History of Boulder, CO: Boulder's Interesting Local History
The City of Boulder is located in Colorado, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Boulder is about 25 miles northwest of Denver and has a population of about 105,003 residents. It is the Boulder County seat, Colorado's 12th largest city, and the principal city within the greater Boulder metro area.
Although the Boulder of today offers many of the expected restaurants, entertainment, and retail amenities expected from a college town, hosting the University of Colorado Boulder, it is also a city steeped in history. The city itself was founded in 1859 at the first sign of gold in the area. But that is not where Boulder's story begins. To learn more about Boulder's history, read on.
Boulder's First Residents: The Ute Tribe
The Ute are the indigenous people of the Ute tribe and culture who have inhabited the Great Basin area for centuries. Their homeland originally included much of present-day Colorado and Utah, as well as other areas of the Southwest. However, their hunting grounds extended much further across the region, bringing them well into Wyoming, Arizona, Oklahoma, and even as far as California. The state of Utah gets its name from the name of the Ute people.
There were originally 12 bands of Utes. They operated as independent communities, though larger gatherings brought multiple bands together. The Ute formed new trading partnerships with early European colonists, including Spaniards, from whom they purchased horses. This changed their lifestyle dramatically as they were much more mobile. Horses also became a sign of prestige within the community.
As the number of white European settlers and gold prospectors began to rise in the mid-1880s, however, the Ute were driven off their ancestral land. Although they signed treaties with the U.S. government to preserve their land, they were eventually relocated to reservations. This caused several notable conflicts, including the Black Hawk War, Walker War, and Meeker Massacre.
Today, the Ute live in Colorado and Utah on three Ute tribal reservations, including Southern Ute and Ute Mountain in Colorado. While most of the Ute people still live on the reservations, some choose to live elsewhere.
The Pikes Peak Gold Rush
Also known as the Colorado Gold Rush, the Pikes Peak Gold Rush began in July 1858 and lasted well into the creation of the Colorado Territory in February 1861. It involved areas of the western Kansas Territory and southwestern Nebraska Territory of the U.S. A true boom, the Pikes Peak Gold Rush involved an estimated 100,000 prospectors and is recognized as one of the largest gold rushes in North America's history. It followed the California Gold Rush by approximately one decade.
The term "Fifty-Niners" to describe prospectors originated from the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, based on the year—1859—that the rush began. Other popular sayings of the times included the motto, "Pikes Peak or Bust!" This was despite the location being a good 85 miles north of Pikes Peak. Although the location was not at Pikes Peak, it was used as a landmark and was well-known even at the time.
The gold rush resulted in a huge influx of immigrants into the area of the Southern Rocky Mountains. Prospectors represented the first significant European-American population to inhabit the region. It caused mining camps, such as Boulder City and Denver City, to spring up quickly. Eventually, these larger camps developed into cities, while the smaller ones often became ghost towns.
Boulder and the 100-Year Flood
While the gold rush of 1859 left Boulder with an influx of settlers, the community's growth would face an abrupt interruption in 1894, when the so-called 100-year flood devastated the area. So extensive was the deluge that it cut Boulder off from the rest of Colorado. Roads, rail bridges, and telegraph lines that had been the lifelines of early settlements were suddenly washed away, as though the slate had been wiped clean. In addition, the flood left irrigation and farming devastated, with crops and livestock washed away or drowned and buildings and equipment destroyed.
Another hard-hit area was the Goss and Grove Street neighborhood. While the neighborhood was later rebuilt, most prominent structures were relocated to an area north of downtown and on higher ground.
Due to the widespread devastation, it would take Boulder several years to fully recover from the flood.
Rebuilding Boulder into the "Athens of the West"
As Boulder continued its recovery, it became a comparatively sophisticated city for the early-1900s. City leaders, eager to promote their growing municipality, even began to refer to Boulder as the "Athens of the West." To ensure the city lived up to this reputation, hardwood and fruit trees were imported from the East, adding a touch of elegance to the city's business district, which comprised late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings.
Adding to the city's standing was the growth of the University of Colorado. By the turn of the century, the university had already constructed several more buildings, including the University president's house and a library. The campus also built dormitories and saw the student body swell to 550 by 1902, with 105 faculty members. When World War I broke out, barracks were established on campus, and the university became one of the first college campuses to offer a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. This was also when the campus buildings began to take on their signature look of flagstone walls and red-tiled roofs.
Temperance was another attribute lending to the city's air of sophistication at the time. Although there were 19 saloons in 1883, a majority of the citizenry opposed such establishments, with many forming organizations to discourage liquor use. This movement culminated in an outright ban on alcohol in Boulder County by 1907 that lasted until the end of Prohibition in 1933. The City of Boulder itself, however, would remain dry until 1967.
During this time, the city also focused intently on supplying its citizens with the best possible drinking water, installing drinking fountains throughout town. Boulder also saw growth in its retail districts, boosted by introducing the streetcar and, later, the automobile.
Boulder After World War II
The end of World War II ushered in a time where Boulder drew much of its support from the University of Colorado. Enrollment doubled over a single year following the war, surging from 5,483 in 1946 to 10,421 in 1947. The university continued to add new buildings to campus over the next several decades to address the needs of a growing student body. In 1967, the school was admitted to the American Association of Universities. Enrollment hit the 20,000-student milestone by 1967.
Postwar growth was not limited to the university, however. The greater city landscape was shifting as more widespread use of the automobile no longer confined businesses to the city core. Shopping centers, like North Broadway, Basemar, and Arapahoe Village, began to pop up. By 1955, Boulder boasted a population of nearly 30,000 residents.
The 1960s ushered in a period when city leaders began to focus on the revitalization of downtown Boulder. Construction of a new downtown pedestrian mall was completed in 1976. This eliminated vehicular traffic on Pearl Street between Eleventh and Fifteenth Streets.
This was also a period when historic preservation began to get more attention. Many of the city's original buildings were restored, and Historic Boulder, Inc. was created to ensure the preservation of Boulder's past.
Today, Boulder is a thriving city in the Southwest. It has transformed itself from a mining and agricultural region to a widely recognized high-tech force. Entrepreneurs are drawn to the city's skilled workforce, and available venture capital, as well as its promotion of a healthy lifestyle; Boulder has about six times as many startups as the national average. Recognizable brands like Celestial Seasonings and biotech firm Amgen have paved the way for establishing other companies launching in Boulder, due in no small part to the city's reputation for a free-thinking atmosphere of growth and development.
The escalating interest in the city has sent real estate prices climbing, leaving Boulder with homes that are about 1.5 times more expensive than neighboring Denver, including everything from secluded mountain cabins to downtown condos. However, Boulder has consistently ranked highly for home price growth and stability. The relatively short distance between the two urban centers has meant heavy traffic from commuters in both directions, often leading to traffic congestion, particularly along U.S. Highway 36. This issue has not only led to expansion and improvements of the highway but also the extension of Denver's bus service to Boulder.
The city has been mindful of protecting its natural surroundings. Nearly 100,00 acres of open space are managed by the city government, and Boulder is widely recognized as an "outdoor sports mecca," with many of the world's top outdoor sports athletes calling Boulder home.
Despite massive growth and development experienced by the city, its leaders have focused on ensuring the surrounding natural beauty is preserved. Boulder is also a city rich in history, and that heritage is evident in Boulder's focus on preserving its past.