Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Downtown Streets

In my September 2007 blog, I wrote about the origins of Wynkoop Street. Since that time, I've been meaning to write about the origins of Downtown's other named streets. I find the whole subject rather interesting as the streets and their names and orientation are just about the only thing that still ties us back to the origins of Denver. The built environment of 1858-59 is gone. The street names of old Auraria are gone. Even the numbered streets we use Downtown today were originally letters of the alphabet. Sixteenth Street for example was known as "G" Street. At the time, Auraria and Denver had their own names. By 1873, long after the two towns had joined forces, the city of Denver began enacting a long series of street naming reforms which has resulted in the street naming system we enjoy today. At that time, the city designated First Street as being the first street northeast of the Platte River and Colfax.

Sixteenth Street is therefore 16 blocks from where Colfax intersects the Platte River. In 1873, Auraria's streets were also renamed to match the other named streets of Denver proper. Even though Auraria's streets were laid out parallel to Cherry Creek, they line up pretty well with Denver's streets. Denver's main streets were named after early founders of the city and those who had signed on as members of the Denver City Town Company. They can be thought of as friends of William Larimer, Denver's founder. They tell a story of how our city was founded, which was basically by jumping an already "filed" claim for the city of Saint Charles. Larimer's group arrived in November of 1858 after another claim was on its way to being filed in Kansas to make it official. Larimer would have none of that and essentially jumped the claim and named the city after the territorial governor of Kansas at that time: James W. Denver. William Larimer built his cabin at the southeast corner of what is today 15th and Larimer. He of course named the main street in Denver after himself. Adjacent streets took on other names, including Indian names and tribes. At the time, no one could have imagined that the city would grow into the metropolis it is today. We are lucky Larimer chose to give the town some unique names other than the more common streets named after trees such as Elm, Maple and Pine.

But what are these other names and for whom are they named? Well, here are a few to get us started (beginning at Colfax and Broadway):

Cheyenne Place: Cheyenne Indians

Cleveland Place: changed to honor Grover Cleveland in 1889; it was originally named for J. T. Parkinson who had been the very surveyor who had laid out the streets of early Denver and Auraria.

Court Place: named to honor the location of the stunning Arapahoe County Courthouse; originally known as Wapoola or Wasoola Street (a name of unknown origin).

Tremont Place: orignally known as Clancy Street until 1874; possibly renamed Fremont Place to honor explorer John Fremont; Tremont stuck however with the possibility that it also honored an early Auraria hotel known as the Tremont which welcomed and housed such notables as second territorial governor John Evans.

Glenarm Place: named by early Denverite William McGaa for his supposed ancestral home in Scotland

Welton Street: N.W. Welton, an early founder of Denver City with William Larimer

California Street: honoring the '49ers of an earlier gold rush, hoping to bring the same luck to the new '59ers

Stout Street: Elisha P. Stout was the first president of the Denver Town Company as well as a town founder with William Larimer.

Champa Street: No one is sure of the origins of this street name; some have surmised that it is one of William McGaa's many Indian wives; others feel it is a corruption of the Sioux word "chapa" which means 'beaver' or that it is a corruption of a Ute word "yampa", thought to mean 'bear'. Still others relate the word back to the Chama Indians of New Mexico.

Curtis Street: Samuel S. Curtis was a founder of Denver City with William Larimer.

Arapahoe Street: named for the Arapahoe Indians who inhabited Denver and Boulder upon the arrival of settlers

Lawrence Street: Charles A. Lawrence was a founder of Denver City with William Larimer

Larimer Street: William Larimer was Denver's official founder who came up with the idea to name Denver after the territorial governor of Kansas.

Tune in next time to learn about the streets of Lower Downtown.

Information compiled in this blog can be further explored by reading Denver Streets: Names, Numbers, Locations and Logic by Philip Goldstein