Whether you’ve been in Denver for three days or three decades, sooner or later curiosity sets in about the roots of this city, the Queen City of the Plains as it was once called. Why not take a day to scratch that itch and get to know a bit about how the city took shape, back in the late 1800’s? Leave Netflix to those late night sessions when you can’t sleep, and bring your significant other or your kiddos downtown to see how the early days in Denver have been integrated into the 21st century for a weekend Denver staycation, exploring Denver on foot!
Set your sights on the stretch of Colfax Avenue in the center of downtown Denver to start your Denver staycation exploration. Wear your comfy walking shoes and dress in our bring layers – just in case.
#1 The Official Centerpoint of Denver
At the intersection of Colfax Avenue and 14th Street, on the northeast corner, or as close to northeast as the slanty streets of Denver allow, find yourself in front of the Wellington Webb Municipal Building. Wellington Webb is a former mayor of Denver, and his namesake building now houses multiple offices serving the city and county of Denver.
But it’s what’s out front of the building entrance that quite literally points to the exact spot on the world’s maps as the center of town. The giant gold colored plumb bob between the two marble human profiles points to what you might call the city’s belly button: the exact intersection of the lines of latitude and longitude that mark where world travelers and local residents alike can say they stood at the crossroads of western America. One marble face looks eastward, where the city founders hail from, and the other looks wistfully to the west, marking their quest to continue their exploration.
#2 A Cornerstone of Civilization
Two blocks north and west from our centerpoint, at 1326 Tremont Place, you’ll find what was once Fire Station #1, serving the booming young city of Denver beginning in the year 1909. Notice the stone construction. Due to a devastating fire sweeping through the city in the early 1860’s, a volunteer fire department was formally organized in 1866. In conjunction, the city leaders passed what was called a “brick ordinance,” requiring all new city buildings to be made of brick or stone – materials considered to be fireproof – at least more fire-proof than the 70 or so resin-rich pine buildings that burned to the ground in 1863.
To spend time in what is now the Denver Firefighters Museum, check out their website to reserve a time to visit. Meantime, peak in the doorway and to your right, to see some of the early firetrucks that served the growing city. Fun trivia: since the early 1900’s, when firefighting apparatus were still pulled by horse, all Denver equipment has been painted white versus the traditional red – because white was considered easier to see at night!
#3 The Very Beginning
A bit longer hike will lead you west to 5th St. and Curtis St. on what is now known as the Auraria campus, on the west side of downtown Denver. But the reason to make this a stop on your exploration is not to enroll in a continuing education class or two. It’s because this is where our city began, in 1858, when the Auraria Town Company was founded, based on the discovery of gold along Cherry Creek.
Head specifically to the 9th Street Historic neighborhood, just north of Colfax Avenue, has been preserved. In the early days, before the city of Auraria voted to merge into Denver City which had been formed a year later on the east side of Cherry Creek, Auraria was bursting with rapid growth, as residents built houses and businesses. The oldest house you’ll see here dates to 1872.
With the advent of urban renewal in the 1960’s, motivated in large part due to historic flooding from the South Platte River in 1965, sadly, this diverse neighborhood housing families from German, Irish, Russian, Cuban and Mexican descent – among others – was ended, and the families forced to relocate. Thankfully, the houses on this block were preserved as a critical part of the historical legacy of the city.