The History of Denver City

James W Denver
denver 1859

Denver Colorado as depicted in 1859

The City of Denver was founded in November 1858 as a mining town during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in western Kansas Territory. During the summer of 1858 a group of gold prospectors from Lawrence, Kansas, had arrived and established Montana City on the banks of the South Platte River. This was the first settlement in what was to later become the City of Denver. However the site faded quickly, and by the summer of 1859 it was abandoned in favor of Auraria (named after the gold mining town of Auraria, Georgia), and St. Charles City.

Sluicing for Gold in the Pike's peak Gold Rush

Sluicing for Gold in the Pike’s peak Gold Rush

On November 22, 1858, General William Larimer (October 24, 1809 to May 16, 1871) a land speculator from eastern Kansas Territory, placed cottonwood logs to stake a claim on the bluff overlooking the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, across the creek from the existing mining settlement of Auraria, and on the site of the existing townsite of St. Charles. Larimer named the town site Denver City to curry favor with Kansas Territorial Governor James W. Denver. 

James W Denver

James W Denver

Larimer hoped that the town’s name would help make it the county seat of Arapaho County, but unknown to him Governor Denver had already resigned from office. The location was accessible to existing trails and was across the South Platte River from the site of seasonal encampments of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. The site of these first towns is now the site of Confluence Park near downtown Denver. Larimer, along with associates in the St. Charles City Land Company, sold parcels in the town to merchants and miners, with the intention of creating a major city that would cater to new emigrants. Denver City was a frontier town, with an economy based on servicing local miners with gambling, saloons, livestock and goods trading. In the early years, land parcels were often traded for grubstakes or gambled away by miners in Auraria.

Postcard of the first house in Denver, the residence of General William Larimer.

Postcard of the first house in Denver, the residence of General William Larimer, 1858.

In May 1859, Denver City residents donated 53 lots to the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express in order to secure the region’s first overland wagon route. Offering daily service for “passengers, mail, freight, and gold,” the Express reached Denver on a trail that trimmed westward travel time from twelve days to six. In 1863, Western Union furthered Denver’s dominance of the region by choosing the city for its regional terminus.

The Great Flood, Denver, Colorado Territory, May 19, 1864

The Great Flood, Denver, Colorado Territory, May 19, 1864

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