by Greta Hanson Maurer
Beulah old timers will tell you that a wayward flock of geese, off course due to a severe snowstorm in Kansas, landed in the low just off Grand Avenue in the center of Beulah. Apparently, the area was covered in ice, and when it melted it formed a small pond for the winged visitors. Area residents loved the vision they created, and in 1883 Col. C. N. Sellers made the decision to create Lake Tucita by damming up the Pioneer Ditch and filling the area to levels large enough to float a small boat. He planted shade trees surrounding the lake, and they stand today. The original boathouse is the residence of the Ermel family and is located on the west end of the property.
In 1910 the dam was controversially dynamited, and the water drained. The grassy two acre area became the site for Beulah's first rodeo, as well as the spot to play baseball. Local businessman Warren 'Shorty' Parker built the original octagonal GayWay Park to serve food to the crowds with an area big enough to accommodate dancing. A new group of owners took over operation in the late 1940's.
Rumors of liquor and gambling bootleg operations have filtered around Beulah for years. Caren Ermel, daughter of 1960’s owners Bill and Robbie Graham confirms that 'some of the remains of the bootleg operation were still in the building when my parents bought it'. She also recalls being told of an illegal card game going on in the back during the epic snowstorm in the Winter of 1957. Despite being warned to pause the game to clear the deep snow from the roof, the game continued - until the roof collapsed on top of them.
In the 1950s William 'Buddy' Johnson rebuilt the building as it stands today. A multi-talented local radio and TV personality, Johnson hosted Saturday night dances and Sunday afternoon Jamborees at the location known as Buddy Johnson’s GayWay Park. He toured throughout Colorado with his band, the Colorado Rangers, playing for a remarkable 41 years. Buddy brought a host of music talent to the Valley, including nationally acclaimed singers, Jim Ed Brown and Smoky Ray Porter.
The Grahams brought in small carnival rides, mini-car racing, miniature golf, restaurant, grocery store; also offering antiques and a convenient laundromat. At one time the big room was even used for rollerskating.
Renamed for new visions over the years in modern times, GayWay Park has operated as the Tucita Inn, Hungry Heifer, Gringos, Wooden Nickel, Flag Mountain Grill, and for the past 10 years, it has been home of Songbird Cellars, who will bring food back to their location in mid-September (see more on page 2). The Songbird has played host to performers like Michael Martin Murphy, Flying W Wranglers, Flo Bots, Cassie Taylor, and more. A gathering place through the ages, a historic gem, Beulah’s GayWay Park is a treasure.
by Beulah Historical Society
January 30, 1842 - Feb. 4, 1915
No one calls it Lake Tucita, which is how it all began in 1883. Back then, Beulah patriarch Col. C. N. Sellers decided the beautiful mountain valley needed a boating pond, so he put in a dam and let Pioneer Ditch fill in the low-lying area off Grand Avenue. He even built a little boathouse. Sellers was an improver at heart, adding thousands of trees to the valley as well.
"Apparently there was a dispute over the kind of fish Col. Sellers was stocking in Lake Tucita," explained Orville Myers, a Beulah historian. "Somebody dynamited the dam in 1910 and the lake drained away. Sellers never rebuilt it."
So a flash of dynamite cleared the way for Gayway's construction in 1927 by businessman Warren "Shorty" Parker. Unfortunately, Parker didn't have much better luck with explosives than the Lake Tucita dam.
Gayway was born. "I remember you could get a hamburger for a dime and an ice cream soda for 15 cents, " recalled Bob Purvis, 75, whose family moved to Beulah when he was just a year old. "Shorty Parker would pay me to keep an eye on the compressors that kept the pop machines cold."
By the time Parker acquired the 2-acre park area, it had become the grassy and popular location for baseball games. Teams from Beulah, Goodpasture (a now extinct community east of Beulah), Burnt Mill and Rye all had teams that played there. So Parker erected an octagonal building with enough space to dance and serve food.
GayWay became a center of the Beulah community under Parker's ownership. Along with baseball games, the local cowboys held the valley rodeo there every summer.
"That's where I learned to square dance, " said Kay Keating, a retired Navy captain who grew up in Beulah. "I think we used GayWay for just about any community event you could think of."
Ranch families would ride in for the dances and the youngsters would fall asleep on the benches that ringed the hall.
That continued right up until the day in June 1939 when Parker was on a crew installing a water line under nearby Pennsylvania Avenue. Purvis was an 11-year-old boy at the time and was at the construction site, along with his father, Cliff.
"Shorty was the dynamite man on the crew and he'd set two shots down in this hole," Purvis said in his gravelly voice. "Well, one of the shots went off but the second one didn't. I started to walk up to the hole behind Shorty when my Dad called, 'Buddy, you better come back here. It's not safe.' So I started back toward my Dad and that's when the second shot went off, which killed Shorty."
Other owners took over the operation of Gayway during World War II and the late 1940s - Dr. Lee Curtis and Harry Taylor, Paul Wright and Earnest "Bus" Davis.
But the glory days came in the 1950s when Pueblo musician and entertainer William "Buddy" Johnson bought the park. Johnson hosted Western music programs on Pueblo radio and a children's show on local television. The drummer for his own country music band, Buddy Johnson and the Colorado Rangers, Johnson began hosting weekly dances at Gayway on Saturday nights and a Sunday afternoon Jamboree.
"Those were great years," said John Johnson, the musician's son and a local filmmaker. "My dad knew that there were several country music entertainers (such as Jim Ed Brown) stationed up at Camp Carson in those years and he would invite them down to Gayway to perform. There was always music on the weekends at Gayway."
It didn't hurt that Johnson could put in a plug for his Gayway dances when he was on the air during the week. Photographs from that period show Johnson and his band on stage at Gayway with other groups, guitars around their necks, waiting for their chance. Out on the dance floor was a forest of couples, the ladies' skirts twirling.
"That had to be the be best of times for Gayway," agreed Myers, the local historian who moved to Beulah in 1951 and lived in a small cabin next to the park. "I'd watch the cars from Pueblo line up and park for those Saturday night dances and Sunday Jamborees. Pueblo has always liked to play in Beulah and those nights were proof."
"Absolutely," agreed Purvis with a laugh. "I can tell you there were a few fights out there in the parking lot."
Purvis remembered a co-worker at the CF&I steel mill who confessed that he'd once rounded up some rough friends with the idea of "going up to Beulah and showing those guys who was tougher." The battle was short and sweet, ending with that group of mill workers getting routed, Purvis said with delight.
Myers recounted watching young men leave the dance hall to quietly jack up the car of the Gayway "bouncer" - an off-duty police officer. "Then they went in and did something to get the security guy to chase them. Well, they ran out and hopped in their car and raced off. But the security man's tires just spun and spit gravel because his wheels weren't really touching the ground."
But Mother Nature had something to say about Gayway. The winter of 1957 brought a crushing snow storm that caved in the roof of the old octagonal dance hall. It took a while to rebuild, but for some reason the collapse seemed to break the spell that lured Pueblo people up to the dance hall in the hills.
"Gayway just wasn't ever as popular again," Myers said.
The 1960s brought new ownership and more changes. When Bill and Robbie Graham bought the park, the old dance hall had even been used as a roller skating rink.
"My dad (Bill Graham) tried a number of things to attract business," said Debbie Rose, who currently owns the park, restaurant and neighboring Beulah General Store with her husband, Mike. "He bought some little carnival rides one year and even put in a miniature golf course."
Asked her earliest memories of Gayway, Rose laughed and said, "Washing dishes. Because we always had a restaurant there even if we were doing other things with the rest of the building, like running a store."
Over the past 20 years, various people have leased the restaurant and tried to establish a new tradition - along with new names. For old-timers, however, it will always be Gayway.
Pete and Polly Conlon took over operating the restaurant five years ago, naming it the Flag Mountain Grill. Easterners - he is from Massachusetts and she is from Maryland - the Conlons have enjoyed taking on the responsibility of running a landmark institution in Beulah."We've even brought back the tradition of music," said Polly Conlon as she prepared a small Christmas banquet. Conlon plays stand-up bass fiddle, while her husband plays guitar and mandolin. Every Sunday afternoon, there is an "open microphone" at the Flag Mountain and area musicians drop in to play with the Conlons and others.
The restaurant also regularly hosts The Bad Girls of the North - a musical duo made up of Linda Amman and Chrisann Galvez.
And what about the dance hall? Conlon opened the doorway to a big room that is crowded now with lumber and other tools. There is still a stage and a solid floor underfoot. But the room is cold and quiet now."It's not exactly ready for a dance today," Conlon offered.
No, but when it comes to Gayway, you never know what tomorrow might bring.
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