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Urban Perspective

By Zachary Urban

Child labor is generally frowned upon. Laws dating back to the early 1900s have banned such practices in Colorado. These laws generally focus on the negative aspects of child labor, but if you take a closer look, one could argue the labor of a 4-year-old child named Melvin Sylvanous Carver benefited our community more than any other. While a gold rush was responsible for the initial wave of settlers in the Wheat Ridge area, the second wave of settlers can be attributed to proclamations by doctors that Colorado’s rarified air was responsible for the cure of many individuals suffering from tuberculosis. By the early 1900s, nearly 30 percent of Colorado’s population was comprised of individuals seeking treatment for tuberculosis. Sanitariums were established to provide for the treatment of tuberculosis patients.

On Oct. 3, 1903, The Evangelical Lutheran Sanitarium Association was founded with the mission of establishing a sanitarium. Karl Koch, a member of this association, would drive his horse and buggy on Sunday afternoons searching the countryside surrounding Denver in hopes of finding the perfect plot of land on which to build their sanitarium. In early 1904 he purchased 20 acres of land at what is now 38th and Balsam Street, one and a half miles west of the West 38th Avenue Electric Streetcar Line (38th and Sheridan). The Lutheran Sanitarium was opened in May of 1905. The facility was affectionately known as the “Tent Colony” given the larger number of tents set up to provide for the treatment of patients.

This tent colony was not without controversy. Many residents of the surrounding area would avoid the tent colony quite literally like the plague. One such example of this diversion to sanitariums came to a head during the Colorado General Assembly’s 1913 legislative session. State Senator Benjamin Franklin Carver of Edgewater drafted legislation to require new and existing sanitariums to receive approval to operate by a vote of residents within a mile of the institution. A nay vote by a majority of the surrounding residents would cause the Lutheran Sanitarium to close.

Melvin Carver, the son of State Senator Benjamin Franklin Carver, is credited with saving Lutheran Sanitarium from almost certain closure. On the day this bill was to be introduced, Senator Carver brought his son with him to the General Assembly. Like most 4 year olds, Melvin was bored by the proceedings. Melvin took a red pencil from his father’s desk and set about to scribble on the paper in front of him. The paper on top of Senator Carver’s desk happened to be the sanitarium bill. Melvin's laborious scribbles were written all over Section Three of the bill which related to existing sanitariums. When the clerk read the bill into the record, the scribbles appeared to indicate Section Three was to be stricken from the bill. The bill was passed without Section Three and therefore did not apply to existing sanitariums, saving what is now known as Lutheran Medical Center from possible closure.

Zachary Urban can be reached at 720-252-5930 or