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Mushroom Farm Pond

Mushroom PondMushroom Farm Pond is located in east-central Westminster within the 23.5-acre city-owned Mushroom Pond Open Space. Situated just east of Federal Boulevard at about West 109th Avenue, the low-lying 4.3-acre pond is hidden from the view of automobile traffic. Cottonwoods, willows and wetland plants that provide excellent wildlife habitat are found around its perimeter.

To the west, the historic Savery Mushroom Farm complex was located on the high open ground between the pond and Federal Boulevard. An elevated water tank, built around 1925 above a well that provided fresh water for the mushroom growing operation, is the only surviving remnant of the farm’s numerous buildings and built features. Today, it ornaments the western view of the mountains from the pond. In 2005, the tank was registered as a Westminster historic landmark, the same year it was listed in the State Register of Historic Properties. Restoration of the water tank was completed in 2006 and it remains an area landmark.

Modern residential subdivisions surround Mushroom Farm Pond to the north and east. To the south and southeast, across the Farmers' High Line Canal, are the 6.4-acre Foxshire Park and the eastern holes of the city-owned Legacy Ridge Golf Course. Directly south of the pond is a small low-lying wooded wetland that was historically a second pond on the site. This wetland receives piped water from a small pond on the nearby golf course and filters it before the water is released into the larger Mushroom Farm Pond.

The City of Westminster acquired Mushroom Farm Pond and the surrounding open space through several acquisitions that took place between 1989 and 2010. The northern one of the two historic ponds was redesigned and reshaped by the city during the 1990s. Today, Mushroom Farm Pond is about 8-feet deep, except for an 18-foot-deep trench in the middle that was excavated to improve water quality and provide fish habitat.

Foxshire Park is currently the closest place to park a car and reach the pond along the popular Mushroom Pond Trail which also encircles the pond. In 2012, a new public parking lot was constructed on the Mushroom Pond Open Space just east of Federal Boulevard and south of the water tower. 

In July 1890, John Frey secured the property where the pond is located as part of a 160-acre homestead. Born in 1841 in Switzerland, he immigrated to the United States in 1880. The following year, Frey brought his wife Elizabeth and their children from Switzerland to join him in the United States. He married Elizabeth around 1864 and they had five children. In 1890, the family settled in a farmhouse along what was an unpaved country road (now Federal Boulevard) north of Denver, just west of today’s Mushroom Farm Pond and south of the water tower. By 1900, several generations of the Frey family were living on adjacent agricultural parcels totaling 320 acres. Large portions of the Frey family farm are now occupied by the Savery Farm and Cedar Bridge subdivisions. 

The Farmers' High Line Canal ran from west to east through the Frey family properties. This irrigation ditch appears to have provided water for two ponds that were located in the southern half of John’s farm by the 1890s. Drainage from the ponds headed toward the north, terminating in Big Dry Creek. Whether John constructed the ponds is no longer known, although it appears likely that the Frey family developed them for the storage of irrigation water. Following Elizabeth’s death in 1907, John moved to a nearby farm owned by his son Albert. He died in 1925 and was buried in Wesley Chapel Cemetery at 120th Avenue and Huron Street, next to his wife and several other members of the Frey family.

Mushroom PondIn 1918, a successful Denver securities broker and mining investor by the name of Charles William Savery purchased John Frey’s former farm. Born in 1878 in Pennsylvania, Savery owned a Philadelphia lumberyard from 1900 through 1908. In 1904, he married Colorado resident Frances Darlington and five years later the couple relocated to Denver where Charles opened a downtown brokerage office specializing in mining stocks. In the early 1920s, he embarked on a new career when he entered the mushroom growing and canning business. Savery began limited production in 1922 in a building under Denver’s 20th Street viaduct. However, the facility was soon ordered closed by the chief of police due to complaints about unpleasant odors from the operation. Rather than abandon the project, Savery moved it to the farm he had acquired near the town of Westminster. There he launched an ambitious effort to construct $100,000 worth of infrastructure and buildings.

By 1930, the “scientific” operation had expanded to the size of a company town, including 32 mushroom buildings known as “caves,” along with a water tower, general store, schoolhouse, boarding house, 4-acre baseball field and a tennis court. Numerous small homes were erected to house laborers. At its peak, as many as 84 men, women and children, mostly of Hispanic origin, lived and worked on the site. Both adults and children were employed in the mushroom growing operation, canning plant and agricultural fields. While fresh water for the facility originated from its underground well, used process water from the caves and canning plant likely ended up in the two adjacent low-lying farm ponds on the site.

Savery’s Great Western Mushroom Company soon opened branch plants in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Mushrooms from the three facilities were shipped all over the United States, some of them fresh and others in green cans with yellow lettering declaring their contents as “Savery Savory Mushrooms” (note the water tower was originally designed and was recently restored to resemble one of the company’s mushroom cans). Experiencing excellent sales into the 1940s, the Westminster farm grew to include 39 mushroom buildings and by the middle of the decade was grossing revenues of more than $1,200 each day. 

Owning the only mushroom facility between Kansas City and the Pacific Coast, Savery controlled the market in a large swath of the country. In 1946 and again in 1949, large fires raged through the mushroom growing buildings and destroyed much of the crop. Finally reaching the end of his career, Savery retired in 1953 and the damaged plant was closed. Following the death of his wife Frances in 1956, he moved into a Longmont nursing home. Charles Savery died there in 1960 and was buried in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery.

With Charles Savery’s retirement, the facility ceased operations and the property passed into the hands of owners uninterested in operating the mushroom empire. Over the following decades, the buildings and other features associated with the facility began to deteriorate and were either torn down or collapsed. The southern pond silted in and turned into a wooded wetland. Today all that is left of the highly successful enterprise are the Savery Savory Mushrooms water tower and Mushroom Farm Pond, the northern of John Frey’s two 19th century farm ponds.

Photos: Courtesy Mike Smith

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