Auraria Denver Urban Hike Through Denver’s Historical Beginnings
The Auraria neighborhood overlooks the confluence of the Platte River and Cherry Creek. Many folks know Auraria as the home to three college campuses or as the site of the original Denver. But the one common denominator that pulls together this neighborhood would be the rise and fall of political agendas. For this Denver Neighborhood walk, you’ll take an urban hike through Auraria, learn about the impact the 1965 flood had on an entire community, get a whiff of social injustice and discover a rich history of the wax and wane of Denver.
Denver’s history actually started up river near the Dry Creek and Platte River confluence at what is now Grant Frontier Park in a town originally called Montana City. When the wished-for gold didn’t appear, the settlers moved down river to the confluence of the Cherry Creek and Platte River. Here, two brothers from Auraria, Georgia (named after the chemical element for gold, Au), resettled their community, still hoping for the big gold strike. It never came at the confluence, but gold did strike just down river at the confluence of the Clear Creek and the Platte, where you can still pan for gold!
None the less, Auraria sprouted up quickly. It drew the attention of General William Larimer who arrived to town and established the competing town of Denver, named after the Kansas Territorial Governor James W Denver, across from the confluence. Tousling and politicking began. Soon, Auraria gave way to Denver, and Denver became the queen of the Platte River. Legend says that the Auraria coalition lost to the Denver coalition in naming rights over a whiskey and a duel. Thus, Denver overtook Auraria.
By the way, ever wondered why there are so many five-pointed intersections in Denver? Auraria laid out its streets parallel to the Cherry Creek and Denver laid them out parallel to the Platte River. When the joined, the cattywompus streets came together in five-way intersections.
As you’re walking through what is now the Higher Ed Campus, you’ll see the old Tivoli Brewing building, which is now a student-run brewery inside the student center. Historically, with people came beer, of course. The Tivoli Brewing company established in 1864 and grew quickly, changing hands many times. After the 1965 flood and employee strike, it closed, only to return later as part of the college campus.
Why Is there an Historic District in the Middle of a College Campus?
When the 1965 flood invaded Auraria and destroyed much of the vibrant Hispanic neighborhood that originally settled in this area, Denver leaders gathered to decide how to renovate and restore the destruction. Ultimately politicking their way to building an Higher Education campus to home UC Denver, Metro State, and Community College of Denver, Denver politicians’ decisions displaced the remaining Hispanic population and created the 9th Avenue Historic District. Many of the original members of the Hispanic population moved to the Lincoln/La Alma neighborhood. The original church, St Cajetan, still remains on the campus and is now the student center. Students who can claim heritage to the original Hispanic families receive scholarships to any of the Auraria campus school.
In the 9th Avenue Historic District, you’ll find many examples of uniquely-Denver architecture, Golda Meir’s home, and department offices.
Shortly following the campus designation, Elitch Gardens moved in (which is moving out in 2021.) Then, not to be outdone by the other large event arenas in the area, the City put in the Pepsi Center in 1999 where Celine Dion opened the venue. Thus by the early 2000s, not much remained of the original neighborhoods but the regional politicking continues.
The existing Auraria neighborhood boundaries make a triangle shape of I25, the Cherry Creek and West Colfax.
To enjoy an urban hike through Auraria and to hit on the top spots mentioned above, you can do a nice 3.5 mile route in and around the campus. Start at the Auraria Library (take public transit to get there, 1100 Lawrence St, Denver, CO 80204.) Head east toward downtown, crossing Speer and catching the ramp down to Cherry Creek. Cross the creek then take a left on the pedestrian path, avoiding the bikes only path on the south side of the creek.
Notice all of the street art along the walls that bank the creek. Funded by the Denver Arts and Venues, these murals change often, so return often. Right before arriving at the confluence of the Platte River and the Cherry Creek, take the ramp up and then across Cherry Creek.
Continue around the bend at the confluence, staying on the east side of the Platte. You’ll pass Centennial Gardens, patterned after Gardens of Versailles, that has paths and patterned flowerbeds showcasing native species. You’ll then pass Elitch Gardens, an amusement park full of roller coasters, which was once on the outskirts of town and was then relocated to this location in 1995. It’s moving again in 2021.
Pass under Bronco bridge, then veer to the left past the small, blue parking building. Cross the railroad tracks and then the light rail tracks, staying on the sidewalk as it bends slightly to the right. You’ll arrive back on the Auraria campus. At 8th Street, take a right.
Walk one block, take a left and then take a right on 9th Street. You’ll see the 9th Street Historic District in front of you. On the right is the St Cajetan’s church. Once the cultural and religious center of the community, it now serves as venue to the universities and community events. Continue down the street, passing Golda Meir’s house. Be sure to read the plaques in front of each home, and you’ll discover stories of the locals, the architecture and more history of the area.
At the end of the sidewalk, make a u-turn and continue up the other side of 9th Street Historic District, and continue to read the plaques along the way. When you reach the mercantile, take a right on Curtis Street and a left on 10th Street, returning back to where you started at the library.
Walking Auraria Neighborhood and Supporting Denver By Foot
If you’ve enjoyed this walk, maybe you’ll enjoy some other walks curated by Denver By Foot. Get the 52 Hikes 52 Weeks Denver Calendar, which recommends a hike a week, subscribe to the YouTube Channel to hear about weekly hiking suggestions in Denver, and buy access to the Denver By Foot Challenge. The Challenge is 30 activities in Denver to do by foot where you’ll uncover treasures throughout Denver. It’s a great thing to do with friends and family.