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The History of Golden, Colorado

Golden was founded during the gold rush of 1859, but gold seekers were not its first inhabitants. The area had been frequented by the Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne tribes, as well as early trappers Louis Vasquez and Rufus Sage. Most sources agree that the town was named for settler Tom Golden, one of the early gulch miners who panned gold in the valley of Clear Creek.

A toll bridge, two stores, and the county's first commercial garden were among the settlers' first endeavors. Golden's location at the mouth of Clear Creek canyon furthered the town's aspirations as a supply center and aided its role as a transportation hub for freight wagons and, later, the railroad. "Our city is now full of energetic, go-ahead men enroute to the gold mines," reported the Golden Mountaineer in 1860.

Although Golden was the site of the Territorial Capital from 1862 to 1867, it lost the state capital to Denver when Colorado achieved statehood. Instead, the town grew slowly but steadily as a supply center for the mining districts in the mountains to the west. Golden also grew as an industrial town. Clear Creek provided water for milling, smelting, manufacturing, and generating electricity. Local coal mines yielded resources for early industry and employed many local residents. Early Golden industries also included a cigar factory, candy factory, paper mill, glass plant, three lime kilns, and several stone quarries.

Town building was aided by the clay deposits that supplied material for local brickmaking. Wood was used less frequently in construction because it had to be brought down from Clear Creek canyon. However, cannonball-sized stones from the creek were used in foundations, retaining walls, and porches of many local buildings, as well as in the Armory Building at Thirteenth and Arapahoe.

Agriculture was a chief Golden industry, made possible by irrigation from Clear Creek. The crops planted by David K. Wall in 1859 became the county's first commercial garden, and by 1902 the town was "surrounded on all sides by farming and stockraising," according to Illustrated Golden. Wheat was a major crop and accounted for the three flour mills. At one time, the Rock Flour Mill produced 200 barrels of flour a day. Orchards and vineyards grew on North Table Mountain, while Clear Creek Valley was filled with fruit trees and fields of strawberries and raspberries, as well as vegetable gardens. Farmers from east Golden came to town selling produce from their horse-drawn wagons. Toll roads were Golden's first means of transportation; several routes were built to the mining districts. In 1870 the railroad arrived in Golden. The Colorado Central Railroad (later the Colorado & Southern) was headquartered here and served Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Central City, and Black Hawk. The railroad hauled supplies to the mining districts and returned with ore to be processed by local smelters. In the 1890s, interurban rail lines also brought visitors from Denver. During the mid-1900s, Golden became the hub of industry and employed many local residents.

Although Golden lost the capital to Denver, it remained the Jefferson County seat and built a splendid brick courthouse that shared the hill with the Colorado School of Mines campus. This Victorian beauty was replaced in the 1960s by a boxy beige-brick building with an adjacent five story Hall of Justice. In1990, Jefferson County began construction on a new courthouse -- the gleaming building that dominates the ridge southeast of town, gazing down at the state capitol on the plains below.

Golden became the site of the Colorado School of Mines in the 1870s. After a church-financed schoolhouse on the eastern edge of Golden blew down in a windstorm, a brick classroom was constructed on the present-day campus. City fathers W. A. H. Loveland, Charles C. Welch, and Edward L. Berthoud helped establish the college, either by serving on the board of trustees or by contributing funds or land to the fledgling school. Today the world-class institution offers degree programs that include engineering, geology, and environmental sciences.

The Coors brewery is another early enterprise that has had a lasting influence in Golden. Founded by German immigrant Adolph Coors, the brewing company has grown from a small stone building near the foot of Castle Rock to an industrial complex that expands eastward along the Clear Creek Valley. Brewery tours have become a major attraction for visitors coming to Golden. In the early 1900s, Coors branched out into ceramics manufacturing, a sideline that later helped sustain the company during Prohibition. Today, Coors is the largest single-source brewery in the world, producing over twenty million barrels of beer per year.

Golden begins its second century poised as one of Jefferson County's leading communities. Diversified local industry, the courthouse that graces the ridge south of town, a thriving downtown, and the Visitors Center represent the city's optimistic outlook for the future. Golden struggles with the challenge of retaining its small town identity in the face of Denver's metropolitan suburbs expanding ever westward. However, the diligent efforts of the historic preservation board and dedicated local preservationists are ensuring that Golden's heritage lives on for future generations to enjoy.

Source: Golden Old and New. Cathleen Norman. © 1996.