Notable Citizens: Swan Edison, Lafayette’s Toughest Mayor

Swan Edison and friends on the porch of old city hall at 201 E. Simpson Street in Lafayette, Colorado. The right photo is how the structure appears in 2022. Black and white photo is courtesy Lafayette Historical Society.

The circa 1910 photo above shows the front porch of the old town hall at the northeast corner of East Simpson Street and Harrison Avenue, which currently houses the East Simpson Coffee Company. The first man standing (from the left) is Swan Edison, one of the most prominent and dedicated civil servants in Lafayette’s history. More about him in a bit. The man with the mustache to right of Edison is (likely) Alfred “Pete” Peterson, known as Petey the Iceman.

Lafayette Town Hall was built in 1907 after voters approved a $5,000 bond issue for construction costs. The large double doors behind the men, and the ramp in the foreground, facilitated the town’s human-powered fire engine, which was housed on the first floor. Besides shaved ice from Petey the Iceman, a favorite summertime activity for kids, as told by the late Iva Whipple, was roller skating down the town hall ramp to the street, making a sharp left turn on Simpson and then continuing downhill all the way to Michigan Avenue.

The town hall structure was built from wood. What looks like brick is actually pressed tin paneling that’s painted to mimic brick and mortar. The old two-story schoolhouse on Baseline Road, which burned down in the early 1960s, also had the same tin siding.

Swan Edison circa 1897.

Swan Edison, Lafayette’s mayor from 1910 to 1912, was a coal miner who came to Lafayette in about 1894. Like Peterson, Swan Edison was a Swedish immigrant. During his life, Edison mined coal in the Simpson, Standard, Strathmore, Mile High, Crown and Columbine coal mines.

Edison became active in local politics when he ran for town mayor in 1903 on the Socialist ticket, seeking to unseat the staunch anti-saloon Citizen’s ticket mayor and trustees. In 1908 he was elected trustee under the pro-saloon Labor ticket, and his fellow pro-alcohol allies set about guaranteeing coal miners’ access to liquor.

Edison ran for mayor in 1910, and the election got ugly. Edison’s anti-saloon opponents accused him of beating his wife, Hannah. She immediately published an affidavit in the Lafayette newspaper testifying that Swan had never “beat me or attempted to beat me.”

Despite the dirty politics, Edison was elected mayor, and established himself as a law and order guy. One of the first ordinances passed under Edison’s mayorship was a town speed limit, set at 8 miles per hour. This applied to gas- and steam-powered automobiles and to buggies and horses. Automobile operators had to get a town-issued driver’s license; automobiles could only park on the west sides of avenues (not on streets), and were prohibited from parking on Simpson Street. (That’s why you hardly ever see them in the older photos of Simpson Street.)

Also on the Edison agenda was a nightly curfew, commencing at sunset, for kids younger than 16, and cleaning up the town by requiring homeowners to clean alleys behind their houses. He also banned the practice of homeowners letting their livestock roam the town at night. He designated the field south of the Strathmore Mine (south of Emma Street) as the town dump, and the area north of the cemetery as the manure dump.

Swan and Hannah Edison in front of their house at 605 E. Simpson Street. Photo courtesy James Edison/

A pro-labor activist, Edison outlawed the practice of moving train cars within town limits without help from a locomotive. Until 1910, the railroads sometimes moved train cars by having employees manually release the brakes thus allowing the train car to roll via gravity. Countless injuries resulted, mostly railroad employees falling from the rolling cars.

Edison was active in the United Mine Works of America Local 1388 and was front-and-center on the picket lines during the 1910 to 1914 “Long Strike.” Similar to injunctions imposed on strikers by a judge in the Jan. 2022 King Soopers strike, union coal miners in the Long Strike were forbidden from assembling in large groups. In Aug. 1911, Edison and 15 other striking miners were jailed in Denver for violating the judge’s order.

Charges against Edison were dropped, but later that year Edison traveled to Hastings, Colorado, (now a ghost town) to make a living by mining coal at a pro-union mine. He returned to Lafayette, and to his mayoral duties, the next spring.

Edison’s toughness shown through in his many brushes with death while working the coal mines as a miner, mine superintendent and mine inspector. In 1921 he was injured at the Columbine coal mine northeast of Lafayette. In 1925, he was hit by a coal cart in the Crown mine west of Louisville. He subsequently returned to the Columbine, where he was injured in 1935.

In addition to being a lifelong member of the Knights of the Maccabees, a Catholic fraternal organization, Edison served as election judge during dozens of elections. He was town judge (the police magistrate) in the 1930s and 1940s, and died in 1956 at age 82. He’s buried in the Lafayette Cemetery.

Although Swan & Hannah owned and lived in a house at 605 E. Simpson Street, Edison later owned and lived in a house at 211 E. Chester Street. That E. Chester structure was torn down in the late 1990s or early 2000s. The E. Simpson Street house still stands.

Sources: Lafayette News and Lafayette Leader, 1901 to about 1950; Lafayette, Colorado Treeless Plain to Thriving City, published by the Lafayette Historical Society, 1990; 80026: An Illustrated History of Lafayette, Colo. 1829-1929 by Doug Conarroe; Town of Lafayette, Colorado trustee’s meeting minutes, available at Lafayette City Hall; Oral histories in the collections of the Lafayette Public Library, Lafayette Miners Museum and Boulder Carnegie Library for Local History;