Allen Ditch - Constructed in 1884
(Pictured left: Allen Ditch -
North of 88th Avenue, East of Harlan Street)
The Allen Ditch is an earthen lateral of the Farmers' High Line Canal, with a headgate along the south side of 90th Drive about 1/4 mile west of Pierce Street. From there, the ditch heads southeast, running parallel to the old Colorado and Southern Railroad corridor (now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe). After crossing Pierce Street, it passes through the Semper Water Treatment Facility property and then moves to the north side of the rail line on its way toward 88th Avenue. At 88th Avenue, the ditch disappears into a culvert that passes beneath Harlan Street. It reemerges east of Harlan Street, where the open Allen Ditch runs along the north side of 88th Avenue all the way to Highway 36. Along this length, following the southern edge of the former Westminster Mall site, the ditch is lined by a series of massive cottonwood trees.
After passing underneath Highway 36, the Allen Ditch emerges and makes its way toward the southeast through the Shaw Heights neighborhood. Turning toward the southwest, it follows the arc of Circle Drive. The ditch crosses beneath Highway 36 two more times before heading northeast again. From Lowell Boulevard just south of 80th Avenue, the ditch travels through the Apple Blossom Lane neighborhood and then crosses Federal Boulevard.
The half-mile-long Allen Ditch Trail provides a shaded walk beside the ditch as it runs east from Eliot Street and 81st Avenue, passes along the south edge of Cobblestone Park, and then continues to Zuni Street north of Ranum Middle School. At Zuni Street, the ditch exits the City of Westminster. From that point, the Allen Ditch heads northeast a short distance before turning to the northwest as it enters Camenisch Park in Federal Heights. There it terminates in the scenic Camenisch Lake. From its headgate along the Farmers' High Line Canal to its terminus in Camenisch Lake, the Allen Ditch extends for about eight miles.
(Pictured right: End of the Allen Ditch in Camenisch Park)
History of the Allen Ditch
The Allen Ditch was named for William M. Allen, who was born in 1837 in New Brunswick, Canada. In 1856, he immigrated to the United States and farmed for three years in the vicinity of Rockford, Ill. Allen then headed west with a prospecting party and entered the Colorado frontier in August 1859. This distinguished him the rest of his life as one of the "Fifty-Niners," those bold adventurers who first arrived in the untamed region in search of gold. Allen spent the next four years prospecting and mining in the mountains west of Denver. In 1864, he responded to the call made by Colonel John Chivington for 100-day volunteers to fight Indians on the Colorado Territory’s eastern plains. Allen enrolled in the Third Colorado Volunteers and was present during that year’s Sand Creek Massacre.
Following several years of mining and military adventure, Allen settled on a 160-acre homestead claim in Jefferson County north of Denver. The Allendale neighborhood between 58th Avenue and Ralston Road, which contains Allendale Park and Allendale Drive, is named for him and marks the general location of his early farm. The land was patented in 1870, by which time Allen had acquired another 160 acres to the east. He later sold sixty acres of this land that reportedly became the nucleus of Old Town Arvada. In 1867, Allen was elected to office and served through 1870 as a Jefferson County commissioner. He served another term from 1880 to 1883. In 1872, Allen attended the Colorado Territorial Convention as a delegate from Jefferson County.
William Allen was also active in early irrigation efforts that improved farming in the areas of Arvada and Westminster. In 1883, he secured rights to water from Clear Creek that was brought onto the plains by the Golden City and Arapahoe Ditch and the Extension Ditch (in 1886, these were connected to one another, improved, and acquired by the Farmers’ High Line Canal and Reservoir Company). Allen was an early president and part owner of the Arapahoe Ditch Company. From 1897 to 1907, he was a director of the Farmers’ High Line Canal and Reservoir Company, and for several of these years served as vice president.
In 1884, William Allen constructed the lateral Allen Ditch, bringing Clear Creek water to the high countryside just east and west of the small town of Westminster. Much like capillaries that transport blood from major arteries to the organs and tissues, laterals are relatively small ditches that bring irrigation water from a major ditch or canal to the farms and crop fields. In addition to providing water to other farms along its route, the Allen Ditch irrigated 400 acres of land that Allen acquired south and east of the town of Harris, which in 1911 became Westminster. There he established a new farm and livestock ranch after handing over his original farm in Arvada to his son Charles. William Allen died in 1925 and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.
Prepared by Ron Sladek of Tatanka Historical Associates Inc.