Despain Junction: Forgotten village eventually became today’s Westminster

This article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise.

One of the earliest settlements in this region was founded by a farmer from Kentucky with the delightful name, Pleasant Despain. The village, originally called Despain Junction, preceded the original Broomfield village of Zang’s Spur by at least 15 years.

The Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, brought many new farmers to this region. The Homestead Act was basically a federal land grant designed to lure white settlers to the vast untamed territories west of the Mississippi. All you had to do – once you survived the rigorous journey west — was file an application, make improvements, and file for a deed of title. Up to 160 acres would then be yours.

The Despain family was among the earliest pioneers to arrive in this region and file such claims. They appear in Colorado’s earliest records – the Census of 1870. Neighbors of the famed Richard Sopris, a prominent early Coloradan, Pleasant Despain and his wife, Sarah, had four children in the household at that time – Richard, Pleasant, Jeremiah, and James. Another daughter, Edith, lived on a neighboring farm with her husband, Joseph Yule, whom she married in 1868 in Denver. Another son, 22-year-old Benjamin Despain, had already filed his own homestead claim near that of his parents and sister.

In an area now crossed by the Denver-Boulder Turnpike, the Despain clan’s homesteads lay between today’s Zuni and Lowell Boulevards, and 70th and 80th Avenues. These hardworking farmers planted apple and cherry orchards and grew wheat and corn, for which they found a ready market in Denver, Boulder, and the mining camps in the mountains. They also raised cattle.

Life became easier in 1881 when the railroad came through and Despain Junction became a spur on the line. The town, which developed near the Despain home at 72nd and Lowell, also boasted a blacksmith shop, a general store and a lumber yard.

Water has always been a big issue in Colorado, particularly for the farmers of the Front Range. Pleasant Despain took advantage of this and in 1886, incorporated the Despain Ditch Company. Despain had bought rights to an irrigation canal, one of the earliest to bring water into the thirsty farms of the region. He used these rights to fill a water tower, which he built at 76th and Lowell. He then sold the water to other local homesteaders.

In the 1880s, the village of Despain Junction was renamed Harris and eventually became Westminster. Today, the Bradburn Village development off 120th includes Despain Park, named in honor of one of the region’s earliest pioneers.

Public records show numerous Despain descendants, including the original Pleasant Despain’s great, great, grandson and namesake, the professional story-teller, author, and columnist, Pleasant Despain, whose many books can be purchased from your favorite bookseller.

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