Location: West side of the Westin Hotel, north of 104th Avenue and east of Westminster Boulevard.
Artist: Winsor Fireform Fabrication - Tumwater, Wash.
Year Installed: 2011.
How Acquired: Funded by the City of Westminster.
Comments: The history panel is located at the base of one of sixteen custom-designed light towers.
Colorado’s Gold Rush drew migrants across the prairie in search of riches and a new life. Many sought wealth in the alpine mining camps. Others settled in towns or established farms along the high plains east of the Rockies. Americans of the era hailed predominantly from agricultural backgrounds. In the West, they had to adapt to a semi-arid, high altitude environment.
The high prairie was opened for settlement with the 1862 Homestead Act and end of the Civil War. Divided into numerous homestead claims, a checkerboard of fields, fences and country roads began to mark the land. Farmhouses, barns, and outbuildings rose from the soil as if grown as a crop. Small towns were founded, and maps began to identify new communities such as Harris, later renamed Westminster.
The dry plains saw modest precipitation. But with reliable water sources, the rich soils could produce crops and support livestock. For farmers, securing irrigation water became a paramount and early concern. They completed wells and collected precipitation in cisterns, but these were inadequate to irrigate crop fields.
Colorado had ample water in its high country, and liquid gold poured from the mountains along numerous streams. In Westminster, the closest and most important of these was Clear Creek, which left the mountains at Golden and ran northeast across the prairie. Flow in the stream varied, however, and water was not available where and when it was needed. Plains settlers recognized that the river water had to be claimed, managed, and transported to become usable.
Irrigated farming started in fields along Clear Creek during the 1860s and 1870s, as individuals and then mutual irrigation companies established claims and dug ditches that drew water from the stream. These were lengthened to snake for miles across the prairie, allowing homesteaders to plow the prairie grass and plant the virgin soil with crops and orchards.
Several ditches were developed in Westminster, transforming the countryside into rich cropland that provided a living for hundreds of families. These included the Farmers’ High Line Canal, Church Ditch, Allen Ditch, and Big Dry Creek Ditch. Periods of drought forced the construction of water storage reservoirs that also became key to the area’s growth. Among these were Lower Church Lake, Standley Lake, Ketner Reservoir, Hidden Lake, and McKay Lake.
Today, the City of Westminster has acquired many of the historic ditches and reservoirs as open space and parks. They stand as a reminder of the area’s rich agricultural heritage.