While not much is known of Thomas Elmer Rowe’s early life, we do know he was born July 23, 1861, in Pennsylvania, and moved with his family to Erie, Colorado, when he was just ten years old. We also know that as a man, Thomas had a profound interest in local government: in 1891, he first tried his hand at local office when he ran for county assessor on the democratic ticket.
During this time (from 1886-1890, specifically), Thomas also served as a county road overseer, which required him to maintain the roads in his district and keep them passable for automobiles (see Levis’ biography and the ‘good roads movement').
Thomas wasn’t only the county assessor and a road overseer, however—he was also perhaps the most successful potato farmer in the area. In the fall of 1903, a massive storm rolled through Weld County, dumping huge amounts of hail and bringing hurricane-force winds. Thomas’ potatoes were one of the few crops in the area to survive the storm, and he made quite a profit from that harvest.
That same year, Thomas was also appointed by the sitting Board of County Commissioners to act as an election judge representing the county’s Democratic Party. In this position, he was responsible for overseeing an orderly voting process in Erie, for every election that should take place during his term of one year.
Before Thomas had a chance to continue his legacy in local government and run for commissioner in 1912, tragedy struck in the summer of 1897 in which Thomas played a central role. Thomas had married a local woman named Barbara, and together they had six children. In early July, Thomas was outside with one of those children, Frank, doing some yardwork. Frank, who was eight years old and exhausted by the work, had crawled atop a load of hay for a nap. Thomas, not knowing that his young son was laying atop the hay, had tossed a heavy monkey wrench onto the hay for safe keeping. The wrench hit Frank square in the head, immediately fracturing his skull.
Thomas and Barbara called a surgeon, and when he arrived, he told the worried parents he didn’t think they should fear that Frank had any serious injury. See, surgeons of 1897 relied on what they could see, and being as outwardly the only evidence of Frank’s fractured skull was a small wound on his head, this surgeon determined the wound would heal and Frank would be fine.
For a few days, it seemed the surgeon was right—Frank appeared to be perfectly healthy, and his wounded head appeared to be healing nicely. However, after ten or so days, the parents called for a surgeon again. This time a different surgeon responded and was able to identify that the boy not only had a fractured skull but also evidence of blood poisoning.
This surgeon, equally as limited by his era as the surgeon before, performed trephination on Frank’s skull — a method often used at the time to remove fragments of bone from a fractured skull to facilitate quicker, more even healing. The surgeon used tools to carve a smooth opening in the skull around the fracture, exposing the blood vessels and brain matter below. The idea was that a fracture with smooth edges would heal more quickly.
However, even with the trephination procedure complete, the surgeon confessed to Barbara and Thomas that the odds of Frank recovering were low. Sure enough, the following morning Frank was released from his suffering and died.
It would be 15 years before Thomas would return to public office. In 1812, he was elected to the Weld County Board of Commissioners and soon after was chosen as chair (due largely to his extensive local government background). He served in this role until 1920 (three years after the completion of the courthouse) and afterward served as the director for the Old Colony Building.
Thomas died on July 1, 1934, whilst touring a mine in Central City. Apparently, he had been laughing and conversing with his counterparts when he suddenly suffered a heart attack. Thomas died 100 feet below ground, and his official cause of death read that dramatic changes in altitude caused heart failure. Thomas was buried near his fellow commissioner W.C. Levis in Linn Grove Cemetery.