Why Is Denver the Capital of Colorado?

(Last Updated On: January 21, 2020)
Why Is Denver the Capital of Colorado?

As the capital of Colorado, Denver is perhaps best known for it’s incredible location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Home to stunning views and scenery, Denver is known as “The Mile High City” because it sits at an elevation of 5,280 feet, or one mile, above sea level. 

Today, people visit Denver to get the best of both worlds: a trendy urban experience and a serene outdoor escape. But, today’s Denver is very different from the Denver of the past. Let’s take a look at the city’s history and find out why Denver is the capital of Colorado. 

Think you know a lot about Colorado? Test yourself with this fun word ladder!

Unifying Denver 

Before Denver became a unified city, it was actually a mostly disjointed group of towns and camps. These settlements began to crop up in 1858 as a direct result of Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, which had brought a wave of miners into the region.

So, how did the various towns and camps come to be unified as the city of Denver? Well, over a little whiskey as it turns out (how fitting for a rugged mountain town!). 

In 1859, an early settler named William Larimer convened a meeting with the various stakeholders in the region. By offering whiskey (and the threat of hanging), Larimer was able to consolidate the settlements into one. Larimer chose “Denver City” as the town name in an effort to appeal to former Kansas Territory governor, James Denver. 

The Capital of Colorado

While gold brought people like Larimer into Colorado, Larimer himself was not a miner. Instead, he focused on promoting Denver City as a mining hub with ample natural resources. Soon, even more settlers were flocking not just to Denver City, but the entire region. 

Less than a year after its founding, people from Denver City and elsewhere, like Golden, began to make calls for territorial status. Among the vocal supporters were William Byers of the Rocky Mountain News, and Larimer, who sought to be territorial governor. 

Territorial talks would ultimately be stalled by the issue of slavery. The outbreak of the Civil War, however, would clear the way for the creation of Colorado Territory (among others) in 1861. 

Colorado City was designated the first territorial capital, as it had been the site of the very first Pikes Peak region settlement. It was quickly succeeded by Golden, however. Golden had become the economic hub of the region at that time, benefiting from a prime geographic location between two of the larger gold fields. 

Why Is Denver the Capital of Colorado?

Although Denver experienced a great deal of growth since its inception, its progress was threatened by a decision to route the nation’s first transcontinental railroad through Cheyenne rather than Denver. 

In what would become a very proud moment in Denver’s history, the city banned together to raise $300,000 in just under three days in order to construct their own connection to the rest of the transcontinental railroad. This pivotal project allowed Denver to prosper and grow as a major service and supply center in Colorado. 

By the mid-1860s, Golden was more or less only capital in name only. Denver had become larger and more developed. It was where the territorial governor resided, and where important territorial meetings took place. As a result, Denver became the acting territorial capital in 1867. 

Colorado would join the Union as the 38th state in 1876. A state-wide ballot would officially seal the deal for Denver in 1881, as it became the official permanent state capital. It was chosen over Golden, Colorado Springs, and Boulder.

Denver Today

After being selected as the official state capital, Denver experienced a period of rapid growth. However, this period, unfortunately, did not last very long. It was eventually stalled in 1893 when the Silver Crash decimated much of Denver’s economy. But, just as the people of Denver had shown their resolve during the building of the transcontinental railroad, they persevered through the economic depression. 

The city focused on building the stunning Colorado State Capitol which helped jumpstart the economy and provide jobs to those in need. The building, which is still standing today, is another great testament to Denver’s resilience. 

The building construction created jobs not just for those who were actually working on the building. But also for those who were working in the mines to extract the marble needed for construction. State Governor, Davis Waite, also sought to overturn the corruption that had become rampant in Colorado politics. This resulted in the City Hall Wars where officials that Waite had removed from office due to suspected corruption protested the loss of their jobs by barricading themselves in city hall. 

After this turbulent and difficult period, many changes were made in Denver and Colorado. As the country recovered from the economic depression, Colorado made efforts to develop a more expansive economy through the mining of various different materials but, also, by focusing on creating the beautiful tourist destination that Denver is today.


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