Monday, March 9, 2009

A Glorious Day for Denver: June 24, 1872

I recently had the honor to speak at the Denver 150 Symposium, "Denver Indside and Out". Numerous subjects were discussed concerning early Denver and its growth over the past 150 years. I spoke about the struggle to build the city's first school building which was eventually known as the Arapahoe School. The picture above shows the cornerstone laying ceremony from June 24, 1872 when most of the whole town turned out for a huge celebration. The picture gives me chills when I imagine all of those people, horses and carriages gathering to celebrate the establishment of our modern school system in Denver. The fights and struggles over how the building would be funded contributed greatly to its delay in actually being built (arguments that sound just like the FasTracks discussion in Denver today). But the party atmosphere shown above was captured in this passage from the Rocky Mountain News, June 25, 1872:

…the procession probably contained not less than two thousand persons while the number of spectators who thronged the streets could not have been less than six thousand. Windows, sidewalks and every available spot on the line of the march, especially through F [15th] Street, were occupied… immense throng of spectators filled the space about the school building. A crowd of men and women roosted themselves upon the observatory of Tritch’s elegant mansion, where beneath the blazing sun, they endeavored…to be jolly, but were really very miserable.

What's this town you say? Well, lo and behold, the first Denver skyline. Public School One, later known as Arapahoe School (but almost called Anderson School) sits as the tallest building in Denver. For many years, visitors to Denver travelled to 17th and Arapahoe to go to the school's cupola for stunning views of the city down below. This picture above is taken from near 15th and the Platte River, not far from where the REI store is today. The school was officially ready for use on April 2, 1873. When it opened for primary grades, it was the largest school in Colorado Territory.

The beautiful Arapahoe School, designed by Chicago architect G.P. Randal, eventually contained the first high school classes in Denver and Colorado, starting in 1874. The Class of 1877 was the first to graduate from the school and included Irving Hale who went on to be a Brigadier General during the Spanish-American War. If you've heard of Hale Parkway in east Denver, it is named in his honor. This pictures shows the Henry Rietze House on the left and the Thomas M. Field House on the right.

This photo, circa 1879, shows the German Methodist Episcopal Church, looking from the corner of 18th and Arapahoe. The high school eventually left Arapahoe School when the new Denver High School was opened at 1932 Stout in 1882. This school became known as East High School.

The top photo is taken from the observation deck of the school. It shows a view looking east with a bit of the First Baptist Church under construction at 18th and Curtis. It is especially interesting to see the large home across the road complete with a fountain! The second photo is looking northwest toward Boulder. The Ezra A. Newton residence is on the left. The school was a big tourist attraction. When US Vice President Henry Wilson visited Denver in 1875, he stopped by and made an address to the high school students.

But of course, in Denver, nothing seems to last. The explosive growth experienced by the city after the arrival of the railroad in 1870 endangered the lovely old school building. By 1890, it was in the middle of a business district and people were clamoring for its closure and removal to a more suburban location. The district complied and sold the land and building. The Club Building, designed by Frank Edbrooke of Brown Palace fame, was built in front of the school. The old school acted as a back annex for the lovely Club Building. Above is a photo circa 1910.

This photo is circa 1893 and shows a tiny sliver of the Arapahoe School on the right behind the Club Building.

Even the Club Building could not survive the onslaught of the automobile. It, like numerous buildings in downtown Denver, was demolished in 1955 to make way for an expansion of the Federal Reserve Building (which was soon to be demolished too) and also for a parking lot! The photo above was taken from the alley and is the last known image of the Arapahoe School. Construction workers are lowering a wheelbarrow. The Denver Post reported that "no one even noticed or cared" that the old school was coming down. That is not true, but...that is a whole other story. Today, portions of Skyline Park takes up the space where the Arapahoe School once stood.

For additional information on Block 077, home of the Skyline Park and the old Arapahoe School, click here to be taken to

All black and white historic photos are from the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection.


StevieB said...

Thanks for your blog!

BruceQ said...

Choice quality stuff, Shawn! I'll be studying these photos for weeks!

In the second photo, the "Denver skyline," unless I'm mistaken the Tramway power plant/REI store is dead center, with the smokestack. It's interesting that most of the Platt is flowing to the west of the plant!

Jeff Smith said...

Well done history through photographs of the school Shawn. I enjoyed that very much. Denver history is my favorite.

I emailed you a number of days ago, did you get it or did it get sent to bulk?

Jeff Smith
Soapy Smith blog

Shawn Snow said...

Regarding Bruce's post, the picture is circa 1873. The REI/Tramway Power Plant that we currenlty have in town dates from about 1901 I believe. I'm not sure what building that smokestack belongs to?? Another research project......

BruceQ said...

Fascinating! You are correct about the 1901, says so on the building. Sure looks like it, though...

Scott Bennett said...

Thanks for another excellent post. You ought to write a book. And not a little paperback like most local history books, but a big glossy coffee table book with the photos printed full page. I actually think that would do pretty well, certainly Fielder's books seem to have been a success.

BruceQ said...

I couldn't agree more! I'd buy it in a heartbeat! And if you need a research assistant/photographer... ;)

ItaliaBoy9 said...

I hadnt been to your blog in a while...I'm so glad to see youre still updating it. Thank you!