Pick and Sledge

Curious Stories from the American West

100 Years Ago Today: Cement Bill Gets Into Clay

Colorado Transcript, February 13, 1919

William “Cement Bill” Williams is a guy I’d have loved to share a drink with, just to pry him for stories. Bummer that prohibition would’ve gotten in the way. But every time I come across a newspaper article about Bill he’s got his calloused hand in some new business or adventure, like digging out Berthoud Pass from 8 feet of snow, constructing sidewalks in Golden, buying a potato farm, acquiring a clay mine, or creating the Beaver Brook reservoir.

William “Cement Bill” Williams

He is best known for building the Lariat Trail, which is now called Lookout Mountain Road. Cement Bill graded the road’s 56 perfectly-banked turns over 4.6 miles from 1910-1914, and Lookout Mountain Road is still considered one of the most beautiful drives in the country. I’ll personally attest that it’s my favorite cycling route ever.

Describing Williams, historian Georgina Brown says he was as “hard boiled and obdurate as they come. If he hadn’t been, the Lariat Trail would never have been built.”

Shining Mountains (1976)

Cement Bill’s vision with Lariat Trail was to establish Golden, Colorado as the northern gateway to the newly established Denver Mountain Parks, which were the collective dream of Red Rocks Park founder, John Brisben Walker, along with Mayor Speer, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. Williams is not as well remembered as those three, but to the Golden community, he is just as important.

These towers at the base of Lookout Mountain Road symbolize the gateway to Denver Mountain Parks. They were erected in 1917 and stand there today.

Williams initially self-financed the Lariat Trail project. In 1910 he surveyed the land and started hand-digging a two mile path from the base of Lookout Mountain to Windy Saddle before he was able to secure donations of $1,000 from Adolph Coors and Portland Cement from Charles Boettcher. Eventually the state of Colorado kicked in $15,000 and the counties of Jefferson and Denver agreed to give $7,500 a piece. Developer Rees Vidler, who owned and operated the Lookout Mountain Funicular, gave 56 acres to the Denver Parks Commission, which also helped Williams finish the road.

Cement Bill finished grading the road by carving out several hair pin turns up the steepest part of the mountain toward the area that would later become Buffalo Bill Cody’s grave.

Buffalo Bill’s funeral procession, Lariat Trail (1917)

Legend has it that during the great blizzard of December 1913, a road construction crew of 16 men and 34 horses that were working on Lariat Trail had to work their way through snow drifts 15 feet high in order to get back down to Golden. It took them 13 hours to move through the record snowfall, but only one horse was injured.

Cement Bill Williams died on May 17th, 1945 but his legacy lives on in Golden, where the Lariat Trail continues to lead mountain loving residents toward their next outdoor adventure.

Memorial plaque on Lookout Mountain Road
My bike on Lookout Mountain Road

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