said. “Can’t be in this lobby and not feel something.”
It’s not just buildings that are being restored; it’s the people, too. David Bueno was one of the prisoners in Canon City until DNA evidence freed him from death row. He works for Bullis, building furniture for the St. Cloud Hotel.
Work like Bullis’ is resurrecting the town’s history and preserving its charm, hopefully inspiring tourists on the highway to exit to visit Canon City.