Wednesday 17 July, 2013
Today Denver is a high-tech business hub, but underneath the gleaming skyscrapers you’ll find the old brick buildings that were there first. Denver was once a wild and woolly frontier city nicknamed the Queen City of the Plains but it has come a long way since then.
The Colorado Gold Rush
In 1858, a small group of prospectors from Georgia set off across the massive Kansas Territory, of which today’s Colorado was part. At the base of the Rocky Mountains where the Platte River meets Cherry Creek, they found gold. Word spread and it brought a rush of miners. California had its 49ers and Colorado had the 59rs. They came in droves.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t as much gold as everybody thought. Within a few years, the precious metal was gone but the settlers weren’t. Just like folks today who visit Colorado, they fell in love with it and stayed. On August 1, 1876, it entered the union as the 38th state.
Booms, Beats and ‘Burbs
The city began to boom during World War II. Defense plants and military bases brought people to the area. It was still a wild frontier town, but now it had freight trains, heavy industry and a burgeoning population.
Following the war years, it was temporarily the home of the Beat Generation, a literary movement that turned America on its ear and laid the foundation for the counterculture. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso lived there, and it was the hometown of Neal Cassady, on whom Kerouac based the hero of On The Road, Dean Moriarty. Denver featured prominently in the Beats’ work.
During the 60s, the city spread out into the surrounding plains and the sprawling Denver suburbs were born. By this time, it was black gold and not the metal kind that was leading the city’s growth. Denver was an oil city until the 1970s when the oil crisis struck. Amid the oil industry crash, it was a leading innovator in alternative energy.
The booms kept coming. During the 1980s, a number of telecom companies moved into the area. This led to the development of Denver’s high tech industry, the legacy of which still drives the city’s economy today. The dotcom bubble burst in the late 90s, but it’s still known as the high-tech capital of the West.
The Old West Lives on
Today, Denver’s Old West legacy lives on. The Denver Public Library’s Western history and genealogy department is one of the country’s best. It’s full of photographs and documents that cover every aspect of the West’s colorful history. There are many attractions that shed light on its history including Buffalo Bill’s Grave, the Molly Brown House, the Black American West Museum, Four Mile Historic Park, and the Denver Art Museum’s Western Art Exhibit.
Denver is an important part of the history of the Old West. Although today it’s a tech hub with modern skyscrapers and artsy neighborhoods, underneath it all you can still feel its Old West legacy.