Just 150 years ago, the discovery of gold at the foot of the Front Range spurred the settlement of Denver: one of the fastest growing boomtowns in the American West.
The California Gold Rush of 1849 had brought thousands of settlers to America’s West Coast in search of their fortune, but as the hype died down, hopeful prospectors began to look elsewhere for their riches.
Rumours of gold in the Rocky Mountains abounded for several years before gold was finally discovered in 1858 on the banks of Little Dry Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River in the foothills of the Front Range.
Word of the discovery spread quickly across the country and by 1859, tens of thousands of people had arrived to scour the mountains and the South Platte River for scraps of the metal.
Over the next two years, 100,000 gold seekers joined the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush; named for Pikes Peak, the landmark which prospectors travelling west across the Great Plains used to find
their way to the mines.
Denver City was one of two main mining settlements that housed the new arrivals; the other was Auraria, which was swallowed by its more powerful neighbour when Denver was named the capital of the new Colorado Territory in 1861.
In just three years, what had started as a small mine on the South Platte River had developed into a bustling frontier city with a permanent population of almost 5,000 residents.
As the gold rush died out, the city’s growth slowed until silver was discovered in the Front Range in the 1870s.
This led to a 20 year boom that saw the city’s population explode to 100,000 before the world silver market collapsed in 1893.
However, even without silver to fuel the growth of the city, Denver was able to continue developing with successful manufacturing, trade, agricultural and railroad industries that saw it become the 26th largest city in the United States.