Magazine Feature

South Denver history runs deep

The Town of South Denver began in 1886 as a legal maneuver to keep Denver’s “liquor element” from expanding south. It ended eight years later when the town was annexed into the city of Denver.

The city wanted South Denver’s $4 million in taxable property value; South Denver wanted to get out from under growing debt during hard times. When the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that annexation would not invalidate the liquor ordinances, the tide turned and voters dissolved the town.

South Denver extended from Alameda Avenue south to Yale and from Colorado Boulevard west to the South Platte River, writes Millie Van Wyke in her 1991 book The Town of South Denver, Its People, Neighborhood and Events since 1858.

Town residents had been determined to resist the evils of demon rum, so they passed a slew of stiff anti-saloon ordinances that made it virtually impossible to open a bar. They also forbade gambling, dog fights, cock fights, gunfights, human fights, lewd dress, vulgar language, reckless operation of a horse, dancing on Sundays or selling liquor to anyone “insane, idiotic or distracted.”

The town stood tall against undesirable industries as well, Van Wyke writes. It won, for example, a prolonged battle against DU founder and former Gov. John Evans’ plan to turn 80 acres between Logan and Clarkson streets from Mississippi to Florida avenues into a giant stockyard. Evans had hoped to establish a rail hub distributing Texas cattle to national markets. Phillip Armour wanted to open a slaughterhouse.

South Denverites put a stop to both.

Behind this drive for purity was the wish to establish University Park as a “Methodist prohibition suburb.” The neighborhood would complement and support the University of Denver, where “the dominant and controlling ideas would be conscience and culture,” according to promotional literature of the time.

In 1886, University trustees platted 399 acres in University Park with more than 2,500 lots that would be sold for the benefit of DU. The first house went to John Clough, a trustee who bought two lots for $300 and received two lots for free. Clough built a house at 2525 E. Evans Ave. on the north side of Evans between Columbine and Clayton streets.

The deed for the property, like all deeds in University Park, contained a reverter clause that would return the property to Colorado Seminary (DU’s legal name) if intoxicating liquors should be “manufactured or sold” on the premises.

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