Historical Marker Program
In 2002, City Council appropriated funds for the Historical Marker Program Capital Improvement Project as part of the City’s 2002 Adopted Budget. A list of Westminster’s notable places and people was devised and twenty-four subjects were selected to be recognized. The Historical Markers were created by Denver graphic artist David Clune and have been installed at selected locations throughout the City since the inception of the program. While several of the markers await installation pending further streetscape projects, residents can visit each of the Historical Markers on a tour that will take them on a historical journey of Westminster’s vibrant past.
1) Pleasant DeSpain (located within the sidewalk at the southeast corner of 76th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard)
Walk four blocks to 76th and Lowell and you’ll have a much shorter trip than Pleasant DeSpain did when he founded Westminster as DeSpain Junction. DeSpain traveled from Kentucky to Illinois and finally to Colorado where he built his home at 76th & Lowell and claimed 160 acres of land in 1870. DeSpain was the first person in Colorado to purchase water rights on Coal Creek and create a ditch right-of-way. Years later a lack of water rights drove Westminster to incorporate as a city.
2) Two-Bit Racetrack to Boulder (located on the west side of Lowell Boulevard, just south of Turnpike Drive in the plaza)
The construction of a toll road to Boulder, first proposed in 1949, stirred controversy in Westminster. The Westminster Journal called it a “two-bit racetrack to Boulder” that no on would pay to travel on but “football fans and drunks.” The road divided Westminster in half and would have stopped the City’s growth if an underpass at Lowell had not been built. Tolls were removed from the Denver-Boulder Turnpike in the late 1960s because high traffic enabled bonds to be paid of earlier than expected.
3) Good Neighbors (located within the sidewalk at the northeast corner of 76th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard)
The generous spirit of Westminster’s community is embodied in the May Hoover Clack home at 7660 Lowell Boulevard. Westminster High School student May Hoover contracted polio in 1949 and needed a home that would accommodate her iron lung. Evert Drumright donated land and nearly every organization and individual in the Westminster community pulled together to construct a house for May, saving her from life in a hospital. She moved in on Christmas Eve 1951 and lived in the home until her death in 1985.
4) Westminster Grange (located at 3935 W. 73rd Avenue, within the sidewalk in front the Grange Hall)
What do farmers, housewives, statesmen and nurses have in common? They’ve all belonged to the Westminster Grange. Founded in 1910 as an agricultural organization, the Westminster Grange soon became the center of social and civic life in Westminster. The hall was constructed in 1913 for $1,200 and became home to meetings, dances, potluck dinners and talent contests – as well as the City’s polling place for elections.
5) The City Charter (located within the sidewalk on the north side of 73rd Avenue, just east of Bradburn Boulevard)
In the 1950s, a booming population transformed Westminster from a town into a City. The City took a step toward securing much-needed water rights and additional resources to manage its growth when Westminster voters approved a home rule proposal in 1957. A 21-member convention was formed to write the City Charger, which voters approved in 1958. The new charter established Westminster’s council-manager form of government. As a home rule city, Westminster could enact its own laws, issue bonds and establish improvement districts.
6) Lucky Day Ranch (not yet installed)
The Madison Apple orchards gave way to horses when Roy Baines purchased the land bordered by Federal Boulevard, 92nd Avenue, Sheridan Boulevard and 88th Avenue for the Lucky Day Ranch and Track – home of the first quarter horse racing in Colorado. The first race was in June 1945 and public admission was $1. Although the track was a popular entertainment spot, it lacked the county infrastructure needed to support it and closed in 1949.
7) Union High School (located within the sidewalk on the north side of 72nd Avenue, east of Lowell Boulevard, in front of the school)
Westminster’s first high school opened in the fall of 1929. In its first year, Union High boasted 170 students and eight teachers. The first graduating class in 1931 consisted of four people. Lacking sports fields, the school’s baseball team played in a nearby cornfield before the corn was planted, and the football team took over the field after the harvest. Union High converted to a junior high school in 1949 and has been used continuously for educational purposes since.
8) Living Christmas Tree (located within the sidewalk on north side of 73rd Avenue, between Bradburn Boulevard and Osceola Street)
Westminster’s community and holiday spirit centered for many years around the City’s Hometown Christmas tree. Doc and Laura Shipman brought the tree down from the mountains and planted it near the volunteer fire department station at 73rd Avenue and Osceola in 1924. Westminster residents gathered each year to decorate the tree, sing carols and enjoy a visit from Santa Claus.
9) Fruitful Enterprise (located within the sidewalk at 7996 Bradburn Boulevard, on the east side of the street, just south of 80th Avenue)
Charles J. Harris brought his real estate cunning with him from Connecticut to Westminster in 1858. Harris was attracted to the city – then known as DeSpain Junction – by rumors that a university would be built. He secretly used his wife’s money to buy land from unsuccessful local farmers. He then divided the land and sold the parcels to fruit farmers. The town was sometimes known as Harris until the name Westminster was adopted in 1911.
10) Alma Rigg (located within the sidewalk at the northeast corner of 76th Avenue and Bradburn Boulevard)
Alma Rigg and her husband Sam were among the early residents of Westminster. They purchased five acres of land in 1903 for $700 and built a Dutch Colonial style home at 7600 Bradburn. Alma, who was a writer, piano teacher and well-loved Westminster resident, lent her artistic influence to this home through its unique windows, which were all different sizes. Alma’s first published article was about the cherry orchards on her land. She died at the age of 106 in 1966
11) Tunnel of Color (located within the sidewalk at the northeast corner of 73rd Avenue and Bradburn Boulevard)
Today’s Bradburn Boulevard got its start as a marketing maneuver for real estate developer C. J. Harris. Harris created the street with the name Connecticut Avenue and lined it with maple trees to enhance his property sales in the area. As the maples matured, the street became known as the “Tunnel of Color.” It attracted people from miles around to see the brilliant fall leaves. In 1919, the Town Board renamed the street in honor of Donald Bradburn, a young Westminster resident killed in World War I.
12) Ma Barker’s Gang (located within the sidewalk on the north side of 73rd Avenue, just east of Osceola Street)
Ma Barker’s infamous son Lloyd “Red” Barker traded in a life of crime for a life in Westminster in the 1940s. Lloyd grew up as part of the Barker gang, described by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover as “the toughest gang of hoodlums the FBI ever has been called upon to eliminate.” Lloyd served a 25-year prison sentence, then left his criminal past behind in 1938. After serving honorably in the U.S. Army during World War II, Lloyd moved to Westminster and work at a bar and grill in Denver. He was shot and killed by his wife at their Westminster home on March 18, 1949.
13) Expanding Horizons (located within the sidewalk on the east side of Lowell Boulevard at 73rd Avenue)
Prior to 1946, students in Westminster attended school in three separate districts. To keep pace with the growing local school population, Westminster residents voted to consolidate Westminster, Baker and Berkeley Gardens districts into School District 50 in May of 1946. In 1949, Westminster High School was constructed at 73rd and Lowell, making it the first high school built in Westminster’s new school district. Classes began in 1949 and the school’s first graduating class had 63 students.
14) Harris Depot (not yet installed)
Long before light rail came to the metro area, electric trains provided transportation to Westminster residents. In July 1908, the Interurban rail system was created, making 17 trips a day with 27 stops between Denver and Boulder. What was once a two-day trip between these two cities by horse or coach, now took little more than an hour. In 1912, a spur was built from Harris Depot to transport students to Westminster University. Known as the “Westminster College Car Service,” it operated twice daily until it was discontinued in 1913.
15) Edward Bowles (located on the west side of Newton Street, just south of 72nd Avenue)
Edward Bruce Bowles came west in 1863, driving a herd of cattle across the plains. He homesteaded 160 acres near 72nd Avenue and Bradburn Boulevard in 1871. Bowles made his living hauling freight and groceries to nearby miners, while his wife Elizabeth supplemented the family income by knitting socks and gloves. Bowles was a breeder of fine horses and rose in the Denver Pioneer Parade on Colorado Day for many years until his death in 1923.
16) The City’s Birthplace (located on the west side of Newton Street, just south of 72nd Avenue)
Inside this humble white building, plans for Westminster’s incorporation as a city were first laid. Five election commissioners held planning meetings at Fred Strawson’s little real estate office, then located on Connecticut (Bradburn) Avenue. After voters approved incorporation, Westminster’s new board of trustees held its first meeting in Strawson’s building on June 12, 1911. Westminster Grange hostel subsequent meetings until the City Hall was built in the 1940x. In 1989, the Strawson Building was preserved and relocated to the Boles House Museum site.
17) Jim Baker’s Enterprise (located within the sidewalk on the south side of 68th Avenue, east of Utica Street and south of Westminster High School)
Jim Baker was a true mountain man. He spoke several Indian dialects, was a Shoshoni Chief, mountain guide, trapper, government interpreter and notorious adventure-seeker. He was also one of Westminster’s earliest entrepreneurs, operating a toll ferry near Tennyson Street in the early 1860s. His two Native American wives ran the business, shuttling locals across swiftly moving Clear Creek. Baker left his homestead near 52nd and Tennyson in 1872, declaring that “the area was becoming too civilized.” Many of the City’s landmarks still bear his name.
18) Changing Views (not yet installed)
William James Gregory and his family built their home in 1909, on top of what is now known as Gregory Hill. Gregory, a professor of English, literature and bible studies noted that the view from his property was rather sparse. “When I first saw Westminster College, that square mile had only the college building, the red house behind it, and way east of Federal someone had a shack. The Hackberry tree in Arvada was the only tree between Westminster and the foothills.” The view today is dramatically different.
19) Fruited Plain (located within the sidewalk at the southeast corner of 76th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard)
Like many towns in America, Westminster’s economic roots were in agriculture. At the turn of the century, Westminster’s Madison Orchards blossomed with apple and cherry trees across hundreds of acres. People from throughout the Denver area came to Westminster in the fall to buy fruit and in the spring to enjoy the blossoms. The area also yielded wheat, oats, barley, alfalfa, corn and sugar beet crops. The Madison Orchards, owned by Clarence and Harry Kountze, operated for over 30 years before closing 1938.
20) The Princeton of the West (not yet installed)
In the early 1890s, New Yorker Henry T. Mayham envisioned building a university that would become “The Princeton of the West.” Funded by donations, construction of Westminster University was completed in 1908. When the town of Harris incorporated in 1911, it was renamed Westminster in honor of the school. A decision to change from co-ed to all-male backfired when the draft of WWI left the school without students, forcing the university to close in 1917. A local religious organization, Pillar of Fire, has owned the campus since 1920.
21) Church’s Crossing Stage Stop (located on the west side of Wadsworth Boulevard, north of 103rd Avenue in the Church's Stage Stop Open Space) Before trains or automobiles, the Overland Stagecoach was a vital means of transportation across the United States. In 1864, George and Sarah Church settled on Walnut Creek and built a home that became a stop along the Overland Stage route. The Church Crossing Stage Stop broke up the two-day trip from Denver to Boulder and provided meals, lodging and livery for horses and oxen. President Ulysses S. Grant and his daughter Nellie stayed at Church’s Crossing in 1868 on their way to Central City.
22) Thirsty Business (not yet installed)
Water has long driven Westminster’s development and politics. In the early 1900s, residents dug wells or hauled water from lakes. Westminster incorporated in 1911, partly to develop a modern water system that included pipes and storage tanks. Rapid growth in the 1950s prompted an unsuccessful bid to purchase additional water from neighboring Denver. As a result, home rule was established in 1957, giving the City more freedom to secure its own water. In the 1960s, Westminster purchased rights to water in Clear Creek, with an agreement to store water in Standley Lake.
23) Savory Mushroom Farm (not yet installed)
In 1924, Charles W. Savery moved his fledgling mushroom business from underneath Denver’s 20th Street Viaduct to 107th Avenue and Federal Boulevard, launching the Savory Mushroom Company. By 1930, the farm had grown to 25 acres, producing 2,500 pounds of mushrooms daily. Savery’s success proved that, contrary to popular belief, mushrooms could be grown in Colorado. A devastating insect-borne disease destroyed the crops in 1935, causing the farm to close.
24) Muddy Waters (located within the sidewalk on the south side of 68th Avenue, just east of Utica Street and south of Westminster High School)
Despite its unappealing name, “Mud Lake” both sustained and entertained generations of residents. Native Americans first used the lake as a water source and hunting ground. In the early 1900s, locals hauled buckets of water from the lake to their homes for 24¢ a barrel. The lake provided year round recreation as an ice skating rink and swimming hole. In 1954, local school students created a story about the “Mud Lake Monster” and sold it to raise money for charity. Eventually the lake’s murky name was changed to Hidden Lake.