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DU’s rural roots

In the 19th century, DU's vantage provided a stunning view of the entire Front Range. Photo courtesy of the DU Archives

The University of Denver was founded as Colorado Seminary in 1864 and was located at 14th and Arapahoe streets near what is now the Boettcher Concert Hall parking garage. The seminary was renamed the University of Denver in 1880, and shortly thereafter, University leaders began discussing a move.

They felt that the school’s future would be more secure in an unspoiled location away from the evils of Denver, a frontier boomtown. Three sites were considered, including one south of town on Rufus Clark’s 150-acre potato farm.

The Board of Trustees chose that locale, and on April 3, 1890, the University Hall cornerstone was laid at what came to be known as University Park. Built at a cost of $80,000, University Hall was modeled after Harvard’s Sever Hall. U-Hall housed classrooms, faculty and administrative offices, a chapel, a library and even a gymnasium.

To the east, DU built the Chamberlain Observatory in 1891. And in 1892, DU constructed the Iliff School of Theology building across Warren Circle from University Hall. A gift from William Iliff, the building was constructed at a cost of $50,000 to house DU’s theology department.

The location of University Hall and the Iliff School of Theology building was not accidental. They sit at the top of a gentle rise, the highest point for several miles around. In the 19th century, the vantage provided a stunning view of the entire front range — from Pike’s Peak north to Long’s Peak.

A stipulation of the University’s move was that a 200-acre town site must be established adjacent to the school. Thus, the University Park Colony was born. “The dominant controlling idea,” said DU founder John Evans, “shall be conscience and culture, the two essential elements to a great civilization.”

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