The Origin of Denver
All the Historic Denver tours start with a brief history of Denver. The Larimer Tour is much closer to the spot where Denver began than the other tours. When we talk about Denver’s birth we talk about four locations, St. Charles Town, Auraria, Denver City and Highlands. The sequence of events of how these places appeared happened quickly, all within a few weeks. And the time line overlapped.
September 24, 1858: Charles Nichols laid claims to St. Charles town, named after himself. (source: Eitemiller)
October 30, 1858: A meeting of settlers gather to establish a town to be called Auraria. (Eitemiller)
November 1, 1858: Constitution of Auraria Town Company was adopted. (Eitemiller)
November 6, 1858: Organization of Auraria Town Company. (Smiley)
November 17, 1858: Larimer claims the land for Denver City. (Smiley) In effect jumping Nichol’s claim.
November 22, 1858: Denver City adopts a Constitution. (Smiley).
December, 1858: Highlands was plotted by General Larimer. (Wiki)
This is a picture of the boundaries of St. Charles, it shows what it was all about. General Larimer’s Denver claim included more than half of the St. Charles Claim. According to David Eitemiller, Charles Nichols had a valid claim in writing from the Kanas Territorial Governor who was promised land for his son in the deal. General Larimer had William McGaa swear the land was abandoned, avoiding a serious accusation of claim jumping. One of Larimer’s men followed Nichols home and threatened him with a rope, and he compromised a merger with Larimer. Each St. Charles town member was given $250.00 and shares in the Denver Town Company.
The town companies stipulated that you had to start building within 90 days to secure your claim. The last months of 1859 consisted of a frenzy of cabin building, to secure claim and to weather the coming cold weather.
Smiley’s History of Denver describes the building of cabins at what would become the intersection of 15th and Larimer. Bill Brenneman shows what Smiley’s description looked like.
Present location of the Granite Building. Larimer’s cabin faced “F” street (15th Street). F street was the old military trail from Santé Fe to Laramie. Larimer brought four panes of glass measuring 8” x 10” to have the first window in town. The cabin was 16’ x 20’, made of hewn logs with a dirt roof. In a heavy rain the roof would drip for one or two days after the rain stopped. The floor was dirt.
P. Stout was Denver City Company’s first president. His cabin was made of hewed pine logs in the Spring of 1859. It was 1 1/2 stories with a tent roof. He used nails he bought at 50¢ a pound. Next door, between his cabin and Cherry Creek, David C. Collier, a lawyer, and William Clancey built what possibly was the first frame house in Denver City as lumber mills were established outside of town.
William Graham shared a cabin on the southeast corner, now Writer Square. His drug store was located on the northwest corner of Larimer where Ocean Prime is now located.
Auraria, in the mean time, was also enlarging. In December, 1858, Auraria had twice the number of people as Denver City. Auraria had 50 cabins, Denver City had 25. But, Denver had an ace in the hole. On May 7th, 1859 two coaches from the Leavenworth and Pikes Peak Express Company arrived after 119 days and 687 miles from Leavenworth, Kansas Territory.
Auraria was the first town to be established, three weeks before Denver City. The rivalry was intense. Having the Express Company in Denver made a big difference. The Denver Town Company gave the Express 53 scattered lots around Denver City and nine shares of the Town Company. The company president, William H. Russell was given six lots. The stage office was originally located at F Street and Larimer Street. It later moved to F Street and McGaa Street.
Auraria knew they were hurting, not having the Express Company. But, Auraria was still larger than Denver. In June of 1859 Auraria had 250 buildings to Denver City’s 150. Nearly a year later, on April 6, 1860 the towns united to become Denver. More than a year later, during the Civil War, Colorado Territory was established on November 7, 1861. It took a short three years to establish a town, territory and government. Growth slowed as the Civil War raged.
The two biggest events in early Denver occurred within short order. A fire burned a good portion of the town on April 19, 1863. Then, thirteen months later, Cherry Creek flooded on May 19, 1864. Denver rebuilt in brick, staying clear of the banks of the Creek. Although Blake and McGaa streets were the commercial center of the town, Larimer had the reputation of being the “better” street.
Smiley’s History of Denver
Bill Brenneman, Miracle on Cherry Creek
J.E. Wharton, History of Denver
Historic Tours, David Eitemiller
Additions, comments or corrections are welcomed, JOE S