Discovering Walter Wilson

This post is intended to serve as a companion piece to the Walter Wilson story I published earlier this week. It describes the journey we took to uncover the history of our home, so far. We do have some names for the later years, but do not have a complete story yet. We do have a great start, and my hope is that it will inspire some readers to learn about their own home, uncover a bit more of La Alma/Lincoln Park’s history, and perhaps lead us toward a historic designation one day.

When we first moved to the neighborhood, one of the first things I did was head to the library in order to learn more about our new home. I had already owned Phil Goodstein’s invaluable resource, Denver Streets, and was equipped with some important knowledge. Circa 1890 (the year city records date most homes built by that year), Kalamath Street was named South Eleventh. Fortunately, the house numbers we use today on North/South streets were established and in use already. Using the Denver City Directory from 1887, I easily learned that the first resident was “Walter Wilson: clk D & R G R R.”

Denver City Directory records list him as residing at 1032 South Eleventh as early as 1887, but for two years before, his residence was listed as 365 S 11th. This is likely the same house, just numbered with a different system. Going back to1884, we see he lived nearby at 289 Buffalo. Faithful readers already know that Buffalo was the name for the road we call 9th Street, and though I am not sure which block 289 refers to, I believe that it was close to the tracks, and his job at the D&RG shops.

With the name and address, I was able to move on to the census records to learn more about his household. The hand-completed documents were a little difficult to decipher, but I learned that he had a wife, Jane. Through the years he shared his home with sisters, and a man I would later learn was his father-in-law. The Census records only give a snapshot every 10 years, and apparently the 1890 Census was destroyed. Walter’s last appearance was in 1910. From the documents, I also learned that Walter was from New York, his wife from Pennsylvania, and his parents were from England. I did find a Jane Wilson, employed as a servant on Grant Street in 1920, but the year and place of birth didn’t match. I knew that records could be a little unreliable due to human error, so it seemed a possible outcome for her if Walter was gone and she had no other income.

Our journey rested there for a bit. As we worked to improve the house, we often joked that Walter would be proud.

Then, after picking up the project again more recently, I found one other record that made the story a little more interesting. Online resources have definitely expanded in recent years as more documents and images have been scanned, uploaded, and made available to the public. In my experience so far, the Denver Public Library’s Western History and Genealogy collection is the best place to start. Ancestry.com also offers some free searching of their vast database. That’s how I found Hannah. Simply Googling “Walter Wilson” lead me to an Ancestry.com page, and a census record I hadn’t come across before. Before making his home in Lincoln Park, Walter was living in Colorado Springs. The 1880 Census lists his occupation as RR clerk, and his spouse as Hannah Wilson. If he was married to Jane in 1900, what became of Hannah?

So much is available on the internet these days. Fairmount Cemetery records from the Denver Library’s collection show she died 1893.

We also discovered another surprisingly valuable resource in Denver Water. Tap records for Denver properties offer potential insights into any home’s history. The first document unearthed showed that “Jennie Wilson” had applied to the “Denver Union Water Company” to change the location of the tap on account of freezing. Further back, the archivist found the original request to attach service from 1888, and two years later, a request to disconnect from “The Denver Water Company” and attach to “The Citizens Water Company” system. This makes sense if you know that Denver Water did not consolidate into one company until 1894, and that there was fierce competition for control of the utility for decades before. Look for a future post on this local and long-lived institution.

An enormous amount of credit is due to a couple of Denver Water employees that took an interest in the project and went above and beyond the call of duty. With the full-on Ancestry.com account they were able to confirm what I had gathered so far, but added so much more detail to the story. From them I learned many more specifics about both the Wilson and the Marthens families. I also had not found anything about Walter’s service in the Union Army on my own. Thank you so much for your time and effort, Amy and Holly!

I would love to take advantage of these great resources, and begin to learn about Walter’s neighbors, and to really develop a picture of what the neighborhood was like from the beginning. Then, I hope to move on to the following generations of residents, so this blog really has quite a bit more ground to cover. So neighbors, let the research begin.

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