In deciding to name this blog “Across the Creek,” I felt like I had captured the essence of the La Alma/Lincoln Park story. This is, after all, a history of the city of Denver, from the perspective of one of its oldest neighborhoods. “Across the Creek” represents both a geographic barrier, as well a political representation of disenfranchisement experienced here from nearly the beginning. At this point in the telling, I want to focus a bit more on the role of A C Hunt in Denver’s development, and then how Lincoln Park fits in in the geography of the fast growing city. It is clear that from at least the time Auraria was absorbed by Denver, to help compete against other settlements for the role of territorial Capital and center of commerce, the west side of the creek would always be an important part of Denver’s early success.
Though Lincoln Park wasn’t part of the original Congressional land grant established in 1864, our resident pioneer, A C Hunt, was heavily invested in Auraria and the land south of the Colfax Avenue border. Motivated to see his property appreciate in value, he and notable citizens and landholders such as John Evans and David Moffat lobbied successfully, and Denver was officially named the Capital during Hunt’s term as territorial governor in 1867. Their victory was largely due to providing the most hospitable environment for the necessary constitutional conventions. Apparently the hotels and saloons of Denver City were the height of civilization for the region. It is also likely that Hunt’s home and grounds in today’s Lincoln Park made a fine impression on visiting dignitaries from Washington. As part of the deal, ten acres of land would be committed for the building of the Capital building, and though Hunt pushed for a location that would eventually serve as the jail and courthouse, at the corner of the creek and Colfax Avenue, he was unsuccessful in placing the Capital building in the heart of his holdings in what we now call La Alma/Lincoln Park.
The development of the first homes and businesses in Lincoln Park were closely tied to those in built in Auraria. Though much of the original streets are blurred by the newer campus buildings, enough remains to see where they connect with roads we see in Lincoln Park today. 1873 marks an important attempt to define and unify the original city grids of Auraria, Denver, Highland, and the additions and changes made along the way. Each community had developed their own systems, and explored their own whims for naming and numbering streets, Auraria using both the Platte River and the Cherry Creek to align the streets, Denver working with just the creek, and Highlands the Platte and Denver’s streets. Fortunately, both the Platte and Cherry Creek run close to parallel with each other along the through much of the original settlements, offering some grid compatibility across the creek within the official land grant. Using today’s Colfax and Zuni as ground zero, at the SW corner of the land grant area, Jackson street in Auraria was changed to First Street along the Platte River. The numbered streets would climb east to reach Eleventh Street on the west side of the creek, which still exists, in part, on today’s Auraria Campus as St. Francis Way. The bed of the Cherry Creek was a bit wider in the early years, but we can see where today’s downtown streets pick up the pattern all the way through Curtis Park.
The significance of this bit of street history is helpful for fellow researchers of old Lincoln Park, particularly with the listings in the Census records and City Directories. It should be noted how the remnants of streets in Auraria line up to those that exist in Lincoln Park today. Today’s Kalamath Street was known as South Eleventh, Lipan as South Tenth, etc. As far as the other EW streets, the numbers line up with the current grid by around 1885, so before then, the street numbers may not be consistent with what exists today. Before our side streets were given to the current NS numbering system, we had some more colorful names: W 6th was once Foote Ave, 7th- Martin St, 8th-Bear St; also Rio Grande as 8th neared the Platte, 9th-Gray St, 10th- Moose St. and Jennings St, 11th-Central St, 12th- Clayton St and Raven St, 13th- Titus St, and 14th- Capital St.
Interestingly, Colfax Avenue, known today as America’s longest Main Street, was once known as Grande Avenue leading from the creek toward the mountains. It was politically changed to honor Congressman Colfax by Governor Evans to help ensure the southern additions to the original grant were platted with the N/S/E/W grid he desired.
To return us to the premise of this post, I want to add another important element to the story. Very early in this city history, just five years after the “Fifty-niners” arrived, united the settlements and pursued ambitious growth, the creek flooded, and the land on the west side would be forever stigmatized. The newcomers were warned by the natives that the creek was known to rage unexpectedly, however none believed the little creek was capable of such wrath. The earliest settlers practically built upon the creek bed, but after the flood, men of means would congregate on the higher ground of Capital Hill. Though territorial governor A.C. Hunt once resided in the neighborhood, it seems he had relinquished his holdings and influence before moving on to new prospects in Texas by 1886. Lincoln Park would still prove useful to the city by providing a home to the working classes and many important “services” such as: a jail and courthouse, the pauper hospital, the garbage dump, rail yards, reservoir and water utilities. It also seems that Lincoln Park and the west side was inhabited by La Alma, or the “spirit of the worker,” early in it’s history.