More than 500 people celebrated Jeffco’s history at the Sesquicentennial anniversary on November 18th at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds!

Visit our Photo Gallery to see selected pictures, read below for more on the founding of Jefferson County, or review 1861 with our Peek at the Week. This was the last event of the Sesquicentennial…

What’s next? See 2012 Annual Symposium and Call for Papers.

Celebrating 150 Years of Jefferson County History

Lucky Jefferson County has two birthdays—one in 1859 (with the formation of the provisional Jefferson Territory) and one in 1861 (corresponding to the official recognition of Colorado Territory). This year, Jefferson County is observing the last year of what has become a three-year celebration. We are pleased to commemorate this year with a 150-year look back at the Year of Change, 1861. Follow us on  Jefferson County’s Twitter for updates and historical tidbits.

Read about the County’s first 150th birthday party,
held on January 25th, 2010

Backstory: With the election of Abraham Lincoln in November of 1860, the nation stood on the brink of disaster. South Carolina became the first state to secede, as of December 20, 1860, and the specter of a nation divided consumed the front page of the nation’s newspapers, including the Rocky Mountain News. Meanwhile the initial excitement and local population explosion resulting from the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858-59 was beginning to die down as disappointed miners returned to their homes and families in the east.

The Pike’s Peak country, remote from the surrounding governments of Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, New Mexico, and Washington Territories, needed a local government. So, over the spring and summer of 1859 a small convention of white men formed the self-proclaimed Territory of Jefferson, carved out of the surrounding recognized territories, and on October 24, 1859, held an election for the Provisional Government. The first session of the provisional legislature of November 7, 1859, led by Governor Robert W. Steele, organized Jefferson Territory into 12 counties, including Jefferson County. On January 2, 1860, Jefferson County held its first election. From 1859 to 1861 Denver City and Golden City vied to be the territorial capitol, but much of the administration was handled at the home of Gov. Steele in the Jefferson County foothills town of Mount Vernon, located south of the present-day Interstate 70 and west of the Morrison Road exit.

Peek at the Week

November 14 – 20, 1861.   On November 16, the first Board of Commissioners for Jefferson County (John M. Ferrell, S.C. Field, and George H. Richardson) met at the Miners’ Hotel in Golden and proceeded to divide the County into five Districts and their Precincts. They also named judges of elections for the precincts.

November 7 – 13, 1861.   On November 7 the Territorial Legislature passed an act to incorporate the Colorado and Pacific Wagon, Telegraph and Railroad Company. This line followed the south bank of Clear Creek up to the forks (where Jefferson, Gilpin, and Clear Creek counties meet). This was the first railroad chartered in Colorado. Eventually this was absorbed as part of the Colorado Central Railroad Company. Glenn R. Scott’s “Historic Trail Map of the Denver 1×2 Quadrangle, Central Colorado” provides more details on this, and many other pioneer roads.

October 31 – November 6, 1861.   On November 1 the Territorial Legislature established the 17 original counties and their seats: Summit (Parkville), Lake (Oro City), Guadalupe/Conejos (Guadalupe), Costilla (San Miguel), Fremont (Canon City), Park (Tarryall City), Clear Creek (Idaho Springs), Gilpin (Central City), Boulder (Boulder), Larimer (La Porte), Weld (St. Vrain), Arapahoe (Denver), Jefferson (Golden City), Douglas (Frankstown), El Paso (Colorado City), Pueblo (Pueblo), and Huerfano (Autobees Ranch). Meanwhile the two houses of the legislature continued to debate on just where the Territorial Capitol should be, Colorado City or Denver City.

The Legislature also considered HB 150, a bill for an act to establish the University of Colorado, with the location to be decided by a simple majority. The first roll call included two votes each for Golden City and Pueblo, and a single vote cast each for Denver, Georgia Gulch, Silver City, Mill City, Bradford, Platte City, McNulty, Conejos, and Boulder. With the third roll call, the majority voted for Boulder, and the blank in the bill was filled accordingly.

October 3 – 9, 1861. The October 4 edition of the Rocky Mountain News published the full text of the bill before the Colorado Legislature delineating 18 proposed counties and their county seats. The proposed counties and their seats: Castilla (Castilla), Guadaloupe (Guadaloupe), Huerfano (Autobees), Pueblo (Pueblo), Benton (Canon City), El Paso (Colorado), Douglas (Frankstown), Arapahoe (Denver), Weld (attached to Platte County), Platte (Cherokee), La Porte (attached to Platte County), Boulder (Boulder), Jefferson (Golden City), Clear Creek (Idahoe), Gilpin (Central City), Lincoln (Hamilton City), Lake (California Gulch), Summit (Parkville). An Indian Territory was also set aside on the eastern plains.  After four weeks of deliberation the delegates agreed upon a final arrangement of counties.  Check back on November 1 for the outcome.

September 26 – October 2, 1861. The Rocky Mountain News, as the official newspaper of the legislature, provided extensive coverage of the business of the First Session of the Legislature of Colorado, which convened September 9, 1861, for a planned 60-day session.  The members had much to do, beginning with establishing rules governing business between the houses.  Bills read in both Council Chambers and the House of Representatives covered issues from divorces to land management to the incorporation of mining, ditch, and wagon road companies.  Around the end of September representatives prepared bills for the incorporation of the Apex and Gregory Wagon Road Company, the Golden Gate and Gregory Road Company, the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Wagon and Railroad Company, and the Denver, Bradford and Blue River Road Company.  On October 1 as H.B. 28, with a 9 to 4 vote in favor, the Denver, Bradford and Blue River was approved for incorporation.

September 19 – 25, 1861. The Berthoud-Bridger survey for the COC & PP Express returned to the Denver area on September 18, 74 days after departing to locate a road to Salt Lake City and Provo.  The survey party consisted of 10 men and 14 mules.  Berthoud reported that there was good water along the route, with the longest distance between water sources at 18 miles, but at no other time was the distance more than 10 miles.  Berthoud’s report also stated his belief that there was no gold along the Grand (later named the Colorado), Snake, and White rivers.  The distance from Provo to Denver on the surveyed route was 440 miles.  A portion of present-day U.S. 40 through Colorado follows this trail.

September 12 – 18, 1861. Just as the harvest looked better than ever, the first killing frost of the season arrived. On the morning of September 15 local farmers awoke to find their tender tomatoes, melons, and squashes withered on the vines. In 1860 the first frost was reported on October 12.  This being only the third year of Anglo farming and gardening along the Front Range, the residents still had much to learn about the capricious nature of the local climate.

September 5 – 11, 1861.  The reports of a projected good harvest of all sorts of fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains—cherries, watermelon, plums, currants, tomatoes, and barley—made the news.  The Rocky Mountain News published descriptions of some of the bountiful produce.  Mr. Brown, whose farm was 3 miles above Denver on the west side of the Platte, brought in several beet samples weighing around 7 pounds and up to 22 inches long.  J. B. Wolff, whose farm was along Clear Creek, brought in 3-pound tomatoes, large potatoes, and immense eggplants.  A mammoth squash was brought in from S.T. Hawkins’ ranch 8 miles up the Platte from Denver.  Farmers Gregory and Kountze brought in large watermelon and potatoes from their farm 12 miles up the Platte.  A wagon load of green apples, termed a “rare fruit,” was also brought into town.

Previous Peeks are archived on the Peek at the Week page.