You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Colorado? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Colorado city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Centennial State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Denver (Photos)
- Boulder (Photos)
- Golden (Photos)
- Englewood (Photos)
- Cañon City
- Alamosa (Photos)
- Trinidad (Photos)
- Monument (Photos)
- Gunnison (Photos)
- Durango (Photos)
For being 160 years old, Denver doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Colorado? That would be Gypsum — a brand spanking 7 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Colorado… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Colorado, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 79 out of 110 in Colorado with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 71.8% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Denver turning out to be the matriarch of Colorado at the ripe old age of 160.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
In the summer of 1858, during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, a group of gold prospectors from Lawrence, Kansas established Montana City as a mining town on the banks of the South Platte River in what was then western Kansas Territory. This was the first historical settlement in what was later to become the city of Denver. The site faded quickly, however, and by the summer of 1859 it was abandoned in favor of Auraria (named after the gold-mining town of Auraria, Georgia) and St. Charles City.
On November 22, 1858, General William Larimer, a land speculator from eastern Kansas Territory, placed cottonwood logs to stake a claim on the bluff overlooking the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, across the creek from the existing mining settlement of Auraria, and on the site of the existing townsite of St. Charles. Larimer named the townsite Denver City to curry favor with Kansas Territorial Governor James W. Denver. Larimer hoped the town’s name would help make it the county seat of Arapaho County but, unbeknownst to him, Governor Denver had already resigned from office. The location was accessible to existing trails and was across the South Platte River from the site of seasonal encampments of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. The site of these first towns is now the site of Confluence Park near downtown Denver. Larimer, along with associates in the St. Charles City Land Company, sold parcels in the town to merchants and miners, with the intention of creating a major city that would cater to new immigrants. Denver City was a frontier town, with an economy based on servicing local miners with gambling, saloons, livestock and goods trading. In the early years, land parcels were often traded for grubstakes or gambled away by miners in Auraria. In May 1859, Denver City residents donated 53 lots to the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express in order to secure the region’s first overland wagon route. Offering daily service for ‘passengers, mail, freight, and gold,’ the Express reached Denver on a trail that trimmed westward travel time from twelve days to six. In 1863, Western Union furthered Denver’s dominance of the region by choosing the city for its regional terminus.
Boulder City was a part of the Nebraska Territory until February 28, 1861, when the Territory of Colorado was created by the US Congress. It developed as a supply base for miners going into the mountains. Residents of Boulder City provided these miners with equipment, agricultural products, gambling and drinking establishments.
On November 7, 1861, legislation was passed making way for the state university to be located in Boulder, and on September 20, 1875, the first cornerstone was laid for the first building (Old Main Building) on the CU campus. The university officially opened on September 5, 1877.
Established as a gold-rush town, Golden City quickly became a leading economic and political center of the region, being a center of trade between the gold fields and the east, a crossroads and gateway of important roads leading to the mountains, and a center of area industry. Golden City was established on 16 June 1859 along Clear Creek west of Denver, named in honor of Thomas L. Golden. Important businessmen and prospectors such as William A.H. Loveland and George West were among the first to settle in Golden. By the end of 1860, Golden City had been popularly elected the seat of Jefferson County and was capital of the provisional Jefferson Territory. As drafted in the territorial constitution, the capital of the Jefferson Territory was initially proposed to be Golden, then with a population of 700, as a result of its proximity to mountain mining towns, and greater ability to hold a congressional quorum than had Denver. Golden City was temporarily removed from the status of territory capital as a result of an act passed on 5 November 1861 by the territorial government. Colorado City, a small town to the south of Denver became the new temporary territorial capital, but saw only one short event at this location. This status was quickly revoked, however, as on 4 August 1862, the territorial government voted formally to move back to Golden.
The history of Englewood begins in 1858, when gold was discovered on what came to be called Little Dry Creek by William Green Russell, an early settler of the high plains. Two years later, Thomas Skerritt, considered to be the founder of the city, established a home in the area, which was called Orchard Place. Four years later the first road connecting Denver and Orchard Place was created by Skerritt himself using his own plough. In 1879 the first telephone arrived in the area.
5. Cañon City
Cañon City was laid out on January 17, 1858, during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, but then the land was left idle. A new company ‘jumped the claim’ to the town’s site in late 1859, and it put up the first building in February 1860. This town was originally intended as a commercial center for mining in South Park and the upper Arkansas River.
Alamosa was established in May 1878 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and quickly became an important rail center. The railroad had an extensive construction, repair and shipping facility in Alamosa for many years and headquartered its remaining narrow gauge service here with trackage reaching many points throughout southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico. Alamosa is now a notable tourist town with many nearby attractions, including the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and Colorado Gators Reptile Park. The town hosts ‘Summer Fest on the Rio’ which occurs the first weekend in June, the Early Iron car show over the Labor Day weekend, and ‘Weekends on the Rio’ on various Sundays throughout the summer The city takes its name from the Spanish adjective Alamosa, meaning ‘of cottonwood’, for the cottonwood forests which grow along the Rio Grande and throughout town.
Trinidad was first explored by Spanish and Mexican traders, who liked its proximity to the Santa Fe Trail. It was founded in 1862 soon after coal was discovered in the region. This led to an influx of immigrants, eager to capitalize on this important natural resource. By the late 1860s, the town had about 1,200 residents. Trinidad was officially incorporated in 1876, just a few months before Colorado became a state. An important milestone for the town occurred in 1878, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway reached Trinidad, making it easier for goods to be shipped from distant locations. In the 1880s, Trinidad became home to a number of well-known people, including Bat Masterson, who briefly served as the town’s marshal in 1882. By 1900, the population of Trinidad had grown to 7,500. It was now home to two English-language newspapers, and one that was published in Spanish.
Monument’s first homesteaders arrived in 1865 to mark out the town’s preliminary shape, but settlement increased when Monument became a stop along the Rio Grande Railroad in 1872. The area was incorporated as a town called Henry’s Station, after prominent settler Henry Limbach, on June 2, 1879, and the first town meeting was held July 3, 1879. However, three years later the name was changed to Monument after Monument Creek and Monument Rock in the west. The first records of the town can be found in various volumes in the El Paso County Courthouse dating back to 1872. With the help of the railroad, which brought in necessities, people started small businesses and started to create a town.
The town of Gunnison got its name from the first known explorer of the area, John W. Gunnison. He was searching for a route for the transcontinental railroad in 1853 and only stayed for three days before traveling west to Utah. Gunnison saw its first population increase in the 1870s, due to the mining surge throughout the state. The railroad arrived soon after in 1880 to appreciative miners, ranchers, and farmers.
The town was organized in September 1880 to serve the San Juan mining district. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG) chose the site on the Animas River for its depot following a brief and most likely perfunctory negotiation with Animas City, two miles to the north. The city was named by ex-Colorado Governor Alexander C. Hunt after Durango, Mexico, based on his favorable impression of that city resulting from a scouting trip undertaken on behalf of William J. Palmer, the head of the D&RG.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Colorado
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Colorado. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Colorado.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Centennial State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Colorado:
- Gypsum (Founded in 2011)
- Milliken (Founded in 2011)
- Firestone (Founded in 2011)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Colorado
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