Croke Canal - Constructed in 1909-10
(Pictured left: Croke Canal - North of 80th Avenue along Kipling Street
The Croke Canal originates on the eastern edge of Golden, where a diversion dam and large headgate located between North and South Table Mountains draw water from the north bank of Clear Creek and into the ditch. The headworks are situated between 37th Drive and the Golden Freeway (U.S. Highway 58). From there, the canal heads first northeast and then north as it begins to make its way toward Standley Lake and the City of Westminster. Along its course, it runs parallel to the historic Farmers' High Line Canal. The Croke Canal passes through open fields and residential subdivisions, crosses Van Bibber Creek, curves around the western shore of Hyatt Lake, and then crosses Ralston Creek and Leyden Creek.
Near the intersection of Indiana Street and 78th Avenue, just below Leyden Lake, the earthen irrigation canal turns toward the southeast and runs through northern Arvada. It passes Simms Street and Kipling Street before turning again to the north just before it reaches the intersection of 72nd Avenue and Carr Street. The canal then snakes its way through residential neighborhoods as it arcs northwest toward 80th Avenue and Kipling Street. From there the canal again makes its way north along its final stretch toward Standley Lake.
Shortly before it reaches 86th Parkway, the Croke Canal passes underneath the Farmers' High Line Canal and then drops over a concrete spillway. Nearby are headgates and a drop structure along the Farmers' High Line Canal, which mixes its water with that from the Croke Canal just south of 86th Parkway and west of Kipling Street. This water then travels beneath 86th Parkway and flows into the southeast corner of Standley Lake. Here along the lake is where the canal finally enters the City of Westminster. From its headgate along Clear Creek near Golden, to its terminus in Standley Lake, the Croke Canal extends for a total of approximately 15 miles. Along its entire route, it supports massive cottonwood and willow trees, along with rich riparian habitat that serves as home to an abundance of plants and wildlife.
The Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (FRICO) owns the Croke Canal. It serves as a major feeder for Standley Lake, which also receives water from the Farmers' High Line Canal, Church Ditch, and several natural drainages. While the public has recreational access to the lake and its surrounding parklands, the water is jointly owned by the cities of Westminster, Northglenn, Thornton and FRICO. Standley Lake is used not only for recreation, but also as a source of municipal water and for the irrigation of agricultural fields.
The Croke Canal was developed early in the 20th century, and its sole purpose was to serve as a feeder ditch for Standley Lake. It has a single water decree that was appropriated in 1902 from Clear Creek for a flow of 944 cubic feet per second. During the summer months, diversions into the canal occur during periods of high runoff along the creek. Diversions continue throughout the winter months, at which time this is the only operative decree along Clear Creek. The reason the ditch continues to run throughout the winter is to keep Standley Lake supplied with an adequate amount of water for the communities that depend upon it as a source of water for homes, businesses and public buildings.
Although the canal is owned and operated by FRICO, the Standley Lake Operating Committee (SLOC) has managed it for over 30 years. This committee consists of representatives from FRICO as well as the cities of Westminster, Northglenn and Thornton. Costs to operate and maintain the Croke Canal are shared equally by the three cities in accordance with the Four-Way Agreement. Signed in 1979 by FRICO and the three communities, the agreement defines the shared operations and maintenance of storage space in Standley Lake.
In addition to serving as a primary source of water for Standley Lake and the three cities mentioned, the City of Arvada holds a contract for 25 cubic feet per second of capacity in the Croke Canal. For decades, this capacity has been used to carry water exchanged to the canal to a pumping station at Ralston Creek that lifts it into Arvada Reservoir. This water is treated and provides Arvada with a portion of its domestic supply.
(Pictured right: Croke Canal Inlet Channel to Standley Lake - North of 86th Parkway, West of Kipling Street)
History of the Croke Canal
During the 1870s and 1880s, the land where Standley Lake now sits was occupied by a much smaller body of water known as Kinnear Reservoir, along with an expanse of open land used for agriculture. The lake was about 1,000 acre-feet in size. (By comparison, Standley Lake today holds about 42,000 acre-feet of water.) By the 1890s, the property had come under the ownership of Denver businessman Thomas Croke.
Thomas Bernard Croke was born near Janesville, Wisconsin in 1852, and after graduating from high school worked as a teacher for several years. In 1874, he headed west to the Colorado Territory, where he sought to resume his career in education. Unable to secure a teaching position right away, he took a bookkeeping job with a lumberyard. One year later, Croke accepted a clerking position at the Daniels and Fisher department store in downtown Denver. This job changed his life and launched him toward a future of great wealth and success.
As the thriving company expanded into carpeting and draperies, Thomas Croke was put in charge of that department. Over the following decade, he grew this area of the business and was rewarded with a profit sharing arrangement. In 1889, Croke launched his own firm, known as Thomas B. Croke and Company. The venture grew rapidly into a profitable carpeting, draperies and upholstery business. Before long, Croke became a wealthy and respected member of Denver’s upper class.
During the 1870s and 1880s, while Croke worked as a clerk with Daniels and Fisher, he invested his savings in area real estate. Some of his holdings were urban lots within the city of Denver. However, by the mid-1880s, Croke had also acquired 3,520 acres of open land north of the city. Most of these rural parcels abutted one another, and Croke had them enclosed with 27 miles of fencing. Ditches and reservoirs provided irrigation to the acreage, and during the early 1890s he had twelve hundred acres planted with crops. Croke brought horses and cattle onto his ranch, where he also planted 6,000 fruit trees and 30,000 shade and ornamental trees. His agricultural holdings included the area around Kinnear Reservoir, and were incorporated under the name Croke Land and Live-Stock Company.
Around 1901, Croke retired from his mercantile business to focus upon managing his ranch, his real estate, and other investments. The following year, he partnered with Ottawa Joseph (“O. J.”) Standley and Milton Smith to incorporate the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (FRICO). The purpose of this enterprise was to develop a system of canals and reservoirs that would provide irrigation water to the rapidly developing farm country north and northwest of Denver. For some time, Standley had been seeking a site to build a large water storage reservoir north of city. Shortly after forming their partnership, the men decided to enlarge and improve Croke’s Kinnear Reservoir. Constructed between 1908 and 1911, the massive project that obliterated Kinnear Reservoir became known as Standley Lake.
In 1902, while Croke, Standley and Smith were busy planning what would eventually become Standley Lake, they secured a water decree along Clear Creek near Golden for their project. Years later, in 1909, FRICO launched the construction of a canal that would transport this water from Clear Creek to the area where Standley Lake was under development. The canal’s sole purpose was to serve as a primary water conduit that would fill Standley Lake. River water was first diverted into the canal around the first of July 1910, although it did not become fully operational until the following year when the lake was ready to be filled. Named for Thomas Croke, the canal honored his role in the founding of FRICO and the development of Standley Lake.
Between 1909 and 1912, Croke served in the Colorado State Senate, where he was a member of the agriculture and irrigation committee. He constructed a three-story office building for himself in downtown Denver at Glenarm Place and 18th Street, and had a large mansion erected at Pennsylvania Street and East 11th Avenue. Croke lived in this Capitol Hill home for just a short time, and the large Chateauesque residence has long been rumored to be one of the most haunted houses in the city. He was also involved in community affairs, and aided in the development of Loretto Heights College and the Denver Community Chest. Thomas Croke died in Denver in 1939 at the age of 87, following a long and successful career.
Prepared by Ron Sladek of Tatanka Historical Associates Inc.