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What Denver Looked like in the late 19th Century Through these Fascinating Historical Photos

Founded in November 1858, Denver was originally a gold miner’s town. Gold dwindled quickly in the city, and it became a supply hub for new mountains mines. The city grew rapidly, becoming the county seat of Arapahoe County and ultimately the state capital.

In 1863 a fire devastated the city, and a year later, a flash flood destroyed the city hall and many other buildings. Following the 1860s Indian uprisings on the plains, the Cheyenne and Arapaho were made to leave Colorado. In 1867, Denver became the territorial capital. Denver residents created their railway, completed in 1870, during the transcontinental railroad construction through Wyoming; the Kansas Pacific Railroad reached Denver shortly afterward. The population increased from 4,759 to 106,713 in the next twenty years.

During the 1870s and 1880s, silver became more valuable than gold economically. A mining fortune was made almost overnight, and an opera house was built. Silver prices crashed in 1893, ending this era of opulence. Silver kings became paupers as banks failed and smelters shut down. With the discovery of gold, the economy began to stabilize, and farming, cattle ranching, and tourism contributed to the economic growth. Denver became a food processing center as railroads brought in beets, wheat, cattle, and hogs. German brewers were among the many immigrants that supported this industry.

1893 marks the end of the silver boom and the onset of financial panic. The agricultural industry in Denver had already been affected by successive years of droughts and rough winters, which had hurt the city’s economy. Stock prices plummeted, banks closed, businesses failed, and several farms ceased operations due to agricultural distress and foreign investor withdrawals. Thousands of people lost their life savings due to the lack of federal insurance. As the U.S. economy began to recover in 1897, jobs gradually began to trickle back into Denver, but real estate prices remained depressed through 1900.

#1 West High School, 1893

West High School, 1893

View of the first West Side High School, 5th (Fifth) Avenue and Fox Street in Denver, Colorado, shows workers in front of the brick building.

#2 Daniels & Fisher bldg., huge flag, 1896.

Daniels & Fisher bldg., huge flag, 1896.

A giant American flag is displayed for holidays on the Daniels and Fisher Store at 16th (Sixteenth) and Lawrence Streets in Denver, Colorado.

#3 Federal Mint building construction, 1897.

Federal Mint building construction, 1897.

Federal Mint building under construction at West Colfax Avenue and Delaware Street in Denver, Colorado. The two-story, granite building has marble lunettes above arched and rectangular windows. A fence encircles the construction site, a bicycle leans against a wood frame building and an American flag hangs from a pole. The second floor portion of the Mint is under construction and shows exposed support beams.

#4 Federal Mint building, 1897.

Federal Mint building, 1897.

Federal Mint building at West Colfax and Delaware Street in Denver, Colorado. The two-story granite building has marble lunettes above arched and rectangular windows and a bracketed cornice. The roof is under construction and a crane is next to the building. Shows an American flag hung from a pole, a bicycle and a wood frame building.

#5 North Denver High School, 1890s.

North Denver High School, 1890s.

North Denver High School at 29th (Twenty-ninth) and Firth Court in the Highland neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. Shows a Second Empire style building with a central pavilion topped by a tower with roof cresting and porthole windows, arched door entrances, and eye-brow like window heads. Children stand in the school yard. An adult stands in the entry way.

#6 Denver Post Office, 1888.

Denver Post Office, 1888.

Rooftop view of the Post Office at 16th (Sixteenth) and Arapahoe Street in downtown Denver, Denver County, Colorado. Streetcars, pedestrians, and horse-drawn wagons are on the street. The Mining Exchange is in the distance.

#7 Union Pacific R.R. shops, 1890s

Denver

The Union Pacific Railroad Company shops in Denver, Colorado. Industrial buildings, a roundhouse and smokestack are near the railroad tracks.

#8 Buildings, commercial – A. Linder’s Grocery along S. Platte River, 1890s

Buildings, commercial - A. Linder's Grocery along S. Platte River, 1890s

Archer Canal in Denver, Colorado; shows an Alameda Avenue bridge and a business.

#9 Palmer Lake, Glen Park 1882

Palmer Lake, Glen Park 1882

Eleven men stand in front of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway building at an unidentified exposition, the building was later moved to Palmer Lake (El Paso County), Colorado and served as the railroad depot. The Victorian style building has a tower with decorative spindles, brackets, and front and side gables.

#10 Glenwood Springs, 1887.

Glenwood Springs, 1887.

View of frame buildings, probably Denver and Rio Grande Railroad tracks, and telegraph poles beside the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs (Garfield County), Colorado.

#11 R.R. Depot, Jimtown, Colo, 1892.

R.R. Depot, Jimtown, Colo, 1892.

Men sit on top of a train, on a timber sidewalk, or near a passenger train and Denver & Rio Grande Railroad tracks at a railroad depot in Creede (Mineral County), Colorado. Supplies and belongings stacked on the sidewalk include a mattress, wooden crates and trunks, and probably furniture. Smoke is above a passenger train. Rio Grande & Southern freight cars are on tracks nearby.

#12 Planters House 1864

Planters House 1864

View of people, horses, and covered wagons on a dirt street in Denver, Colorado. Shows men, carriages, and wagons in front of the Planters' House building; a two-story, frame hotel and stage stop at the corner of 16th (Sixteenth) Street and Blake Street in downtown Denver.

#13 Mill [sic] freight cars (UP-D&Gulf), 1890s.

Mill [sic] freight cars (UP-D&Gulf), 1890s.

View of the Union Pacific roundhouse in Denver, Colorado. The brick masonry building has a large smokestack. Another building and Union Pacific, Denver, and Gulf railroad cars are nearby.

#14 Cebolla, Colorado, 1890s.

Cebolla, Colorado, 1890s.

The summer resort hotel at Cebolla on the Gunnison River (Gunnison County), Colorado. The hotel is a two story brick structure and a one story long log cabin structure. Tents and outbuildings are in the yard and a bridge extends over the river. Tracks of the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad parallels the river.

#15 Masonic Building, 1890s.

Masonic Building, 1890s.

View of the Mason Temple (1889) Lodge #5 at 16th (Sixteenth) and Welton Streets in Denver, Denver County, Colorado. Shows an Italianate style building with tall arched windows, parapets, and rusticated stone trim.

#16 Ernest Cranmer Building, 1890s

Ernest Cranmer Building, 1890s

View of the Ernest & Cranmer Building at 17th and Curtis Streets in Denver, Colorado. Shows an Italianate style building with tall arched windows, balustrade, roof finials and arched doorway with rusticated stone trim.

#17 Denver-Haish Manual Training School, University of Denver, 1890s.

Denver-Haish Manual Training School, University of Denver, 1890s.

View of Haish Manual Training School located in the University of Denver Haish Building at 14th (Fourteenth) and Arapahoe Streets, Denver, Colorado. Shows an Italianate style building with tall arched windows, parapet, and rusticated stone trim. "University of Denver" appears over the arched doorway.

#18 National Mining and Industrial Exposition, 1882

National Mining and Industrial Exposition, 1882

View of The National Mining and Industrial Exposition complex, which opened on August 1, 1882, at the corner of South Broadway and Exposition Avenue in Denver, Colorado. The multi-story building complex is comprised of towers with belvederes, rectangular and arched windows, pedimented facade, hip and gabled roofs and an arched entrance. Displays inside the complex exhibited mining and industrial equipment and resources from 1882-1884. The buildings were removed after the third exhibition ended in October 1884.

#19 Denver-Masonic Building, 1889

Denver-Masonic Building, 1889

View of the Mason Temple, Lodge #5 at 16th (Sixteenth) and Welton Streets in Denver, Denver County, Colorado. Shows an Italianate style building with tall arched windows, parapets, and rusticated stone trim.

#20 Rouse tipple, 1899.

Rouse tipple, 1899.

View of a Denver & Rio Grande Railroad tipple in the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company coal camp of Rouse (Huerfano County), Colorado. Shows freight cars on tracks, coal mine buildings, smoke, and smokestacks. Probably company houses are near the tipple. Buildings in town include frame houses and commercial buildings, the two-story U.S. Post Office with a central pediment, and the Osgood School with a domed cupola.

#21 Denver-Railroad Building, 1890s.

Denver-Railroad Building, 1890s.

View of the Railroad Building on Larimer Street between 15th (Fifteenth) and 16th (Sixteenth) Streets in Denver, Denver County, Colorado. Shows an Italianate style building with arched windows, balustrade and rusticated stone trim.

#22 Denver, 1890s.

Denver, 1890s.

View, from the Mining Exchange Building at 15th (Fifteenth) and Arapahoe Streets, of streets and buildings in downtown Denver, Colorado. The Equitable Building, at 17th and Stout Streets, is in the distance.

#23 Denver S.W. from Presbyterian church, 1890s.

Denver S.W. from Presbyterian church, 1890s.

Rooftop view of Denver to the southwest, probably from the Presbyterian church belfry at 17th (Seventeenth) Avenue and Sherman Streets. Shows the cable car power house at Colfax and Broadway, with a "Denver Tramway Co." sign visible.

#24 Denver-Larimer Street-Pioneer and Railroad Buildings, 1890s.

Denver-Larimer Street-Pioneer and Railroad Buildings, 1890s.

View of Larimer Street from 16th (Sixteenth) Street in Denver, Denver County, Colorado. Shows the Pioneer Building, an Italianate style building with tall arched windows and balustrade. The Railroad Building is next door. A Denver Tramway trolley car, horse-drawn wagons and pedestrians are in the intersection.

#25 Larimer Street, 1890s.

Larimer Street, 1890s.

View of Larimer Street from 16th (Sixteenth) Street in Denver, Denver County, Colorado. Shows the Pioneer Building, an Italianate style building with tall arched windows and balustrade. The Railroad Building is next door. Denver Tramway trolley cars, a horse-drawn covered wagon and pedestrians are in the intersection.

#26 Probably Post delivery boys & girls, 1890s.

Probably Post delivery boys & girls, 1890s.

A group of children, probably delivery boys and girls, pose outside of the Denver Post newspaper office on 16th (Sixteenth) Street in Denver, Colorado.

#27 The Jewish Club, 1890s.

The Jewish Club, 1890s.

View of the Jewish Club in Denver, Colorado. The Richardsonian Romanesque style building has towers with conical roofs, arched entryway and a dormer.

#28 Denver streets buildings, 1890s.

Denver streets buildings, 1890s.

View of downtown Denver, Colorado. Prominent buildings include the Gettysburg Building which housed a cyclorama, on Champa Street, the Charles Building, and the Arapahoe County Courthouse in the distance.

#29 High school graduating class, 1894.

High school graduating class, 1894.

A group of graduating students pose with their teachers on the steps of East Denver High School at 19th and Stout Streets in Denver, Colorado.

#30 Eagle River Canon, Ben Butler Mine, Glenwood Extension D & RGRR, 1890s.

Eagle River Canon, Ben Butler Mine, Glenwood Extension D & RGRR, 1890s.

Two men stand on narrow gauge tracks near a signal on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad near the Ben Butler Mine in Eagle River Canyon (Eagle County), Colorado. Shows a train on the tracks, tailings, a tram house, cables for buckets, telegraph poles, a tramway, and other mining structures on the cliff faces.

#31 Gallup & W. 29th Ave. 1898

Gallup & W. 29th Ave. 1898

A man sits on a delivery wagon near the Summit Company building at the intersection of Ashland Avenue (later West 29th, Twenty-Ninth Avenue) and Gallup Street (later Zuni Street) in Denver, Colorado. Phone and utility poles line the street.

#32 Rifle depot, 1890s.

Rifle depot, 1890s.

Men, women and a boy stand on the platform of the frame Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company and Colorado Midland Railway Company depot in Rifle (Garfield County), Colorado. Tracks are beside the platform.

#33 The Arkansas Valley, 1890s.

The Arkansas Valley, 1890s.

View of the Arkansas River from the edge of Salida (Chaffee County), Colorado. Shows Denver & Rio Grande Railroad tracks, the roundhouse and turntable. The Sawatch Mountains are in the distance.

#34 Floresta breaker, 1896.

Floresta breaker, 1896.

View of the coal breaker building at the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company mine at Floresta (Gunnison County), Colorado. Shows a trestle and tracks of the Ruby-Anthracite branch of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.

#35 Palmer Lake, 1890s.

Palmer Lake, 1890s.

View of men and women in rowboats, in hats, suits and dresses, on Palmer Lake, at Palmer Lake (El Paso County), Colorado. Shows a fountain, boat house, water tank, the Denver and Rio Grande depot, tracks and the Judd Eating House. Painted on rowboats: "Martha", "Minnie" and "Inez."

#36 Old fire house, 1890s.

Old fire house, 1890s.

Men and a girl stand and pose beside the two-story brick Denver Fire Department building, Station (Steamer) #2, at 900 W. Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado. The building has arched windows and doorways with decorative keystones.

#37 First view of Chama valley, 1886.

First view of Chama valley, 1886.

Two women in dresses sit on rocks near Denver and Rio Grande Railway narrow gauge tracks at Cumbres Pass probably in Conejos County, Colorado. Shows log buildings with doors and sod roofs, a log lean-to, rock formations and possibly the Rio Chama valley in the distance.

#38 Palmer Lake, Colorado, 1894.

Palmer Lake, Colorado, 1894.

View of men and women in rowboats, in hats, suits, and dresses, on Palmer Lake, at Palmer Lake (El Paso County), Colorado. Shows a fountain, boat house, water tank, the Denver and Rio Grande depot, tracks and the Judd Eating House.

#39 Fire Station No. 2, 1890s.

Fire Station No. 2, 1890s.

Men pose beside a horse-drawn water tank and the brick Denver Fire Department Station (Steamer) #2 at 900 W. Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado. Firemen wear uniforms with double-breasted jackets and caps with insignia.

#40 Fire Station No. 2, 1890s.

Fire Station No. 2, 1890s.

Men pose beside a horse-drawn water tank and the brick Denver Fire Department Station (Steamer) #2 at 900 W. Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado. Firemen wear uniforms with double-breasted jackets and caps with insignia.

#41 Aerial view of the Air Force finance building at Lowry Air Force Base

Aerial view of the Air Force finance building at Lowry Air Force Base

Aerial view of the Finance building at Lowry Air Force Base, located in Denver, Colorado.

#42 Chamberlin Observatory, University of Denver, 1898.

Chamberlin Observatory, University of Denver, 1898.

A man poses on the steps of the Chamberlin Observatory at Fillmore Street and Warren Avenue on the Campus of the University of Denver, in Colorado. The Richardsonian Romanesque structure, designed by Robert S. Roeschlaub, is constructed from rusticated stone blocks and includes a central rotunda and domed roof.

#43 Tours of the World, 1899.

Tours of the World, 1899.

Men in uniforms pose by a frame exhibition building with a deep porch, classic entablature, a ticket kiosk.

#44 Tours of the World, 1899.

Tours of the World, 1899.

Group portrait of men and women in Denver, Colorado, by a frame exhibition building with a deep porch, classic entablature, a ticket kiosk.

#45 Freight office & house, 1890s.

Freight office & house, 1890s.

A horse is tied to a doorway of the wood Express 201 building in Denver, Colorado. A sign above the doorway reads "Express 201 prompt attention to all orders 1556 Penna. Ave."

#46 14th & Lawrence, 1890s

14th & Lawrence, 1890s

A view a multiple story building at the intersection of 14th (Fourteenth) and Lawrence streets in Denver, Colorado. Piles of wood and other construction materials are on the streets in front of the building. Shows other local businesses, utility poles and trolley car tracks.

#47 Masonic Temple Denver Colorado, 1890s.

Masonic Temple Denver Colorado, 1890s.

Rooftop view of the Masonic Temple at 16th (Sixteenth) and Welton Streets in downtown Denver, Colorado. The five-story rusticated stone building has arched windows, and decorative trim. Pedestrians are on the street.

#48 Denver River Front Park, 1890s.

Denver River Front Park, 1890s.

View of shacks and tents in a field next to the Northwestern Terminal Company railyard, between 16th (Sixteenth) and 19th (Nineteenth) Streets in Denver, Colorado. Shows mill and smokestack.

#49 Contact History Colorado for credit line to use with this item, 1890s.

Contact History Colorado for credit line to use with this item, 1890s.

A view of a Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company brick building with three smoke stacks, possibly the railroad shops in Denver, Colorado. The windows are arched and there is a star carved in stone above the door. Railroad car parts are in the field that surrounds the building. Railroad tracks run in front of the building. A man walks past the building.

#52 Passengers and crew of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway stand by the train as it stops by a cutting cut through the mountains, 1885.

#63 Huge flag, 1890s.

Huge flag, 1890s.

A giant American flag displayed for holidays on the Daniels and Fisher Store at 16th (Sixteenth) and Lawrence Streets in Denver, Colorado. Window displays show clothing and framed pictures.

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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