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Denver History, Colorado

Denver began as a series of Old West mining towns during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush in what was then the western part of the Kansas Territory.  The first settlement on the site of modern-day Denver was founded on the banks of the South Platte River in the summer of 1858 by gold prospectors and was called Montana City.  This settlement dwindled after only a year since the miners preferred some of the existing towns in the area - especially Auraria (which is still a Denver suburb today) and St. Charles City.

Later that year, on November 22, 1858, Denver City was founded when General William Larimer staked a claim overlooking the South Platte River and Cherry Creek from a nearby hill.  General Larimer named the mining town after James W. Denver who had been the Governor of Kansas Territory.  The General had hoped that by naming the town after the governor he could secure the location as the county seat. 

General Larimer teamed up with the St. Charles City Land Company in order to sell town lots to miners and merchants.  He hoped to attract settlers and build a major city.  His dream was definitely realized, but at the time, it was still a frontier boomtown focused on miners.  Many of the land parcels were traded or gambled away and the economy at that time consisted mostly of gambling halls, saloons, trading posts, and livestock. 

In 1861, the Colorado Territory and Arapaho County were formed.  In this same year, Denver City was made an official city and finally became the Arapaho County seat.  Four years later, Denver City was made the capital of the Colorado Territory and on August 1, 1876 the city was named the state capital when Colorado was accepted as a state in the union.  The name Denver City was shortened to Denver during this time.  

Due to a rise in population and importance, Denver began experiencing serious corruptions around 1880.  Over the next 15 years, the city’s elected officials and police officers teamed up with crime bosses in order to control bunko (or fraud) gangs, gambling, and even elections.  One of the most well-known crime bosses in Denver at the time was Jefferson “Soapy” Smith.  His most infamous trick involved selling soap.  He would hide money in some of the packages and sell or auction all of the bars of soap at high prices to anyone trying to win the cash.  Of course, the only people who ended up with the desired bars of soap were members of his gang. 

Denver did have its good side, though.  For instance, the United Way charity began there in 1887 by a small group of religious leaders seeking to raise money for the city’s poor.  In the early 1900’s, Denver became the home of Colburn, a pioneering automobile company.  The city is also a major agricultural center and owes its nickname, “Queen City of the Plains,” to this important role.

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  • zloriVance Kirkland Museum
    travel tip by zlori posted more then 30 days ago
    Home a wide variety of modernist and art deco collections, the Vance Kirkland Museum is a unique museum. The decoration the arrangement of the artworks makes it stand out in the collection of cultural landmarks, having a unique style. ...
  • kachou_nDenver Museum of Nature & Science
    travel tip by kachou_n posted more then 30 days ago
    Exhibitions featuring animals and plants of the Rocky Mountains, a planetarium that shows you the stars, not to mention publications, collections are all part of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science! So many interesting things can...
  • angelDenver, the Arts Capital of the West
    travel tip by angel posted more then 30 days ago
    Denver is called the Arts Capital of the West which means that you can visit hundreds of museums and galleries while staying here.
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