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Lower Church Lake

Lower Church LakeLower Church Lake is located in west-central Westminster within the 75-acre city-owned Lower Church Lake Open Space. Situated east of Wadsworth Boulevard between West 106th Avenue and West 108th Avenue, the approximately 32-acre lake (the fifth largest in Westminster) is surrounded by open fields, residences, a shopping center and the U.S. 36.

Public access to the lake is found at a small parking area along Wadsworth Boulevard, just north of West 108th Avenue. Informal trails take visitors through the sites more than 70 acres of prairie and shoreline.

Lower Church Lake and its surrounding open space were acquired by the City of Westminster through several purchases completed between 2003 and 2010. A historic barn and silo are located on the site just north of the lake.

Prominent among the many early pioneers who settled in what is now Westminster were George and Sarah Church, who migrated west from Iowa in the early 1860s. Following initial attempts at mining near Idaho Springs and farming north of Mount Vernon Canyon, in 1864 the family acquired a 160-acre parcel of land in the open countryside northwest of Denver. This tract contained the 12-Mile Station, a stop on the Denver to Cheyenne Overland Stage road 12 miles outside of Denver. George improved the property by constructing a two-story house next to the stage station, and the Overland Stage stop became known as Church’s Station. The farmstead and stage station were located along the west side of Wadsworth Boulevard just north of West 103rd Avenue. Before long, the Church’s two-story home was converted to a bunkhouse for travelers when George erected a better quality family residence nearby.

Over the following years, the Church Ranch expanded beyond the original 160-acre homestead. Through a series of acquisitions, the family eventually amassed thousands of acres that stretched from today’s Sheridan Boulevard west to the foothills. Included among their holdings was the property to the north of the home farm, where Lower Church Lake is now located. Building a sizable livestock operation, the Church family used some of their acreage as pasture and planted much of the rest with feed crops. Needing water for his fields, George built an irrigation system involving a series of ditches and reservoirs that diverted and stored water from Clear Creek. Lower Church Lake was developed starting in 1878 as part of this irrigation system, with water drawn from Clear Creek by way of the Church Ditch.

During the last two decades of the 19th century and into the 1940s, the lake extended westward from its current shoreline beyond what is now Wadsworth Boulevard. Throughout this period, the unpaved country road curved around the western edge of the lake following today’s Yukon Street. By the mid-1950s, the road had been raised, straightened and improved, and the lake was constrained to its east side where it remains today.

Running on a diagonal along the eastern shore of Lower Church Lake is a historic rail line constructed in the late 1880s by the Denver, Marshall & Boulder Railroad to transport coal and passengers. Starting in 1908, this became part of the “Kite Route” line of electric passenger cars operated by the Denver & Interurban Railroad. Acquired by the Colorado & Southern Railway in 1899, the tracks continued to provide passenger and freight service between Denver and Boulder for years, along with connections that continued north as far as Fort Collins.

In 1901, Jefferson County rancher Thomas Tucker and his wife, Mary Miller Church, a niece of George and Sarah Church, acquired the 160-acre parcel of land bordering the lake to the north. This parcel did not include the lake itself, which was retained by George Church and his descendents. Along the county road just north of the lake, the Tuckers erected a farmstead that included a main house, caretaker’s house, wood frame barn and numerous outbuildings and stock pens. Thomas used the property to grow hay and corn for cattle raised at his 5,000-acre Tucker Mountain Ranch north of Nederland (known since the early 1970s as the Caribou Ranch).

During the 1910s, the wooden barn was replaced with the barn and silo that remain there today. These are distinguished by their use of fireproof hollow clay tiles, along with the barn’s mansard roof. Although Thomas Tucker died in 1921 and Mary in 1930, their children continued to operate the farm through the 1940s.

In 1952, the Tucker property was broken up as the Colorado Department of Highways acquired a 40-acre corridor for construction of the Boulder Turnpike. The barn and silo were listed as Westminster historic landmarks in 2006. 

Starting in the early 1920s, Lower Church Lake became part of the Mandalay Irrigation Company system which was associated with John (Frank) and Katherine Church. John was the son of George and Sarah Church, and following their deaths inherited his parents’ extensive land and irrigation holdings. In 1925, Katherine took over management of the family ranch and related enterprises when her husband left to develop mining interests in southwestern Colorado. She became president of the Mandalay Irrigation Company and in this capacity worked to develop the Mandalay Ditch and manage Lower Church Lake. In 1929, Katherine assembled plans for a country subdivision near Lower Church Lake that would be known as Mandalay Gardens. However, the Depression hampered plans for the development of Mandalay Gardens and damaged the Church Ranch operation as a whole.

Although Lower Church Lake remained in the Church family for many years, post World War II suburban development diminished area agriculture, constrained the lake and led to its decline as an irrigation storage reservoir.

In 2004-2005, the City of Westminster acquired acreage to the north and south of the lake to add to its open space holdings. Finally in 2011, the lake was sold to the City of Westminster and the Mandalay Irrigation Company disbanded. Today the lake is fed solely by stormwater runoff.

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