An 1880s Great Flood in Morrison

This first-person account by Francis Kowald, S.J., describes one of many floods to strike in the lower reaches of Bear Creek Canyon and Morrison. Due to space constraints, it was not included in the 2014 issue of Historically Jeffco devoted to floods.

The writer of this short sketch happened to be an eye-witness of one of such frightful floods, which fortunately took place during the bright day-time. A cow-boy herald gallopped [sic] along at break-neck speed ahead of the swiftly on-rushing flood, some twenty minutes before its arrival and shouting at the top of his voice as he bounded along the road-bed, gave kindly warning, like another Paul Revere, to all residents housed on the banks or living close to the bed of the creek. They who were surprised and caught in the canyon itself during the storm, abandoning every kind of vehicle or truck they had, were obliged to scramble up the rugged mountain-sides, to save their own lives as well as their beasts of burden, if possible and time allowed in such an emergency.

Jesuits and students watched the flood from the porches of Sacred Heart College. Morrison Historical Society.

Jesuits and students watched the flood from the porches of Sacred Heart College. Morrison Historical Society.

This great flood occurred at the beginning of July during the third year vacation-days.(1) The lightning and thunder-storm had spent its fury and the sun appearing once more between the straggling clouds of the recently overcast and lowering sky, was again shining bright and peaceful. The creek was yet low, with scarcely one [foot] high running water in its bed, as we all at the College could notice, when upon the warning given, we had rushed to the porch to witness the terribly strange and ominous spectacle.(2) A few more moments of wild excitement and anxious dread and expectation, and behold! the onrushing torrent hove in sight. On its swollen crest of some three feet abrupt height, it carried the wreckage of some ten small wooden bridges, later rebuilt with reinforced cement, which had been erected for crossing and recrossing the creek along its nine mile circuitous course through Bear-Creek canyon from the village of Evergreen to the town of Morrison. Here it met the ponderous, twice planked wooden bridge, the largest of them all, about 30 ft. long and 10 ft. wide.(3) Here the torrent was arrested for a while in its impetuous course, not more than a minute or thereabout, in trepidation, as it were, of what it next would do, while it rose and swelled in size and piled up its ever augmented debris upon debris, until with a loud snapping and crashing of timbers like the report from a heavy gun, it bodily dislodged and lifted the entire bridge from its firm and heavy moorings and supports on either side and then with a mighty swirl turned and hurled it lengthwise like a huge arrow shot from a powerful bow with lightning speed down the fiercely raging and seething stream.

Aftermath of the 1896 flood in Bear Creek above Morrison. DPL/WHC Z-7657.

Aftermath of the 1896 flood in Bear Creek above Morrison. DPL/WHC Z-7657.

A moment later missing the Depot, it hit and demolished the wooden, octagonal, roof-covered Pavillion [sic], measuring some 15 ft. in diameter and some 12 ft. in height and built some 10 ft. above the creek, which was used as a grandstand for dancing, brass-band exhibitions and other amusements for the town-folk gathered together on certain festivals as Shrove Tuesday of carnival, Decoration-day, Fourth of July, All Hallows and the like, as it was centrally located in the town. With this accumulated wreckage the darting current nearly undermined the foundations of the adjacent Railroad Station and a few yards beyond carried away some 90 ft. of rail-road track with its steel rails still fastened to the ties or sleepers end at the first curve of turn tossed it out of the water and through the garret-floor and roof of a hut, inhabited by an elderly couple, without the least injury to their personal selves. It next spent its rage against the solid masonry and stone pillar-supports of the Railway-bridge across the creek near the gorge east of the town, loosened several flags, measuring 2 x 4 x 8 ft. and weighing tons apiece, and flung them yards away upon the banks below. After a good deal of further damage to cattle, hogs, poultry and a few horses, all of which were drowned in the lowland fields, it hurried along the plain, till finally it emptied or debouched into the South Platte River near Denver, some 16 miles distant toward the east. Fortunately no human lives were lost on this occasion, though a number of previous and subsequent cloudbursts claimed their sad toll of fatalities also among the lowland inhabitants along the banks of Bear-Creek.

(1) As the college started in the fall of 1884, we believe the “third year vacation-days” would indicate July 1887, assuming accurate recollection on the part of the author who was writing this account in about 1935. Except where noted in brackets, text and punctuation and spelling are as in the original version.
(2) The large building housing Sacred Heart College from 1884 to 1888 sat on a bluff about 200 feet above the normal level of the creek. With few trees at that time to obstruct the view, it is likely that the observers had an excellent vantage point to observe this event.
(3) This description likely refers to the bridge at South Park Avenue, which was the main route south of town toward Turkey Creek and, eventually, South Park.

Excerpted from (with paragraphing added):
A BRIEF HISTORICAL SKETCH AND SOME REMINISCENCES OF The SACRED HEART COLLEGE Conducted by the Jesuit Fathers At Morrison, near Denver, Colorado
From October 1884 till June 1888.
From pages 11-13 of typed manuscript housed in Archives and Special Collections, Regis University.

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Hall of Fame Event October 16th


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The Emanuel Project Honors Local Artist

Emanuel Martinez at his studio near Morrison.

Emanuel Martinez at his studio near Morrison.

Denver native Emanuel Martinez has lived in Jefferson County for more than 35 years. An internationally acclaimed artist, he was featured in a JCHC display on cultural history in the county in 2009. Our report here is updated from that original poster and the referenced websites. View more of Emanuel’s art at

As a forerunner of the contemporary mural movement that began in the late 1960s, Emanuel worked in the civil rights movement with Cesar Chavez and other prominent leaders. Three of the art works he did in that era are now in the permanent collection of The Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. The work of this prolific, highly versatile artist has also won him numerous awards: including the Colorado Governors Award For Excellence in the Arts (1985), the Denver Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (1995) and the Denver Civil Rights award in 2001.

Recently, Emanuel’s commitment to and work with at-risk youth led to a national movement to bring art to incarcerated youth. The Emanuel Project, named for him in 2012, began in a Georgia classroom as a way to focus the youth on academic activities and help them turn their lives around.

The Emanuel Project takes a multi-dimensional approach to reaching incarcerated youth, through research based curriculum and instruction, incentive programs, art therapy and vocational programs. By utilizing the tools in each of these areas, students, instructors and facilities as a whole are benefited.

Working with young people in juvenile detention centers, Emanuel has completed more than 36 “murals of hope” nationwide, including two 30-foot by 13-foot murals at the Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center in Golden. You can support this valuable project at the non-profit organization’s website.

As an educator and community activist, Martinez has especially helped young people find ways to make their voices heard. We can all find parts of ourselves of our dreams in his artwork because he recreates the triumphs of the individual and at the same time affirms a collective identity…
—Andrew Connors, a former curator at the National Museum of American Art

The Fallen Firefighters relief is located at Belmar in Lakewood.

The Fallen Firefighters relief is located at Belmar in Lakewood.

We are fortunate to have two prominent public examples of Emanuel’s work here in Jefferson County.

  • The Fallen Firefighters Memorial, located near Belmar Library in Lakewood, is Emanuel’s pre-eminent local work of public art. Commissioned by and completed in 2000, it reminds all passers-by of the sacrifices of those who serve our society in this dangerous capacity.
  • The Morrison History Mural, completed in fall 2007, represents several scenes from Morrison’s first century—and much much earlier! This work was commissioned by the Lariat Loop Heritage Alliance and now anchors the kiosk and interpretive area in the historic downtown area at Morrison’s Bear Creek Avenue and Mt. Vernon Creek. As this information is no longer available via Lariat Loop, we’ve documented this project below.
The Morrison mural, completed by Emanuel Martinez in 2007, has six panels depicting dinosaur days, Native American culture, early European settlement and dinosaur discovery, early 20th century film-making and tourism, Red Rocks Amphitheatre performers, and outdoor recreation.

The Morrison mural, completed by Emanuel Martinez in 2007, has six panels depicting dinosaur days, Native American culture, early European settlement and dinosaur discovery, early 20th century film-making and tourism, Red Rocks Amphitheatre performers, and outdoor recreation.

Click to enlarge any of the photos in the gallery below.

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Jeffco Students Helping History

We suspect everyone is thinking about history this week, thanks to Jeffco high school students (and teachers) across the county who have been protesting a proposal for changes in the Advanced Placement history curriculum (APUSH). They’ve helped raise everyone’s awareness, especially through an active Twitter campaign and intensive media coverage of walkouts and protests.

Billy Westall Monument, photo by Milly Roeder

Billy Westall Monument, photo by Milly Roeder

On the quieter side, students at West Jefferson Middle School have worked more than two years to rescue a forgotten monument, learning a lot about local history in the process. The story of their success is told in the upcoming issue of Historically Jeffco, our annual magazine that will appear at the Hall of Fame event in October, when the students are recognized for their dedication and accomplishment.

JCHC's Bud Weare tells the story of his grandfather, who was Billy Westall's best friend.

JCHC’s Bud Weare tells the story of his grandfather, who was Billy Westall’s best friend.

The Westall Monument was placed along the South Platte River in 1899, one year after a train wreck took the life of engineer Billy Westall. In December 2013, with help from Denver Water, the students oversaw its relocation to a safer, more stable and visible, site. Several JCHC representatives attended the rededication in April 2014. Speeches were made, students read poems they wrote about the area, and a new interpretive sign was displayed.

The students from West Jefferson Middle School started this project as 6th graders and are now 8th graders. Our compliments to all on the successful completion of this impressive project! THANK YOU!!

JCHC representatives Mary Lindsey (chair, left), Milly Roeder (second from left), and Bud Weare (right) at the rededication with Rachel Parrish of Colorado Preservation, Inc.

JCHC representatives Mary Lindsey (chair, left), Milly Roeder (second from left), and Bud Weare (right) at the rededication with Rachel Parrish of Colorado Preservation, Inc.

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The Magical History Tour

Note: Summer’s over and the magazine’s at the printers, so we’re back to bring you more history. We’ll be talking about the Westall Monument and its rededication April 18, 2014, in an upcoming post.

The goal of the day was to attend the rededication of the Westall Monument, but when we (Mary and Sally) got in a car with Bud Weare to go there, we didn’t realize we were also setting off on a guided history tour that would take us on a 70-mile loop through Jefferson County’s fabled past. One thing led to another as we decided to check out just one more site. Then one more.

In the North Fork Historical District, with its abundance of historic settings, it’s easy to hop from one incredible historic focal point to another. JCHC has been actively involved with citizens from this area since 1999. In 2012, the Pine-Elk Creek Improvement Association (PECIA) received the Meyer Award for their historic preservation efforts in the area.


soplatte1021First stop after Westall was the old South Platte Hotel. We left Dome Rock behind, winding a dusty trail that followed the North Fork downstream to his meeting with the mother river, old South Platte herself. At the confluence, the “town” of South Platte once boomed along the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad. The settlement, made possible by a stop on the narrow gauge railroad, once included a post office, the eponymous hotel, and a telegraph office. Today, the hotel, a 1912 replacement for the original, is all that remains, but it has a remarkable story.

FoxtonPO1025Turning back on our trail, we headed back past Dome Rock and its newly rehabilitated monument to Billy Westall, and made our way upstream to Foxton, where we examined the endangered Foxton Post Office. This 1909 log building was officially declared endangered by Colorado Preservation Inc. in 2002, and looks about the same as it did then, albeit a little dustier and sadder for neglect.

bluejayinn 1034Passing Ferndale, Riverview, then a jog off the main stem took us to Buffalo Creek, home of the Blue Jay Inn. JCHC was lightly involved with the Blue Jay in 2008, so we wanted to see its current status. We’d also recently learned that Civilian Conservation Corps workers were housed in the Blue Jay during the Great Depression, giving that illustrious building another layer of historic repute. Read more about the historic Blue Jay Inn in Historically Jeffco:

Roeder, Milly 2006. Katherine Ramus and the Blue Jay Inn. Vol. 19:27, pp 23-28.

JCHC Historic Preservation Committee members helped redefine this National Register historic district, working with engaged community members from Pine Grove and Buffalo Creek and representatives of the National Park Service to resurvey its historic resources as part of our county-wide cultural resource survey from 1999 to 2002. That Survey Report is available here, as a 12mb pdf. From 2004 to 2007, JCHC also worked with the community to complete the Foxton-Pine Grove Project (4mb pdf) to identify opportunities to preserve the area’s cultural, historic and natural resources and open space.

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JCHC receives State Award for Preservation Leadership

At the State Honor Awards banquet May 14, the Historical Commission received one of the five awards given by Colorado Preservation Inc. this year. Accepting the award on JCHC’s behalf, Chair Mary Lindsey was featured in a short video presentation that described some of JCHC’s accomplishments in the last decade.


On the award website, CPI noted “The Commission’s long-term commitment to preserving Jefferson County’s history continues to have a positive affect on communities by increasing appreciation for historic sites and structures in the area, and raising public awareness of the value and richness of their unique character.”

This year, JCHC celebrates 40 years of active engagement in history and historic preservation concerns in Jefferson County.

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Celebrate History with John Fielder

Join us for this celebration of Historic Preservation Month!

TUESDAY MAY 13 at Boettcher Mansion
John Fielder presents
Jeffco’s Land Protection Heritage

May is Colorado Historic Preservation Archaeology month. For the past 10 years, the Jefferson County Historical Commission (JCHC) has partnered with local communities and historical societies to discuss and share important historic preservation topics. For 2014, JCHC would like to invite you to a very special photographic slide show presented by John Fielder at the Boettcher Mansion, Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve on Tuesday, May 13 at 7:00pm.

The Jefferson County Historical Commission and the Boettcher Mansion are excited to host John Fielder’s Denver Mountain Parks and Jeffco Open Space Photographs choreographed to beautiful music celebrating Jeffco’s land protection heritage!

The event is free to the public, desserts and beverages will be served. See the flyer for more information.

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