McKenna Process Company
Plant formerly located in Joliet, Illinois - ca. 1920.
Autobiographical Data
Visit to Denver, Colorado - 1932
by George Langford, Sr.
Links updated and information added January 21, 2010
I left Denver soon after Christmas, 1885, a few days after my father's sudden death [He was Augustine Gallet Langford - George, III].  My mother [nee Elizabeth Bell Robertson - George, III] with her three sons; Nathanial Pitt; William Robertson; and me (George) returned to St. Paul, Minnesota where my mother's family, the Robertsons, lived.  Our best and closest friends in Denver were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hanington and their three boys; Charles, Harry and Robert. [Note: John Yates, great grandson of Henry Hanington, pointed out February 10, 2006, that I had misinterpreted my grandfather's handritten spelling of Hanington as Harrington and then generously filled in some more family history of the Haningtons - George III.]
In the Summer of 1888, my mother took my brother, William, and myself back to Denver for a few weeks' visit with the Haningtons [Henry Hanington kept a diary which has been transcribed by Henry Hanington Jr.'s granddaughter; this diary dates the visit to the Summer of 1889 and mentions the Johnstown Flood, which occurred May 31, 1889 - George, III].  They lived at 1080 Grant Avenue. A large irrigating ditch ran through the back yard.  We called it the "Big Ditch," and it figured very largely in our daily play.  Will and I did most of our playing with Rob Hanington, who was a bit older than Will.  On July 4th, General William T. Sherman came to Denver and was given a rousing welcome.  Harry Hanington, being a [just graduated - George, III] high school Senior in high standing, was chosen to deliver an address of welcome to General Sherman at the evening meeting in a park before a large crowd with bands, marching soldiers, and fireworks.
I did not see any more of the Haningtons until the Summer of 1893, when with my cousin William Stephenson I attended the World's Fair in Chicago.  We spent a week there, and in that time had several visits with Charles Hanington, who had come to see the fair.  He was the oldest of the three Hanington boys and was about 8 years older than myself.  I saw Robert, the youngest, in 1894 through 1896 when he was an upper classman in the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University.
My mother died in October, 1931, leaving many papers relating to the Langford and Robertson families.  My two brothers sent me these papers, suggesting that I take note of them.  I had never taken any interest in family history, but I found several mysteries in ours and worked on them for over four years.  My older brother Nathaniel became deeply interested, and the two of us kept up a long and lively correspondence on the subject.  Some of it concerned our father's activities when he left Utica, New York, as a young man to try his fortune in the West.  His older brother, Nathaniel Pitt Langford [of Yellowstone and vigilante fame.  For his biography, see: Wheeler, Olin D. 1915. Nathaniel Pitt Langford: The Vigilante, the Explorer, the Expounder and First Superintendent of the Yellowstone Park. Minnesota Historical Society Collections - George, III] accompanied him.  They first went to St. Paul, Minnesota, in about 1858, where my father met a 9 year old daughter of Colonel Daniel Alexander Robertson.  He eventually married this daughter, Elizabeth Bell Robertson, in 1871.
For a time, the two brothers, Nathaniel and Augustine G. (later to become my father) tried unsuccessful real estate ventures and employment in St. Paul and finally decided to try the Far West, where gold mining was attracting many prospectors.  Nathaniel headed for Montana, and then Augustine went to Denver, Colorado, in January, 1861, by buckboard, a light, horse-drawn wagon.  Among my mother's papers was a letter giving an account of Augustine's trip across the plains and his first pioneering life in Denver.  He soon decided that gold mining without capital was poor business.  Pretty soon Augustine was in a sort of partnership with Joseph P. Marshall, whom he had met in St. Paul, brother of his brother-in-law, Governor William R. Marshall.  The latter, a Colonel and Civil War veteran, had married Augustine's older sister, Abigail Langford, and they were living in St. Paul.
From Augustine's letters it appears that he and Joseph Marshall started a foundry business.  The Civil War broke out, and Augustine made some cannon, which he wrote about.  The difficulty of getting pig iron across the plains from St. Louis, Missouri, prompted Joseph and Augustine to try their hand at iron making.  Augustine's letters were not enthusiastic over this venture and not much was said as to whether any pig iron was actually made.  Finally, Augustine went to Black Hawk, Colorado, and operated a foundry and machine shop there.
Black Hawk was in the mountains close to Central, Colorado, where much gold mining was going on.  In 1871 Augustine married Elizabeth Bell Robertson of St. Paul, Minnesota, and their first house was in Black Hawk.  My oldest brother Nathaniel was born there in October, 1872.  Then they moved to Denver.  My earliest recollections of my father, Augustine, were when he was manager of the Marshall Coal Mining Company, in their office at Denver.  My mother's younger brother, Victor Robertson, came to Denver several times.  Apparently, he had operated a store at one time, near the Marshall coal mine.
Once launched into our family history in 1931, my brother Nathaniel and I felt the urge to visit Denver again in order to investigate the scenes of our father's early activities.  So in May, 1932, we drove there in his Buick car.  He and his wife, Theo, came to Joliet, Illinois, from St. Paul, and my wife, Sydney Holmes, and I joined them at Joliet.  The four of us took turns at driving.
Forty-four years had passed since I saw Denver, and this visit awakened many memories.  Sydney and I visited the Charles Haningtons while Theo and Tan went to Colorado Springs for a few days.  Charles Hanington took me in tow.  He had recently become manager of the Colorado Museum of Natural History.  He took me to our old house on Champa Street.  I couldn't remember it.  I was about four years old when we moved to 22 South 14th Street.   I could remember that Langford home well enough; a small brick house with brick barn at the back; Kerr house to the right of us; Howard house to the left of us; the Halleck home in front across the street; and with the LaVista row of apartments farther down the street.  I remembered it all to a dot.  But it wasn't there; all torn down, and not a brick left.  A park-like civic center had moved in.  Our house and all that I knew so well was completely gone.  I couldn't find my way around.
However, I remembered directions and topography.  I knew where the Broadway School was or ought to be, near us.  I was in the 3rd grade there, when we left Denver in December, 1885.  I found the place easily enough, only there wasn't any school.  A garage, filling station, and some small stores had taken its place.
I lit out for the Hanington home, 1080 Grant Avenue, with the "Big Ditch" behind, a huge area of farm land in front and not many hoses near.  The house was there, but turned around and unrecognizable; the whole district, block after block of residences; and big apartment houses where farm land ought to be.  Everything had disappeared.  Even the "Big Ditch" was filled in, and I could not find hide nor hair of it.
I was tremendously disappointed.  Denver had grown up.  It was a village when I left it; lots of empty space to play around in.  Having seen what I thought I wanted to see, I was through.  Never again.
In a few days, Tan and Theo returned from Colorado Springs, and Charles Hanington drove us over the mountains to Central and Black Hawk.  I remembered nothing about these places until we got there.  Then I vaguely recalled a very rough journey over the mountains by buckboard.  Something about Central was familiar.  Charles Hanington told me that Central had changed very little in 50 years.  It was in 1882, just before I entered 1st Grade in the Denver Broadway Public School, that my father took me up to Central.
Charles Hanington drove us a further few miles out to Black Hawk, and we stopped to see the Langford house, which was still there and doing business. I did not remember it.  Tan was born there, but I probably never saw it before I was born later in Denver, after the family moved away from Black Hawk.  While at Central, I remembered something about my father taking me into a coal mine.  Charles said he would follow up that prospect when we got back to Denver.  Our trip to Central kept us busy all of one day.
Charles Hanington showed me a pamphlet published recently by the Denver Historical Society.  It told of the Joseph Marshall Company, first iron makers this far west of the Mississippi River.  This iron making took place in the early 60's somewhere the little city of Marshall near the foot of the mountains not far from Denver, it said.  The Marshall Company had made some iron, but not much, as far as anyone knew, and the Historical Society was looking for more information about this pioneer in iron making.  So Charles and I drove off to Marshall to see what we could discover, if anything.
Marshall was an extremely small place, but something about the surrounding country awakened vague recollections, particularly the one-track railroad along the foot of the hills, whose sides were scarred with signs of abandoned coal mining.
I inquired about old times from several people, and finally one of them said, "Why don't you see ____ ?  He lives about a mile up the hill.  He has been around here longer than anybody."  So I went to the place and soon found the one specified.  He was old, with white hair.  I asked him, "Did you ever hear of Joseph Marshall around here, or of his partner, Augustine Langford ?" and he came back at me, Yes, and I'll bet you are Augustine Langford's son."  He laughed at my astonishment and went on, "My father was our father's  mine foreman.  You came up here, a little kid, and my father took you into the mine a little way, on his shoulder.  I was a boy then, working at the mine."  That was pretty close to 1881 when I was only 5 years old.  I dimly remembered 50 years later the rough trip on that jerkwater railway, the mine opening sloping gradually into the hillside, and a short trip into the darkness on someone's shoulder.  That was the Marshall coal mine, and my father was its manager.
The old man was not so sure about iron making in that region.  Yes, some had been made not far from the mine, but not for long, for lack of charcoal and iron ore.  There were not many trees to get charcoal, and a man had to hunt around a long time finding enough surface bog iron or red oxide to fill a basket.  There were traces of some stone ruins that might have been where some iron smelting had been done.  I spoke of some old building foundations near the old mine, and my informer told me that was where the store used to be.  Augustine Langford's relative worked in that store.  I mentioned the name, Victor Robertson, and it was the right guess.  Victor was my mother's younger brother. [The reader might remember that the son of Howard Morris, one of the principal owners of the McKenna Process Company, was Victor Morris, and that Howard Morris's spouse (and Victor Morris' s mother) was Julia A. Robertson, Elizabeth Bell Robertson's sister.  Elizabeth was George Langford, Sr.'s mother.  Victor Morris might, therefire, have been named after his uncle, Victor Robertson.  Nevertheless, there appear to have been no financial connections between the two familes except for the hiring of the nephew of Howard Morris, George Langford, Sr., by the newborn McKenna Process Company.  Perhaps, there were no profits to be so shared - George, III].
The old man and I had quite a jovial reunion, and then I got busy on the iron-making problem.  I was quite familiar with how, and with what, iron was smelted in the old days; first, a 15-20 foot tower at the side of a hill; a stream nearby to furnish water power; and a floor at the base of the tower.  There would be a runway on the hillside, leading to the top of the tower, where measured loads of charcoal, iron ore, and limestone were dumped into the tower through a hole at the top.  The charcoal was the melting fuel, and the limestone was the flux which, when molten, absorbed impurities from the ore and fuel, and which flowed away as slag before the molten iron was allowed to flow out upon the floor and into sand molds, resulting in "pigs" when cooled.  The water power drove a wheel which worked an air bellows.  The air, blown into the burning charcoal, supplied the oxygen at a rate sufficient to generate the melting heat.  The stone tower was the ancestor of our modern blast furnace.
I soon found the stone ruins above mentioned and, as they adjoined the back yards of several residences, I had to get permission to investigate.  I had a shovel and trench pick, and I managed to to get several stones in the ruins out.  They showed traces of red iron oxide, and so I sailed into the floor.  This was merely backyard dirt.  I dug nearly four feet down,and it was just fool's luck, for I hit the right spot and soon uncovered two iron "pigs," quite slender and about four feet long.  When iron smelting ended there in 1865 or thereabouts, the "pigs" must have been overlooked.  I really had not hoped to find any, but there they were, and welcome, too.  I gave one of them to the Historical Society of Denver.  I sawed the other one in two; Tan got one half, and I, the other.
Our visit to Denver finished up at the Country Club with a dinner; the three Hanington boys and their three wives; and we two Langford and our two wives.  My brother Will and his wife, Helen, were not with us.  The Country Club was on the site of one of the "Cherry Creek Groves," wild and spooky in the old days, but chastened by civilization.