Arapahoe City: Lonely marker all that’s left of early Colorado outpost

This article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise.

A lonely marker off 44th Avenue between Wheat Ridge and Golden is all that is left of one of the first towns organized in Colorado. Settled in 1858, the ghost town once called Arapahoe City lasted only about a decade.

Even before Pikes Peakers founded Arapahoe City, the first mining claims were marked on the spot way back in 1834 — 24 years before the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. These early diggings were the work of the Estes Party (presumably the same Estes who later founded Estes Park). The markers were discovered in 1858 on Coal Creek (originally called Arapahoe Bar and Vasquez Creek) by Colorado pioneer and prospector Marshall Cook.

arapahoe city marker

In November of 1858, that same Marshall Cook and his comrades organized Arapahoe City, with Cook as president. Other prominent pioneers who lived there include Thomas Golden, namesake of the city of Golden; pioneer George B. Allen; John Hamilton Gregory, who discovered the Gregory Lode at Central City; and George W. Jackson, who discovered placer gold at Chicago Creek, today’s Idaho Springs.

Accounts vary about the population of the town during its short history, but in 1859 about 200 people were placer mining the creek. The Rocky Mountain News mentions the town in October of that year as a place of “much doing,” and a stage coach ran between Auraria/Denver and Arapahoe City every Monday and Saturday, returning the same day.

On December 8, 1859, the Rocky Mountain News announced that the residents of Arapahoe City had finished building a ditch that could be used for sluicing (a mining method):  “The ditch taps the river near Golden City, and is carried along a bench between the table mountains, emerging into the plain at their eastern base. A great number of claims have already been made, and work on them has been commenced for some two miles along the line of the ditch.”

Although an Arapahoe City post office operated during 1860 and 1861, the settlement failed to develop into a regular town. A good 70 log and frame cabins had been built on a platted grid, but nobody got around to constructing any churches or schools. In the late 1860s, the town faded away and vanished almost as quickly as it appeared. Some historical records indicate that many of the buildings may have been disassembled and rebuilt in the rival town of Golden.

This area later became part of the Wanamaker Farm, run by Jonas Everett Wanamaker. Pioneer Wanamaker became a wealthy and prominent citizen of the region who made his fortune in farming and hauling freight between Denver and Central City. He is also known for digging one of the first irrigation ditches in the region, the Wanamaker Ditch.

If you want to visit the Arapahoe City marker, you can find it by plugging these coordinates into your GPS or mapping software: 39°46′30″N 105°10′42″W.

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