by Hugh Graham, hughgrahamcreative.com

Riverside has been dying for a long time.

One of the first cemeteries in the american west designed as a park, with paths for carriages, and trees for shade, and roses, for a generation or so Riverside served as the resting place of the pillars of society, territorial governors and mayors and pioneers and publishers. It was filled with statuary and civil war heroes and abolitionists and shady characters and mothers who died in childbirth, and lots of children who died too young.

But it was downstream from the city, in an industrial area near the city of commerce, and it ended up on the wrong side of the tracks. Even before the Railway line came through, the wealthy had moved on to another part of town. Riverside was left to the working men and the working women, to immigrants and laborers and indigents.

And so there began a long, slow decline, the slow death of a place honoring the dead, exacerbated by the western thirst for water. It’s too far gone now, in many ways. Trees have died, and roses, and there will never again be kentucky blue grass between the graves. In the end, the old resting place will settle back into the dusty plains, as we’ll all settle into oblivion.

There is something profoundly human about the desire to immortalize ourselves with a mark in time. Perhaps it explains the creative impulse, the desire to say “I was here, now.” Or to commemorate a loved one with as generous a statement as you can afford.

In the early days of the american frontier, the cemetery was a primary form of expression, perhaps the only way for most people to say, I was here. I loved. I made my mark. And there is sadness in the realization that of all the monuments, each one for someone who lived and loved and died, so few stories survive.

There is an austere beauty to the prairie, and at Riverside it’s poignant given the location between the smelter and the refineries. It’s not a traditional beauty, not fecund and rich and fertile, but more elusive and fleeting and dry. Like the west, the prairie scene doesn’t give away it’s secrets. They are too valuable to waste on the unobservant.

Times change; the cemetery is no longer the tradition it once was. Burial is now the exception rather than the rule. Still, there’s something to looking to the past, something to gain from saving what’s left of this history.

For a while at least. Until oblivion.

B50 Note: Founded in 1876, Riverside Cemetery is Denver’s oldest, and is the final resting place of a fascinating cultural and social cross-section of the community (including three territorial governors and three civil war medal of honor recipients). It is also the home of amazing statuary that documents 130 years of colorado history. Unfortunately, all irrigation was suspended in 2002, so the landscape has suffered extensively. Members of the community have joined together to support the cemetery through the Friends of Historic Riverside Cemetery.


by Sharon Feder

In the late 1800’s, my great-grandparents, Harry and Mary Aarons, came to Denver from New York city. What motivated them to leave their community back East for a future in young Denver is unknowable… just as their destiny would have been in that tumultuous time.

I tried very hard to learn they had traveled part way by “prairie schooner”, but the truth has them arriving in Denver by train with their baby girl. They would breed many baby girls, and a few sons. Some would survive, others died – in childbirth, infancy, young adulthood.

Most of the truth about these people, I will never know. I can imagine, though, their lives and love in the brand new Twentieth Century, as I imagine my own future in the brand new Twenty-First Century.

Train tracks stretch from Denver to New York, from 1909 to 2009. Life lines. Mysteries. Possibilities.

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Paintings from the River North series by Sharon Feder. See more work of Sharon’s at her website, sfeder.com.

The Barnes Dance

Henry A. Barnes, Denver’s First Traffic Engineer
—Compiled and Illustrated by Matt Holman*

B50 note: Henry Barnes implemented Denver’s system to allow pedestrians to co-exist with vehicles; first introduced in Denver in the late 40’s, it is still in use today.

Red Light! Green Light!

“You can’t be a nice guy and solve traffic.”
-Henry A. Barnes

Henry Barnes, illustration by Matt Holman
Henry Barnes, illustration by Matt Holman

In 1947, Denver Mayor Quigg Newton hired the city’s first professional traffic engineer, Henry A. Barnes. Or so it seemed.

Barnes had been working in Flint, Michigan when Newton hired him over the phone and confirmed his appointment by telegram. Barnes flew to Denver, leaving his family behind while he found housing and awaited his first month’s pay. When he landed, no one met him at the airport.

Perplexed, he made his way to the Mayor’s office. He was temporarily relieved when he received a hearty greeting from Mayor Newton. Eager to start his new job, Barnes assured Newton that he would do his best for Denver. “Now, if you’ll tell me where my office is,” he said. There was just one problem, the Mayor explained.

The mayor had been hiring experts from around the Country to help Denver grow to be a major city. “Things went pretty well for a while,” Newton told Barnes, “but now the City Council is beginning to get its back up. They claim I’m putting too many ‘foreigners’ on the payroll.”

Barnes was told he couldn’t “exist officially“ until the Mayor had smoothed the ruffled feathers. Barnes, without money and a job, announced his plan to return to Michigan. That, coupled with an imminent Denver Post story about how badly the city had treated him, encouraged the Mayor, who welcomed Barnes in and was officially introduced as Denver’s first Traffic Engineer.

The Barnes Dance

Barnes is best known for the “Barnes Dance”, a simple idea where traffic is stopped in all directions at an intersection so pedestrians can cross. Continue reading “The Barnes Dance”

Visiting the Forney

by Jill Hadley Hooper

I’m a Denver native. And by Denver, I mean Denver; my family rarely ventured west and into the mountains. They were dangerous places full of bad weather, sharp turns and the antisocial. We were plains folk. We liked to be able to see people coming.

Denver in the 60’s and 70’s was a small but growing city and it had its perks. My parents took full advantage of the many museums, parks and libraries. Sundays were spent, not in church, but at the library downtown or classes at the art museum, natural history museum or the Forney.

The Forney Museum in the 1980s
The Forney Museum in the 1980s
I was in REI last week, it’s a beautiful building. And these days it’s so clean which is very different from it’s previous incarnations. It was born as the Tramway Power House, built in 1901 to house the boilers and engines to generate the electricity for the Denver Trolley system.

When the trolley system went caput in the 1950’s the Forney Museum moved in. The Forney was (and is) a transportation museum. It’s a collection of cars, horse drawn carriages, trolleys, train cars, motorcycles and bicycles, anything that will get you from A to B. It’s a Colorado museum soup to nuts: the collection originated with Mr. Forney, who started modestly with his own cars and eventually traded tools for unused and unloved vehicles until he found himself with a collection that needed housing. It’s first stop was the then *new and glamorous* Cinderella City for two years before settling in Platte and 15th.

This was a grand and dusty place to visit. The building dwarfed the vehicles. Inside the place offered independence from parents; a kid could wander alone up and down the cars, it seemed to go on forever. In the yard there were train cars you could climb on and cars you could sit in. The weeds were knee high. The place had the feeling of being an underdog. I bought a conductors cap when I was seven and wore it for a year.

By my teens I had become immersed in the suburbs and school and downtown was lost to me. All these places that had been second homes fell away in favor of Houlihan’s, Skate City, and parks filled with kegs and kids. I left for college in 1982 and returned to Denver in ‘87.

In 1989 I moved into the Highlands and the Forney became my neighbor. I also worked as a waitress at My Brother’s Bar, a close companion to the Tramway Building for over 100 years. I became reacquainted with the museum. My newly minted art school sensibilities—so observant and superior—were numbed by visits to the Forney. It was so earnest, so beautiful, and without irony. You couldn’t take a bad photograph in there. There were pigeons roosting that came and went through the high broken windows, and dusty paths of light that created a cathedral effect. It felt like yours too, a still hidden gem no one had claimed. Best of all, in my absence they had added a wax figure diorama of Alfred Packer.

Continue reading “Visiting the Forney”

The First Mayor of Globeville

William H. Clark and the cabin he built in 1859 at 5041 Pearl Street.
William H. Clark and the cabin he built in 1859 at 5041 Pearl Street.
Photo courtesy of Wilbur F. Stone, ed., History of Colorado, Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1918.

William H. Clark was a natural choice for the first mayor of Globeville, for he been there from the very beginning. Twenty-three-year-old Clark was one of the hoards of fortune seekers who descended on the territory when gold was discovered in Colorado in 1858. He traveled with a party of fourteen men across land that belonged to the Arapaho and Sioux, arriving at the collection of tents and shacks that would become Denver on October 28, 1858.

Clark built a small cabin in an area north of Denver, farming, prospecting and hunting wild game to survive. His neighbors were native Americans and a few other settlers. With other pioneers, he formed a “claim club”, an organization that held and protected the land on which they “squatted” until it was surveyed. He was able to purchase his property, about 40 acres, from the government for $1.25 an acre in 1863.1

Homesteaders continued to move to the area, and Clark was active in the growing community. He served on the first school board, which was responsible for a little country school built in 1873 at 51st and Washington, which later became the Globeville School.

Clark had lived in the neighborhood 20 years when the region’s first smelter, the Boston and Colorado, was built in an area now occupied by Denver’s “Mousetrap” interchange. Two other large smelters, the Grant and the Globe, were constructed in 1882 and 1889, followed by railroads, brickyards, foundries and meat packing plants. Clark witnessed the evolution of the district from a rural outpost to an industrial area. He also observed a change in the area’s population from native-born homesteaders to that of Eastern-European immigrants. When the population voted to incorporate as the town of Globeville in 1891, Clark was chosen as the first mayor.

After his mayoral term ended in 1894, Clark returned to farming. He was known to everyone in Globeville as “Uncle Billy” and, at 59 years, was an old-timer by the standards of the day, recognized as a pioneer. Clark enjoyed receiving visitors and would share his memories with anyone who had time to stop and listen.2

A January 25, 1920, issue of the Denver Post proclaimed “‘Uncle Billy’ Clark, pioneer, still lives in squatter cabin” and is “hale and hearty at the age of eighty-four years.”

On June 26 the following year, he was found dead in his cabin of “advanced age” and laid to rest under the auspices of the Society of Colorado Pioneers and the Pioneer Ladies’ Aid Society at Fairmont Cemetery. There is no marker on his grave. A street sign between 47th and 48th Avenue in the Globeville neighborhood is the only known tribute to this pioneer.

-Mary Lou Egan

Clark Place and 47th Avenue in Globeville
Clark Place and 47th Avenue in Globeville

1 The Denver Post, January 25, 1920, “Uncle Billy” Clark, Pioneer, Still Lives in Squatter Cabin
2 Denver Post, June 27, 1921, “Uncle Billy” Clark, Pioneer of Pioneers, Dead in Rude Log House He Built in Days of ‘59”.