Bull Reservoir is located in northeast Westminster, north of 128th Avenue, halfway between Huron and Zuni streets. The 5.7-acre lake is situated within the City of Westminster’s Big Dry Creek Open Space. Visitors can reach the reservoir by parking at Amherst Park, at 130th Drive and Pecos Street, and then walking south along the Arapahoe Ridge Trail. The graveled path runs through the open space along the north side of the reservoir, whose shores cannot be reached due to a dense barrier of cattail-filled marshland. Because of this thick marsh, the reservoir acts as a rich wildlife habitat for fish, insects, reptiles, small mammals and a variety of birds. In addition to aquatic birds, bald eagles have been spotted there.
Directly northeast of Bull Reservoir is a long, arched, narrow unnamed pond that is also bordered by marsh (see photo below). These two bodies of water are surrounded by residential neighborhoods to the north and west, and by open space and marshland to the south and east. In addition, Big Dry Creek and the Bull Canal pass Bull Reservoir to the south and west.
Bull Reservoir and its surrounding marshland overlap the boundary of what was originally two adjacent homesteads dating back to the early 1870s. Ten years earlier, in 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act, which launched a program to distribute public lands to the various states. Each state received 30,000 acres, either within or adjacent to its boundaries. However, due to the ongoing Civil War, the program did not initially include the southern states. The Morrill Act’s goal was to encourage the states to sell the lands and then utilize the funds to support the establishment of “Colleges for the benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts,” or what became known as land-grant colleges.
After the war ended in 1865, the Morrill Act allowed the states to claim public lands anywhere in the country. Much of the available land lay out west, where newly created states and territories were sparsely settled and held vast tracts of federal land recently cleared of native tribes. On July 1, 1872, 160 acres along Big Dry Creek north of Denver was claimed by the State of Alabama. That same day, the parcel was sold to Denver resident and businessman Charles A. Roberts, who appears to have held it as an investment.
Charles Roberts was born in 1846 in Boston, Mass. and came to Colorado in the early 1860s. He settled in Denver and was employed in the hardware business. Within a few years, Charles had opened a hardware store of his own. Around 1871, he married Jessie Hughes, daughter of General Bela Hughes, a pioneering transportation executive honored with a stained glass window in the state capitol rotunda. Charles operated his hardware business under the name C. A. Roberts & Company, which during the 1870s was located downtown at 207 15th St. The store moved to 416 Larimer St. during the 1880s and added home furnishings to its selection of hardware goods. By the mid-1890s, the successful firm was operating as the Roberts Stove & Hardware Company. Around 1900, Charles became involved in a business enterprise with his son Edwin, manufacturing plaster of Paris and related products at a plant in Perry Park, southwest of Castle Rock. Charles died in 1902 and was buried in Denver’s Riverside Cemetery.
On Nov. 1, 1873, also under the Morrill Act, another 160-acre parcel along Big Dry Creek was claimed by the State of Virginia. Located adjacent to the parcel acquired by Charles Roberts, this one was sold that same day to Otis Perrin, who appears to have farmed there. Otis was born in Massachusetts in 1851 and came to Colorado by 1870 with his parents and siblings. The family settled on a farm in the vicinity of Golden. Three years after acquiring an agricultural parcel of his own, Otis won awards at the Colorado State Fair for his rhubarb, winter beets and watermelons. Around 1875, he married a woman from Vermont named Emily. Five years later, the couple was living with their three young children in Leadville, where Otis drove a water wagon. However, it appears that they soon returned to Denver, where they operated a farm in the Berkeley area (now part of northwest Denver). Otis died in 1903 and was buried in Riverside Cemetery. Emily joined him there four years later.
Throughout the late 1800s, the area where Bull Reservoir is now located was bisected by Big Dry Creek, but did not hold any lakes or ponds. Two irrigation canals, the Wilbur Ditch and the Lindza & Thomas Ditch, ran nearby and irrigated area crop fields. By 1900, the land had come into the possession of two new owners holding side-by-side parcels. The 160-acre eastern parcel was owned by David R.C. Brown, a prominent Aspen mine owner and founder of the town’s pioneer utility companies. Among the state’s wealthiest residents, Brown invested in numerous Colorado properties and his holdings included several agricultural parcels in what was to become Westminster. He operated a large horse ranch on his acreage in the vicinity.
Harrison H. Graves held the 160-acre western parcel. Born in Kansas in 1865, Graves moved to Colorado by 1885. Three years later he married Florence Lindza, whose family had settled on a farm just more than one mile northeast of the future site of Bull Reservoir. The young couple acquired a farm of their own, and by 1900 Harrison had become a grocer. Ten years later, the family was living on a farm in Garfield County and from there they relocated to Los Angeles.
As a growing number of ditches and canals were developed on the eastern plains starting in the late 19th century, it became apparent that the supply of water in area streams and rivers could not match seasonal demand. Following a significant drought in 1888, hundreds of water storage reservoirs began to be constructed. This continued well into the twentieth century, with reservoirs ranging in size from small farm ponds to massive lakes.
In 1902, Denver businessmen Thomas Croke, Ottawa Joseph Standley and Milton Smith founded the Farmers Reservoir & Irrigation Company (FRICO), an enterprise whose goal was to develop a system of canals and reservoirs that would provide water to the rapidly developing farm country north of the city. Their effort coincided with the explosion of the sugar beet industry in northeastern Colorado, which boosted the agricultural economy for decades. Between 1908 and 1911, FRICO constructed Standley Lake along with a system of downstream irrigation canals and lateral ditches.
Water flowed out of Standley Lake into Big Dry Creek and the Niver Canal, both of which meandered through the countryside to the northeast. While the reservoir was under construction, FRICO engaged noted Denver civil engineer George M. Bull to design another irrigation ditch that would emerge from a headgate along the north side of Big Dry Creek seven miles downstream from the lake. Known as the Bull Canal, it was completed in 1910-1911 and over the following century provided water to hundreds of farms along its 40-mile route. Including its laterals and extensions, the canal still runs as far northeast as the area around Dacono, Frederick and Firestone. The marsh where the ditch drew water from the creek is the same location that during the twentieth century evolved into Bull Reservoir.
By the 1940s, the land that now holds Bull Reservoir was still occupied by a large marsh, with Big Dry Creek and the Bull Canal running through its southern area. Ten years later, the marsh was still present, along with a narrow arched pond to the northeast. Water was pumped from that small pond toward the north into a nearby farm pond. By the mid-1960s, another pond was forming in the marsh, aided by the raised earthen Bull Canal that ran along its eastern shore. This body of water, known as Bull Reservoir, continued to enlarge over the following years. The City of Westminster acquired Bull Reservoir from FRICO in 1994, adding the site to the Big Dry Creek Open Space.