There weren’t any hotels or national monuments. The breweries didn’t exist, the mountains weren’t primed for winter sports enthusiasts and there wasn’t a single skyscraper in sight.
The beginnings of Denver, historians note, was largely rooted in gold.
It all began in the summer of 158, when a handful of prospectors from Georgia made their way across the Colorado Territory great plains.
They rejoiced when they struck gold at the base of the Rocky Mountains—but a secret like that is hard to keep. Word spread quickly—and it wasn’t long before the stampede to Colorado began.
Fortune-seekers and prospectors from all over the US flocked in. The California Gold Rush was still fresh in the minds of many—and those who decided to make their way to the region were hopeful to cash in.
Yet it wasn’t all about the gold.
People who arrived early enough were able to stake claim of land. Early entrepreneurs laid out streets and began to sell lots of land to those who arrived later.
That’s exactly what happened when General William H. Larimer arrived. He may not have been one of the first people to stake claim to land, but he claim-jumped a large plot along the eastern side of Cherry Creek.
In that plot, he laid out a city. That city, historians note, was named after Kansas Territorial governor James Denver. Larimer had hoped that naming the city after Denver would provide him with some political favor—what he didn’t realize, was that Denver had resigned.
In the year 1863, a large-scale fire burned most of the city’s business district to the ground. One year later, flash floods swept the area around Cherry Creek. The flood caused roughly a million dollars in damaged and killed 20 people.
An Indian war broke out shortly after that. Supply lines and stage stations were cut off—which left residents with only six weeks of food.
Yet the citizens of Denver forged on—and when they realized the Union Pacific Railroad was going to bypass Colorado, they joined together to raise $300,000 to build a railroad of their own (the Denver line met the Union Pacific in Cheyenne.)
A short time later, the Kansas Pacific Railroad constructed a line into Denver, and when silver was struck in Leadville, the rush to Denver was back on.
Denver was never a sure thing– and considering the fact that the state has approximately 500 ghost towns, it’s hard to believe that a city that had such humble beginnings, which were followed by so many hardships, has grown to thrive.
Yet the one thing that historians agree upon, is that it was the sheer will and determination of the earliest residents, that helped keep Denver alive.