OASIS IN THE CITY:
THE HISTORY OF DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS
B.S., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1987
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
has been approved
Morley, Judy (M.A., History)
Oasis in the City: The History of Denver Botanic
Thesis directed by Professor Thomas J. Noel
In the early nineteenth century, Americans dismissed
what is now Denver as a barren wilderness. Major Stephen
H. Long classified it the "Great American Desert." After
the gold rush of 1859, settlers realized that proper
irrigation would make the desert bloom. Once agriculture
was established, Denver's focus shifted from cultivation
to beautification. In 1944, the Colorado Forestry
Association merged with the Denver Society for Ornamental
Horticulture, creating the Colorado Forestry and
Horticulture Association. In 1951, they established a
Initially the garden surrounded the Denver Museum of
Natural History at City Park. After repeated problems
with vandalism, however, Denver Botanic Gardens
Foundation moved to 1005 York Street, the former site of
Mount Calvary Cemetery. In 1959 Denver Botanic Gardens
established a fenced, herbaceous unit, complete with a
house to serve as headquarters.
The building of the one-million-dollar Boettcher
Conservatory in 1966 heralded Denver Botanic Gardens'
transition from a small group of horticulturally-minded
citizens to a major civic organization. During the
1960s, they hired nationally famous landscape architect
Garrett Eckbo to design the current master plan. They
also acquired seven hundred acres in Jefferson County,
establishing Chatfield Arboretum. By the 1980s, the
Botanic Gardens was one of the four major cultural
institutions eligible for Tier One support of the
Scientific Cultural Facilities District tax.
The growth of the organization has had its thorns,
however. Innovative programs, parking problems and plans
for expansion angered neighbors who claimed that the
Botanic Gardens strayed from their original purpose. As
a new generation seeks out the wilderness their ancestors
sought to conquer, Denver Botanic Gardens has modified
its purpose to address a changing market. Regardless of
their emphasis, Denver Botanic Gardens continue to be an
oasis in the city.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I rec
1. INTRODUCTION: PREPARING THE SOIL.........1
2. THE SEEDS: GARDENS AT CITY PARK.........22
3. ESTABLISHING ROOTS: YORK STREET.........35
4. SPROUTING: BOETTCHER CONSERVATORY.......52
5. BLOSSOMING: THE ECKBO PLAN..............68
6. TENDRILS: CHATFIELD ARBORETUM...........87
7. PLANTING FOR THE FUTURE.................98
A. BOARD OF TRUSTEES, 1951-1993...........117
I would like to thank the staff of Denver Botanic
Gardens for their support of this project, especially
Pauline Donohue, whose help in tracking down details was
invaluable, and Solange Gignac for her reference support.
I would also like to thank Bernice "Pete" Petersen for
all her work over the years on the history of Denver
Botanic Gardens, and for offering editorial comments.
I never would have discovered this project without
my advisor, Tom Noel. His comments on the text and
sources were extremely valuable.
Bruce Alexander, Director of Parks and Recreation,
deserves recognition for his prompt answers to all of my
questions. His staff always took the time to return my
phone calls with whatever information I needed.
Finally, I'd like to thank my husband, Troy, for
providing invaluable computer support, my mother, Alice
Mattivi, for babysitting whenever needed, and my
daughter, Kinsey, for being a great stress-reliever.
INTRODUCTION: PREPARING THE SOIL
As you drive westward over these plains you
drive into drier country. You see less culti-
vation now, and the green gives way to the
grays and silvers of the desert. There is more
cactus, buffalo grass, Indian rice grass, and
grama, fewer cattle, more erosion...You have
left the easy, fertile, prosperous country be-
---Tony Hillerman, Hillerman Country, 1991
Stretching west from the Mississippi River, the
Great Plains rise an average of ten to nineteen feet per
mile until they reach the Rocky Mountains.2 These high,
treeless plains contrast sharply with the green pasturage
of the East. Not only are they higher, they are also
considerably drier. Rainfall in Denver averages only
14.03 inches per year.3 Colorado's few native trees clus-
xTony Hillerman and Barney Hillerman, Hillerman Coun-
try: A Journey through the Southwest with Tony Hillerman
(New York, Harper Collins, 1991), 18.
2Kenneth I. Helphand and Ellen Manchester, Colorado:
Visions of an American Landscape (Niwot, CO: Roberts
Rinehart Publishing, 1991), 13.
3Thomas J. Noel, Paul F. Mahoney, and Richard E.
Stevens, Historical Atlas of Colorado (Norman: Universi-
ty of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 6. See also Colorado Year
ter along the prairie's shallow river beds. In the
spring and summer, wildflowers brighten the grassy prai-
rie, softening the landscape. For most of the year, how-
ever, Colorado's plains remain dry and gray.4
The first English-speaking visitors to Colorado re-
ported on the aridity. Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike first
saw the peak that now bears his name during his expedi-
tion of 1806. He had come up the Arkansas River to scout
the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. After travelling
through present-day Southern Colorado, Pike predicted
that the barren lands "may become in time as celebrated
as the sandy deserts of Africa."5 He felt that the dry-
ness would limit the United States' borders.
Our citizens being so prone to rambling and
extending themselves on the frontiers will,
through necessity, be constrained to limit
their extent on the west to the borders of the
Missouri and Mississippi, while they leave the
prairies incapable of cultivation to the wan-
Book, 1(Denver: State Board of Immigration, 1918), 15;
The World Almanac and Book of Facts (New York: Scripps-
4Eva Bird Bosworth, Trees and Peaks: A Nature Study
(Denver: Eva Bird Bosworth, 1911), 13-14. See also
Jerome C. Smiley, History of Denver: With Outlines of
the Earlier History of the Rocky Mountain Country (Den-
ver: Times-Sun Publishing, 1901), 167; Helphand, 5.
sZebulon Pike, quoted in Robert G. Athearn, High
Country Empire: The High Plains and Rockies (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1960), 17.
dering and uncivilized aborigines of the coun-
Thirteen years after the Pike expedition, Major Ste-
phen H. Long led another expedition west, this time along
the South Platte River. He brought with him a cartogra-
pher, artist, and botanist. In the journals of the trip,
botanist Edwin James documented the diminishing vegeta-
tion west of the Missouri River Valley. He also de-
scribed the sandy soil and the absence of trees. After
listing fifteen to twenty types of trees found in the
eastern section of the plains, James said,
On a progress westward, the most valuable of
the timber trees above enumerated, disappear,
til at length occasional groves of cotton wood,
mingled with mulberry, red elm, and stinted
shrubbery of various kinds, constitute the only
wood lands of the country.7
The South Platte River itself is diminished by the
arid climate. As the Long Expedition traveled along it,
James commented, "the bed of the Platte is seldom de-
pressed more than six to eight feet below the surface of
the bottoms, and in many places even lessand spreads to
6Zebulon Pike, quoted in Walter Prescott Webb, The
Great Plains (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,
7Edwin James, ed., Account of an Expedition from
Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains (Philadelphia: H.C.
Carey and I. Lea, 1823), 1:162, 2:357-361.
such a width that the highest freshets pass off, without
inundating the bottoms...." Compared to the Mississippi
and Missouri Rivers, the Platte hardly looked like a riv-
er at all.8
James summarized his findings:
We have little apprehension of giving too
unfavourable an account of this portion of the
country. Though the soil is in some places
fertile, the want of timber, of navigable
streams, and of water for the necessities of
life, render it an unfit residence for any but
a nomade [sic] population. The traveller who
shall at any time have traversed its desolate
sands will, we think, join us in the wish that
this region may for ever remain the unmolested
haunt of the native hunter, the bison, and the
Major Long, in his personal journal, also gave an unflat-
tering description of the terrain.
In regard to this extensive section of country,
I do not hesitate in giving the opinion, that
it is almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and
of course uninhabitable by a people depending
upon agriculture for their subsistence. Al-
though tracts of fertile land considerably ex-
tensive are occasionally to be met with, yet
the scarcity of wood and water, almost uniform-
ly prevalent, will prove an insuperable obsta-
cle in the way of settling the country...The
whole of this region seems peculiarly adapted
as a range for buffaloes, wild goats, and other
wild game; incalculable multitudes of which
find ample pasturage and subsistence upon it.10
Long agreed with Pike that this dry land would serve as a
buffer for the United States.
This region, however, viewed as a frontier, may
prove of infinite importance to the United
States, inasmuch as it is calculated to serve
as a barrier to prevent too great an extension
of our population westward....11
It was Long who coined the phrase "Great American
Desert," branding Eastern Colorado with this title for
Word of the desert traveled quickly. In 1838, Unit-
ed States Senator Daniel Webster, from Massachusetts, re-
fused to approve postal funding for the West, arguing:
What do we want with this vast, worthless area?
his region of savages and wild beasts, of
deserts, shifting sands and whirlwinds of dust,
of cactus and prairie dogs? To what use could
we ever hope to put these great deserts, or
those endless mountain ranges, unpregnable
[sic] and covered to their base with eternal
snow?...Mr. President, I will never vote one
cent from the public treasury to place the Pa-
cific coast one inch nearer to Boston than it
10Stephen H. Long quoted in ibid., 2:361.
Daniel Webster quoted in Smiley, 164.
East of the Mississippi River, Long's report created an
impression that the high plains were a worthless and dan-
These reports from the West were reaching an audi-
ence that believed nature was something to be improved
upon. The original frontiersmen who tamed the American
continent feared wilderness. They believed their battle
with the wild was not only for survival, but also "in the
name of nation, race and God. Civilizing the New World
meant enlightening darkness, ordering chaos, and changing
evil into good."15 Early Christian scholars believed that
everything on Earth was corrupted by the fall of Adam.16
The Puritans brought this view to America. During the
eighteenth century, however, writers, poets and intellec-
tuals in Europe began to appreciate nature. The
Enlightenment's fascination with understanding the uni-
verse prompted people to collect, study and cultivate
14Smiley, 163. See also Helphand, 71.
15Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind.
3rd ed. (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1967),
16John M. Prest, The Garden of Eden: The Botanic
Garden and the Re-Creation of Paradise (New Haven, CN:
Yale University Press, 1981), 6.
plants.17 By the mid-nineteenth century, some Americans
believed these man-made Gardens of Eden had regenerative
powers.18 Trees, flowering shrubs, flowers and lush vines
were the standard for natural beauty. Nature was roman-
ticized by European art and literature.19 Jeffersonian
America celebrated an agrarian landscape, cultivated yet
rural.20 Plants provided not only sustenance, but aes-
Colorado's high prairie, however, did not resemble
the verdant forests beloved by eastern and European natu-
ralists and romantics. As people crossed the plains they
saw only what was missing from the eastern landscapes
they knew. It seemed to them that the desert was "the
18Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology
and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1964), 228.
19Earl S. Pomeroy, In Search of the Golden West: The
Tourist in Western America (Lincoln: University of Ne-
braska Press, 1957), 43, 68.
20Marx, 73-144. See also Nash, 10.
place that God forgot."22 One eastern tourist, travelling
through the west, noted:
If her wealth consisted in the beauty of her
external appearances, then she truly would be
one of the poorest countries on the face of
nature...the dreariness of the desolate [Pikes]
Peak itself scarcely dissipates the dismal
spell, for you stand in a hopeless confusion of
dull stones piled upon each other in odious
ugliness, without one softening influence, as
if nature, irritated with her labor, had flung
her confusion here in utter desperation.22 23
According to historian Robert G. Athearn,
Until the great horn of mineral plenty poured
forth gold dust in quantity, drawing legions of
hopefuls; until the railroads succeeded freight
wagons and farmers followed stockmen out onto
the plains, the desert remained in the minds of
most men a thing to be shunned.24
People did not shun the "desert" for long, however.
Once gold was found at the confluence of the South Platte
River and Cherry Creek in 1858, people were willing to
take their chances. Transportation became more regular,
and stagecoaches and railroads brought increasing numbers
of people in contact with the Great Plains. This expo-
sure took away some of the fear of the unknown. Crossing
22Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity
and the Growth of the American West (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1985), 67.
^Quoted in Pomeroy, 62.
24 Athearn, 64.
the "desert" became a necessary inconvenience in order to
reach golden riches.25 Two years after the first gold
strike, the 1860 census counted 34,231 people in the ar-
ea.26 According to the early Denver historian Jerome
Smiley, many of these argonauts prepared for the worst.
[Hjundreds of the multitude believed that a
long, waterless, nearly barren, dangerous
stretch of country lay before them...desert
devotees could hardly believe their eyes when
they saw the whitened peaks of the great moun-
tains shining in the distant horizon...they had
crossed the desert without knowing it or seeing
While the trip was not as bad as expected, this did
not keep them from exaggerating their experiences.
Smiley reported that
many of the early travelers into the West ex-
hausted their vocabularies of shiver-producing
adjectives in describing...the desolate, barren
land of horrors constituting the 'Great Ameri-
can Desert'...This waterless, storm-swept land
of sand; this howling, hopeless, worthless,
cactus-ridden area, infested by savages of the
most dreadful fierceness and cruelty, and
haunted by prowling beasts of unexampled feroc-
ity. .. .28
Stephen J. Leonard and Thomas J. Noel, Denver:
Mining Camp to Metropolis (Niwot, CO: University Press
of Colorado, 1991), 15.
Such commentary perpetuated the myth of the Great Ameri-
Not all travelers vilified the desert, however.
Baynard Taylor, travelling to Colorado in the summer of
1867, claimed not to have seen much desert at all.
Very soon...the grass began to appear again,
the country became green, and the signs of des-
olation vanished. A distance of forty miles
embraced all we had seen of the Desertin
fact, all there is of it upon this route [the
Smoky Hill Trail].29 30
Upon reaching the base of the Rockies, Taylor determined,
"I am fast inclining toward the opinion that there is no
American Desert on this side of the Rocky Mountains.1,30
The fifty-niners seemed to agree with Taylor. After
the initial gold rush, many stayed to settle the area.
Eventually the Great American Desert's reputation evapo-
rated as proof of the land's fertility emerged. John
Deere's invention of the steel plow made cultivation eas-
ier in the hard soil.31 A correspondent for the Missouri
Democrat in Denver in 1859 even offered agriculture as an
29Baynard Taylor, Colorado: A Summer Trip, 1967,
reprint (Niwot, CO: University of Colorado Press, 1989),
alternative to the gold fever. "Farmingraising crops of
corn, wheat, oats and potatoeswill pay here next year
better than even successful mining."32 In 1861, visiting
Patent Officer Edward Bliss reported to the U.S. Patent
Office that there were "one hundred thousand witnesses to
the fact that 'The Great American Desert' was not a
desert at all...."33 By the 1870s, the Mormons' experi-
ment with irrigation in neighboring Utah provided still
more proof that agriculture was possible.
The need for trees to prove a land's fertility was
rooted deep in the American psyche, however. For years
farmers avoided grassy meadows in the Midwest, opting
instead for land they had to clear. This not only creat-
ed more work, but also future problems, since stumps
"stumped" them for years. Still the belief persisted,
however, that no trees meant no crops.34
Some pioneers decided to solve this dilemma by
planting trees. As early as 1835 Reverend Samuel Parker
envisioned an artificial tree belt along the Rockies.
Congress later tried, unsuccessfully, to get trees plant-
ed on the prairie by offering free land to those who
would plant them.35 Early citizens of Denver and Boulder
did, however, transplant cottonwoods from the river bot-
toms into town.36 In 1839 a Swiss visitor observed that
the lack of trees on the plains was not as significant as
people believed. He thought that with proper cultiva-
tion, and a few modifications, the desert could indeed
The transition from desert to farmland happened
quickly. In 1860, William N. Byers, founder of The Rocky
Mountain News and the prime booster of Denver, held the
first exposition of grain and vegetables in the Rocky
Mountain News office. He helped form the state's first
agricultural society in 1863.38 The first territorial
fair came to townin 1866, featuring "farm produce and
mineralogical, industrial, mechanical and artistical re-
sources of Colorado." Among the vegetables displayed
38Bernice E. Petersen, "A Jubilee History of Denver
Botanic Gardens, in Cemetery to Conservatory: A History
of the Land Around Denver Botanic Gardens, 1858-1978, by
Louisa Ward Arps (Denver: Denver Botanic Gardens, 1980),
were heads of cabbage weighing twenty-five to thirty-five
pounds, onions, potatoes, beets, corn, squashes, pump-
kins, broccoli, wheat, and two fifteen-pound turnips.39
The fair seemed to be proof positive that the settlers
had transformed the desert into a garden.
By 1867 the City Ditch reached much of Denver, and
it became fashionable to plant street trees. Homeowners
along the ditch often planted tree lawns between the
street and the sidewalk or boardwalk. Behind tree lawns
and grass lawns, homes were generally framed with flower
beds and perhaps shrubbery. This was Denver's emulation
of an English estate.40
By the time of statehood in 1876, citizens of Colo-
rado realized that they must augment what little water
they had. Without forests to gather and hold moisture,
the streams that fed irrigation might dry up. This
knowledge prompted citizens to take an active interest in
conserving the mountain forests.41 The framers of the
Colorado State Constitution even included a clause re-
39The Rocky Mountain News, September 24, 1866, p.l,
40Don and Carolyn Etter, "Bridging the Turn of the
Century: A Vision for Denver," in The Green Thumb
46(Spring/Summer 1989), 1-12.
41Rocky Mountain News, November 21, 1884, p.5 c.l.
quiring the enactment of laws to prevent forest destruc-
The Colorado Forestry Association was born out of
this concern for conservation. The association first met
at the capitol building in 1884. They appointed William
Byers as the first chairman. Jay Gould, W.H. Vanderbilt
and Sidney Dillon were made honorary members in hopes
that they might help the new association by conserving
lumber in their enterprises.43 Also members were pioneer
businessmen Walter Scott Cheesman and Henry M. Porter.
Appropriately their daughters, Gladys Cheesman Evans and
Ruth Porter Waring, would be instrumental in continuing
their effort by creating a botanic garden seventy years
According to Byers, forestry was "of paramount im-
portance."45 He argued for state protection of forests,
saying that anything that remained in the public domain
would be viewed as a source of public plunder. To con-
42Colorado State General Assembly, Colorado Revised
Statutes, ed. James C. Wilson (Denver: Bradford Publish-
ing, 1980), article 18, section 6, p.428.
*3Rocky Mountain News, November 20, 1884, p.8 c.2.
44Anna R. Garrey, "The Idea Precedes the Accomplish-
ment," in Green Thumb 29(Winter 1972), 218.
45Rocky Mountain News, November 20, 1884, p.8 c.2.
serve and protect the forests, however, the association
knew they would need legislation. They soon secured a
law establishing the office of State Forest Commission-
er.46 Edgar T. Ensign, first president of the CFA, also
acted as first Forest Commissioner.47
The spirit of conservation was catching on national-
ly. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant created the
first large-scale wilderness preserve by designating two
million acres of Wyoming Territory as Yellowstone Nation-
al Park.48 In 1885 low levels in the Erie Canal and Hud-
son River concerned New Yorkers. The state designated a
"Forest Preserve" in the Adirondack Mountains to protect
their municipal water supply.49 In 1891 President Benja-
min Harrison signed the bill establishing the National
Forest Reserve System. White River Timberland Reserve,
the second timber reserve in the nation, was in central
47The Denver Times, January 15, 1900, p.4 c.l. See
also Green Thumb 9(December 1951), 9.
S0Petersen, "Jubilee History," 52.
By the turn of the century, most Denverites saw the
importance of forestry, and schools taught the study of
trees and forest conditions.51 Interest soon expanded
from forestry conservation to horticulture as well. In
1902, the Colorado State Horticulture Society held its
first meeting. Their chief purpose, according to the
Denver Times, was to "study irrigation carefully and pro-
claim the results to the world."52 The society hoped to
promote Colorado as a premier fruit-growing state, secur-
ing better prices for its products and compelling recog-
According to historian Roderick Nash, "appreciation
of wilderness began in the cities."54 As society grew
more urban, the city threatened to overwhelm the coun-
try.55 To provide a respite from industrial society, Den-
ver citizens promoted horticulture for purely aesthetic
reasons. Under the auspices of Mayor Speer's City Beau-
tiful Movement, park acreage in Denver more than doubled
S2Denver Times, January 19, 1902, p.4 c.3.
between 1904 and 1912.56 During this period Saco R.
DeBoer, a Dutch immigrant, came to work for the city.
DeBoer began his career as a city planner and landscape
architect in 1910.57 On the eve of the First World War,
the Denver Society for Ornamental Horticulture developed.
DeBoer served as its second president, and edited its
newsletter, entitled Garden Hints.58 59
Almost thirty years passed before the Colorado For-
estry Association and the Denver Society for Ornamental
Horticulture acknowledged their common goals. In 1943,
it became obvious to both that they would benefit by com-
bining their membership. They called the group the Colo-
rado Forestry and Horticulture Association. The first
issue of their publication, The Green Thumb, stated that
the groups had merged to promote "the same general basic
interest in horticulture and nature.,,S9 M. Walter Pesman
served as the first president, while horticulturist
George W. Kelly, attorney Robert E. More, landscape ar-
56Leonard and Noel, 142-145.
51The Denver Post, January 7, 1945, sec. 3 p.l. See
also Western Engineer 49(May 1965), 22.
S8Petersen, "Jubilee History," 53.
chitect Irvin McCrary, and John H. Gabriel wrote the con-
stitution and bylaws.60
In 1944, Gladys Cheesman Evans was elected president
of the CF&HA. Mrs. Evans and her husband, John, both
came from established, civic-minded Denver families.
Cheesman Park, adjacent to the present location of Denver
Botanic Gardens, was named in honor of Gladys's father,
Walter Scott Cheesman. John's grandfather had been Ter-
ritorial Governor of Colorado, and Anne Evans, John's
aunt, was instrumental in establishing the Denver Art
Museum, Civic Center, and the Denver Public Library.
Once Gladys Evans became president of the CF&HA, she do-
nated a house at 1355 Bannock Street, nicknamed "Horti-
culture House," for the association's administration.61 *
The Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association's
mission statement first appeared on the inside cover of
the September 1944 issue of The Green Thumb. It read,
To preserve the natural beauty of Colorado; to
protect the forests; to encourage proper main-
tenance and additional planting of trees,
shrubs and gardens; to make available correct
information regarding forestry, horticultural
practices and plants best suited to the cli-
mate; and to coordinate the knowledge and ex-
60Ibid. See also Green Thumb l(February 1944), 1-3.
61Petersen, "Jubilee History," 54. See also Green
Thumb l(July 1944), 1.
perience of foresters, horticulturists and gar-
deners for their mutual benefit.62
Coloradans quickly domesticated the frontier. Irri-
gation and farming produced life's necessitieswheat,
corn, fruits and vegetables. The CF&HA institutionalized
another purpose for cultivating the landbeauty. Among
the first things listed in their "Program of Activities"
in the inaugural issue of The Green Thumb was the promo-
tion of a Rocky Mountain Botanic Garden.63 The nation's
first botanic garden was established in Saint Louis in
1859.64 By the 1950s, there were only nine botanic gar-
dens in the nation, in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San
Francisco, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Saint Louis, Chica-
go, Boston and New York.65 A botanic garden signified
cultural development, economic progress and commercial
expansion in a city.66 Denverites, eager to join the
6zGreen Thumb l(September 1944), cover.
63,lProgram of Activities," Green Thumb 1 (February
64Denver Post, June 18, 1992, IB.
65Ibid. December 15, 1952, 3.
66D. Bramwell, ed. Botanic Gardens and the World
Conservation Strategy: Proceedings of an International
Conference, 26-30 November, 1985, Held at Las Palmas de
Gran Canaria (London: Academic Press, 1987), 5.
ranks of major cities, also sought to establish a botanic
As early as 1932 naturalist Albert Haanstad argued
for a botanical garden in Denver, primarily for experi-
mentation with native varieties of Colorado plants. He
felt these unique alpine plants merited the immediate
establishment of such a garden.67 In 1941, before its
merger with the Horticulture Association, botanist
Kathryn Kalmbach addressed the Forestry Association. She
proposed a botanical garden, not as a "'show place' with-
in the city limits but in the practical demonstration of
the adaptability of the tree, shrub and herb species to
various natural zones."68
Mrs. Evans wasted no time starting the process of
establishing such a garden. In her first annual report
of 1944 she noted that "a proposal for the establishment
of an Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Denver was urged
upon the city authorities. The matter is uppermost in
our minds and we hope it may become a reality in the not
too distant future."69 M. Walter Pesman called for a gar-
67Denver Post, August 17, 1932, 25.
68Petersen, "Jubilee History," 53.
69Green Thumb 11 (March 1945), cover.
den not only to beautify the area, but also as a public
attraction akin to the zoo.70 Finally, by the early 19-
50s, The Green Thumb reported that the City of Denver was
considering creating an agency to lay out a botanic gar-
den and arboretum.71
The creation of the Botanical Gardens Foundation of
Denver became a reality on February 3, 1951. Denver so-
ciety had evolved in fewer than one hundred years from
fearing the desert to cultivating it. What began as a
conservation organization had grown into a society pro-
moting the beautification of the city. The next step was
to see the Botanic Gardens come to fruition.
70Ibid. 7 (June 1950), 22.
71Ibid. 8 (February 1951), 6-7.
THE SEEDS: GARDENS AT CITY PARK
Looking at Denver today, it is hard to believe that
it was once dismissed as "The Great American Desert."
Although this image plagued the region for decades, early
settlers soon learned that the desert would bloom. Fol-
lowing the turn of the century, Denver evolved from a de-
sert outpost into a city beautiful. Mayor Speer promoted
the development of parks and parkways, fostering a new
emphasis on ornamental horticulture.1 The CF&HA, with
Gladys Cheesman Evans as president, oversaw the incorpo-
ration of the Botanical Gardens Foundation of Denver,
Inc., in 1951.
The foundation began with sixteen trustees. Twelve
members were elected to the board for three year terms,
with one-third of the board rotating every year. Of
these twelve trustees, nine belonged to the executive
committee, including a president, three vice-presidents,
Thomas J. Noel and Barbara S. Norgren, Denver: The
City Beautiful (Denver: Historic Denver, Inc., 1987), 1-
a secretary and a treasurer.2 The inaugural board of
trustees included Gladys Evans as president, Milton J.
Keegan, Malcolm Lindsey and Mrs. George H. (Anna) Garrey
as vice presidents, and Dr. Moras L. Shubert as both sec-
retary and treasurer.3 In addition, the board had four
ex-officio membersthe presidents of the Denver Zoo, the
Museum of Natural History, the Colorado Forestry and Hor-
ticulture Association and the mayor.4 5
The foundation's main objective, as stated in the
by-laws, was to "establish and maintain botanical gardens
and arboreta for the collection and culture of plants,
flowers, shrubs and trees;...for the study and execution
of ornamental and decorative horticulture... and for the
entertainment, recreation and instruction of people....,,s
Denver, the cultural center for the Rocky Mountain re-
gion, already had an Art Museum, a Symphony Orchestra and
Certificate of Incorporation of Botanical Gardens
Foundation of Denver, Inc. January 31, 1951. See also
By-Laws, February 27, 1951.
3Minutes of the Botanical Gardens Foundation of Den-
ver Inc., Book 1, October 20, 1952, 9. See Appendix A
for a complete list of trustees.
4By-Laws, February 27, 1951.
5By-Laws of Botanical Gardens Foundation of Denver,
Inc., February 27, 1951. See also City and County of
Denver, Contract with the Botanical Gardens Foundation of
Denver, February 28, 1951.
a Zoological Garden.6 The Green Thumb reported that city-
dwellers in Denver direly needed a botanical garden more
than ever, and there was no time to lose! Having lost
contact with nature, most Denverites had become "notori-
ously rootless, restless and even irreligious.1,7
For years, proponents of a botanic garden looked for
potential sites. Before the organization of the Botan-
ical Gardens Foundation, the CF&HA discussed the old
Overland Park on South Santa Fe Drive, Inspiration Point
in North Denver, and the Myron Blackmer Estate where Kent
Denver School now lies.8 However, the board decided on
City Park. Mr. and Mrs. John Evans donated $10,000 to
hire landscape architect Saco R. DeBoer to draw a master
plan for a garden in City Park.9 Armed with the plan, the
foundation approached the City and County of Denver in
6The Green Thumb 16(October 1959), 293-294.
7,,What is a Botanical Garden?" in Green Thumb
11(September 1954), 9. See also The Denver Post, March
9, 1971, 35.
8Dr. Moras L. Shubert, interview with author, Denver,
CO, 24 January 1994. See also Bernice E. Petersen, "A
Jubilee History of Denver Botanic Gardens," in Cemetery
to Conservatory: A History of the Land Around Denver
Botanic Gardens, 1858-1978, by Louisa Ward Arps (Denver:
Denver Botanic Gardens, 1980), 54; Anna R. Garrey, "The
Idea Precedes the Accomplishment," in Green Thumb
29(Winter 1980), 54.
9Petersen, "Jubilee History," 54.
October 1952. With some minor amendments, the City
The foundation prepared the master plan at its own
expense. Using donations or bequests, the foundation bo-
ught trees, shrubs, and flowers. Once planted, every-
thing became the property of the city. The city main-
tained the area, and provided gardeners to do the plant-
ing. The foundation could hire employees at their own
expense, but these employees still reported to the Manag-
er of Parks and Recreation. This created an awkward sit-
uation, with the board of trustees paying salaries to em-
ployees it could not control.11
City Park lay between Colorado Boulevard on the
east, York Street on the west, Seventeenth Avenue on the
south and Twenty-third Avenue on the north. At the time
the city and the Botanical Gardens Foundation signed
their contract, the park was already home to the Denver
Zoological Gardens and the Museum of Natural History. It
seemed a fitting home for Denver Botanic Gardens. The
site designated for the Gardens was the southeast corner
10Contract, February 28, 1951. See also Minutes,
Book 1, October 20, 1952, 9-10; Shubert interview.
nContract, February 28, 1951. See also Minutes,
Book 1, letter from city dated January 19, 1953, 18.
of City Park, from Colorado Boulevard to Adams Street,
and from East Seventeenth Avenue to the Large Lake and
approximately East Twenty-second Avenue.12
City Park began with a gift of land from Mayor Jo-
seph E. Bates.13 Former Mayor Richard Sopris, acting as
park commissioner, initiated City Park's development in
1881.14 Sopris called upon a civil engineer working for
the Burlington railroad, Henry F. Meryweather, to draw up
the park's plan. Implementation of the plan came slowly.
Not only did lack of funding and manpower plague the
city, but the property was not yet clear. Tents and
shacks of transients lined the dusty road known as York
Street. Some of these squatters had even begun to plant
gardens. Not until 1889 were land titles straightened
out and construction of the park began.15 The park was
designed by the city's first landscape architect,
12Minutes, Book 1, letter from City and County of
Denver dated January 19, 1953.
13Katherine B. Crisp, "City Park," in Green Thumb
22(July/August 1965), 124.
14Jerome C. Smiley, History of Denver: With Outlines
of the Earlier History of the Rocky Mountain Country
(Denver: Times-Sun Publishing Co., 1901), 645.
15Bette D. Peters, "Denver's City Park," in Univer-
sity of Colorado at Denver Historical Studies Journal
2(Denver: University of Colorado at Denver, 1985), 9-11.
Reinhard Schuetze.16 Schuetze acted as the city's land-
scape architect from 1894 until his death in 1910, de-
signing City, Congress and Washington Parks, among oth-
DeBoer's master plan for Denver Botanic Gardens pro-
posed a $1.5 million, fifteen-year program.18 Approved by
the board of trustees on October 20, 1952,19 it showed
great insight into the natural lay of the land. DeBoer
designed two five-foot retaining walls on the west side
of the museum. These were separated by a terrace of
paths and flowers, and were low enough not to obscure the
west face of the museum building. Water pumped from the
Large Lake cascaded through a series of pools, then
streamed north and south of the garden. Different vari-
eties of flowers, shrubs and trees were planted along
these waterways. The focal point of the garden was a
reflecting pool, whose calm waters harbored tropical
16Crisp, "City Park," 124.
17Thomas J. Noel and Barbara Norgren, Denver: The
City Beautiful and Its Architects (Denver: Historic Den-
ver, 1987), 144. See also Louisa Ward Arps, Cemetery to
Conservatory: A History of the Land Around Denver Botan-
ic Gardens, 1859-1978 (Denver: Denver Botanic Gardens,
Denver Post, August 30, 1953, 14A.
19Minutes, Book 1, October 20, 1952, 11.
plants and water lilies. The pool, directly west of the
museum, was surrounded by beds of roses, annuals,
perennials, and edging plants. For tropical plants, De-
Boer even proposed a predecessor to today's Boettcher
Conservatory, but it was never built.20
Implementation of the plan began almost immediately.
In the spring of 1953, a collection of hybrid lilacs do-
nated by Milton J. Keegan transformed one of the park
paths into Lilac Lane.21 DeBoer donated forty-seven dif-
ferent varieties of crabapple trees, and the Rose Society
planted 3500 roses in forty-eight rose beds. Helen Fowl-
er donated a collection of ferns, and the American Iris
Society, with Dr. John Durrance and Lemoine Bechtold as
' planners, gave the Gardens their rainbow collection of
irises. Bechtold also donated daylilies. Board member
Robert E. More, an aficionado of native evergreens, had
DeBoer draw up plans for a pinetum. In the spring of
1954 they planted two hundred and fifty evergreens rep-
resenting over one hundred and thirty varieties. The
20S.R. DeBoer, Master Plan for a Botanic Garden in
Denver, October 20, 1952, Denver Public Library Western
History Department, 18-23, 26-68. See also Bernice
"Pete" Petersen, interview with author, Littleton, CO, 2
March 1994; Shubert interview.
21Peters, 63. See also Green Thumb 10 (July 1953),
Glenmore Pinetum, as it was named, is one of the few rem-
nants of the Botanic Gardens extant at City Park.22 By
the fall of 1954, most of the garden was in place. Mayor
Quigg Newton presided at the dedication in September of
One of the biggest projects undertaken was the de-
sign and implementation of Box Canyon. The purpose of
the canyon, as described in The Green Thumb by landscape
architect M. Walter Pesman, was to help tourists and
"home folks" alike recognize native plants in the wild.
It would also show how native plants could be used in
home landscaping.24 Begun in 1956, the two and a half
acre project made enough of a splash to be heavily re-
ported by both The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain
News. The canyon cut through the bank south of the rose
garden, with a stream running into City Park's Large
Lake. Massive boulders, donated by the Charles Gates
family, lined the walls of the canyon. The cliffs and
walls were planted with native vegetation. Although nev-
22Green Thumb 10 (August 1953), 29; 13 (January 1956),
14. See also Petersen, "Jubilee History," 55; Petersen
interview; Shubert interview.
23Denver Post, September 16, 1954, 43.
uGreen Thumb 13(April 1956), 53. See also Minutes,
Book 1, Annual Report for 1955, 49.
er completed to DeBoer's specifications, part of the can-
yon, though dry, can still be seen.25
With this growth spurt, the board of trustees decid-
ed to hire a full-time director. George Kelly, director
of the Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association,
had acted as director of the Botanic Gardens, supervising
and managing plantings and exhibitions.26 Since Kelly's
office was across town at CF&HA headguarters in Horticul-
ture House at 1355 Bannock, he had difficulty overseeing
things in City Park. With the growth and diversification
of the Gardens, the board decided to hire a director who
could give undivided attention to planting at City Park.27
In May of 1956, the board announced the appointment of
Robert L. Woerner. Woerner, former director of the Finch
Arboretum in Spokane, Washington, had office space in the
Museum of Natural History. Kelly maintained his position
as director of the CF&HA.28 Although Kelly functioned as
director of the Gardens for nearly five years before
25Denver Post, March 23, 1956, 38; The Rocky Moun-
tain News, March 14, 1956, 10. See also Petersen, "Jubi-
lee History," 55.
27Petersen, "Jubilee History," 35.
Green Thumb 13(May 1956), 5. See also Minutes,
Book 1, May 4, 1956, 51; News, March 14, 1956, 10.
Woerner's arrival, Woerner is usually given credit for
being the first director of the Botanic Gardens. Accord-
ing to historian Bernice "Pete" Petersen, "It was a very
sore point with George that he wasn't given more credit
as having the title of first director."29
As the gardens at City Park grew, the foundation
also expanded. In 1957 they entered an agreement with
the United States Forest Service for the construction and
maintenance of a foot trail through the nature area on
Mount Goliath. Located fifty-five miles from Denver
along Colorado Highway 103 on the side of Mount Evans,
Mount Goliath provided the Gardens with a perfect oppor-
tunity to start an alpine garden. The one hundred sixty-
acre site covered altitudes from 11,500 feet to 12,150
feet. The two-mile nature trail allowed visitors to take
a self-guided tour of a montane setting, including a fif-
teen-hundred-year-old bristlecone pine forest.30 The Gar-
dens established a series of stations along the trail,
and developed literature to describe the alpine plants.
30Dr. William Gambill, interview with author, Boul-
der, CO, 11 March 1994.
The trail was named for landscape architect, horticultur-
ist and board member M. Walter Pesman.31
Not everything was coming up roses for Denver Botan-
ic Gardens, however. The fact that the director did not
report to the board caused a major problem. In the sum-
mer of 1956, Robert Woerner made a minor personnel change
which board president Gladys Evans did not like. Not
only did Mrs. Evans disapprove of the change, she had
explicitly instructed Woerner not to make it. He acted
on his own impulses, however, with the consent of the
Manager of Parks and Recreation. This minor misunder-
standing escalated. Feeling that her authority had been
challenged and that she could no longer work with this
insubordinate director, Mrs. Evans resigned from the or-
ganization she worked so hard to create. She resigned
from the presidency, the executive committee and the
board altogether. After other board members tried unsuc-
cessfully to get her to reconsider, they made her Honor-
ary President, and elected the three vice-presidents to
act as a presidential triumvirate until the next annual
meeting. Included in this triumvirate were Mrs. James J.
31Minutes, Book 1, August 2, 1957, 72. See also
Green Thumb 14(September 1957), 298; Petersen, "Jubilee
(Ruth) Waring, Mr. Robert E. More, and Mrs. George H.
(Anna) Garrey. The board did not, however, change the
agreement with the city to give it more control over the
Other problems sprouted as well. Because City
Park's soil was not ideal, DeBoer's master plan had to be
modified. The Oak Grove, for instance, was abandoned
because the trees would not grow.33 Since the city for-
bade the foundation from fencing the area, security be-'
came a problem; inconsiderate bicyclers rode through
Helen Fowler's ferns, climbers hopped along the boulders
in Box Canyon, and expensive rhizomes disappeared the
night after they were planted. By 1958, the vandalism
was rampant.34 The board sought permission from the city
to develop an herbaceous unit elsewhere.35
Denver Botanic Gardens was feeling growing pains.
In six short years, the foundation had successfully es-
3ZMinutes, Book 1, July 2, 1956, 55. See also
Petersen interview; Shubert interview.
33DeBoer, Master Plan, 5. See also Petersen inter-
^Minutes, Book 1, November 7, 1957, 75. See also
Garrey, 221; Shubert interview.
35Minutes, Book 1, February 22, 1957, 68. See also
Petersen, "Jubilee History," 55.
tablished a garden in City Park as well as an alpine edu-
cational area. As the goals of Denver Botanic Gardens
grew, however, so did its needs. In the fall of 1957 and
spring of 1958, the search began for a new location that
would offer more land and more security.
ESTABLISHING ROOTS: YORK STREET
The Botanical Gardens Foundation of Denver, now
known simply as Denver Botanic Gardens, chose 1005 York
Street for their new home. This land had a checkered
past. The property was part of the old City Cemetery.
Stretching from approximately Franklin to York Streets,
and from East Eighth Avenue as far north as East Thir-
teenth Avenue in places, the cemetery began almost as
early as the city itself. General William Larimer staked
out the three-hundred-twenty acres east of town in Novem-
ber 1859, as "Mount Prospect Cemetery" because of the
gorgeous westward view. Legend has it that Larimer, in a
hurry to make his claim legitimate, had pioneer undertak-
er James J. Walley dump both Hungarian murderer John
Stoefel and his victim in the same grave to avoid the
time-consuming task of digging a second.1 Soon thereafter
Louisa Ward Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory: A His-
tory of the Land Around Denver Botanic Gardens, 1859-1978
(Denver: Denver Botanic Gardens, 1980), 5-6. See also
Dennis O'Donnell Dunn, "You're Never Alone in Cheesman
Park: Some of Denver's Earliest Citizens Are Still Bur-
ied There," in Denver Post Empire Magazine, June 7, 1981,
a pioneer named Jack O'Neill was shot by a Mormon named
John Rooker. O'Neill was buried in Mount Prospect, which
Denverites nicknamed "Jack O'Neill's Ranch."* 2
Larimer did not have to worry about his cemetery for
long. Undertaker Walley jumped Larimer's claim to the
land in 1865.3 For $200 he sold the eastern forty acres
to Bishop Joseph P. Machebeuf for use as a Catholic ceme-
tery. Unfortunately for both Walley and the bishop, the
U.S. government declared the transaction void, claiming
that Walley never owned the land. According to the 1861
Treaty of Fort Wise with the Arapaho Indians, it still
belonged to the United States government.4 In 1872, the
federal government sold the land to the City of Denver
for $1.25 per acre. Bishop Machebeuf now re-bought the
forty acres he thought he already owned, and named it
Mount Calvary Cemetery. The eighty acres to the west of
Mount Calvary were named City Cemetery, and used mainly
2Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 6.
3Ibid., 7-8. See also Dunn, 26; H. Arndt, "General
Larimer, Mount Prospect and Mount Morgan," manuscript for
Historic Denver News, April 1976, 1-4.
4Thomas J. Noel, Colorado Catholicism and the Archdi-
ocese of Denver, 1857-1989 (Niwot, CO: University Press
of Colorado, 1989), 75.
for Protestant burials. East of Josephine Street ten
acres were designated as the Jewish cemetery.5
In 1887, thirteen years after Bishop Machebeuf
bought the Catholic portion of the cemetery, the Diocese
was in financial trouble. Since most of the burials were
in the northern half of the cemetery, the bishop decided
to sell the southern half of the land to a developer,
Samuel B. Morgan. Machebeuf and the Catholic Church made
a tidy profit. The city sold the land to the Diocese for
$1.25 an acre; Machebeuf turned around and sold it to
Morgan for $1000 an acre.6 The city was not pleased.
They took the church to court over the transaction,
claiming that the land was designated for public use and
could not be sold. After going up the court chain, the
U.S. Supreme Court finally upheld Morgan's title to the
land in 1903. "Morgan's Subdivision" is now a Denver
Landmark Preservation Commission Historic District and
lies between York and Race Streets and East Eighth and
sDunn, 24,26. See also Arps, Cemetery to Conservato-
6Noel, Colorado Catholicism, 41. See also Arps,
Cemetery to Conservatory, 28; Dunn, 26.
Ninth Avenues, on the southern border of the Botanic Gar-
After 1876, City Cemetery had competition. River-
side Cemetery opened for burials that year, attracting
many away from the unkempt old boneyard on Capitol Hill.8
In 1890 Fairmount Cemetery opened, followed in 1892 by
the new Catholic cemetery, Mount Olivet. Soon native
prairie flowers, yucca, sand lilies and cactus sprouted
between the graves on the neglected plot of land on Capi-
tol Hill.9 Only the indigent were still buried there,
prompting early Denver historian Jerome C. Smiley to
claim, "the spot could not be dignified by the name of
'cemetery;' it was merely a burial place for the dreari-
est kind imaginable."10
As the cemetery's condition worsened, so did its
reputation. The Pest House, on the south end of the lot
between York and Josephine Streets, did not help the con-
dition. This house became an isolation hut where people
7Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 29-30.
8Jerome C. Smiley, History of Denver: With Outlines
of the Earlier History of the Rocky Mountain Country
(Denver: Times-Sun Publishing, 1901), 900.
9Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 9,30. See also No-
el, Colorado Catholicism, 77-78.
with small pox and other incurable diseases were left,
often unattended, to either recover or die. Although
health officials burned the Pest House to the ground in
1886, it gave the neglected cemetery an even worse im-
Although the Catholic and Jewish portions of the
cemetery were in fair condition, most of City Cemetery
was an eyesore. In 1890 U.S. Senator Henry M. Teller
asked Congressional approval to convert it into a park.
In order to secure their consent, Teller promised to name
the park "Congress Park." Congress agreed, and paved the
way for Mayor Wolfe Londoner to declare new burials in
City Cemetery unlawful. Although most of the burials at
City Cemetery were paupers, permits were issued to fami-
lies of the "respectable" dead to remove the bodies of
their loved ones within 90 days.12 They could choose
whatever new resting spot they wanted. Many went to Riv-
erside and Fairmount cemeteries, although some remains
were shipped as far away as China.13 The city paid to
nDunn, 28. See also Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory,
12Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 9. See also Dunn,
41; Noel, Colorado Catholicism, 76.
13Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 9.
move unclaimed burials to Riverside, which were the ma-
Three years lapsed before the removal of the bodies
began. The city awarded the contract for the removal to
undertaker Edward P. McGovern. McGovern promised to move
the bodies to Riverside Cemetery and keep detailed re-
cords of the reburials. When the removal began in 1893,
the Denver Republican announced that the area
looks like a scene of a premature resurrec-
tion...the scenes are repulsive enough to
please a ghoul, though many people crowded
around the place and watched curiously the
lifting of the damp, foul-smelling corpses from
their mouldy abodes.15
The Denver Republican reported scandal surrounding
the moving of the bodies. John D. McGilvray, a member of
the Board of Health overseeing the project, gave the con-
tract to undertaker McGovern without getting other bids,
the Republican alleged. McGovern charged $1.90 per box
of remains moved, and, the Republican claimed, gave
McGilvray a cut. To make matters worse, the undertaker's
men constructed boxes only three feet long, and allegedly
divided the remains of one body between two, three or
14The Denver Republican, March 17, 1893, 8.
15Ibid., March 17, 1893, 8. See also Arps, Cemetery
to Conservatory, 9; Dunn, 21.
four boxes. No one could find the proper boxes when
asked to exhume them. The Republican, which opposed the
current city administration anyway, called McGilvray and
McGovern "the Tammany Contractors," and clamored for a
full investigation.16 The Rocky Mountain News, however,
claimed that the Republican was overreacting, and that
all of the bidding was above-board. The News accused the
Republican of conjuring up a flimsy excuse to smear "the
honorable John D. McGilvray."17 Mayor Platt Rogers, a
well-respected reform mayor, promised to investigate, and
the whole scandal disappeared from the newspapers within
a few days.
Not until 1900 did work finally begin on Congress
Park. The city's landscape architect, Reinhard Schuetze,
planned the park with a variety of imported trees and
shrubs, interspersed with wide open spaces of lawn to
maximize the mountain view.18 Although the renaming of
the park had allowed its existence, it did not carry the
16Denver Republican, March 19, 1893, 1; March 20,
1893, 1; March 21, 1893, 1; March 22, 1893, 1.
17The Rocky Mountain News, March 21, 1893, 4.
18Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 14. See also Thom-
as J. Noel and Barbara S. Norgren, Denver: The City
Beautiful and Its Architects (Denver: Historic Denver,
Inc., 1987), 211-214.
name of Congress Park for long. In 1907 it was renamed
"Cheesman Park" after the recently deceased Denver pio-
neer Walter Scott Cheesman. Cheesman came to Denver in
1859 and opened a drug store downtown. Eventually
Cheesman diversified into mines, railroads, banks and the
water works. Cheesman's Denver Water Company even leased
the northwest corner of the cemetery's hill for a reser-
voir, which still exists. Cheesman's widow, Alice Foster
Sanger Cheesman, and daughter Gladys donated $100,000 to
erect a memorial atop the hill in the park, facilitating
the renaming.19 To design the memorial, Mrs. Cheesman and
Gladys hired architects Willis Adams Marean and Albert
Julius Norton, who also designed the Cheesman mansion at
Eighth and Logan.20
This would not be Gladys Cheesman's last connection
with this land. Fifty years later, as president of the
board of trustees for the Botanical Gardens Foundation of
Denver, she re-inspected the Cheesman Park area, this
time as a site for the Gardens. By this time, the Jewish
cemetery, east of Josephine Street, had been converted
19Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 14.
into a park and named "Congress Park" to keep Senator
Although City Cemetery had been condemned and con-
verted around the turn of the century, the adjacent Mount
Calvary Cemetery remained. Burials took place there un-
til 1908, among them silver-king Horace A.W. Tabor. He
remained there until 1935, when his beloved Baby Doe,
found frozen to death in the Matchless Mine in Leadville,
was buried at Mount Olivet. Tabor's body was moved to
join her. According to Denver historian Thomas J. Noel,
not all of Tabor made it to Mount Olivet. Noel inter-
viewed a woman who, as a little girl, watched the exhuma-
tion of Horace Tabor. When the shovel hit the casket the
wood disintegrated, allowing onlookers to see that
Tabor's walrus moustache was still intact. At that
point, a little dog jumped into the grave and grabbed
Tabor's tibia. Delighted with its prize, the dog ran
off. Although spectators chased the dog, the bone was
never found. Horace Tabor, Denver's silver king, now
lies tibialess in his tomb with Baby Doe in Mount
21Thomas J. Noel, telephone interview with author, 12
Although Mount Calvary remained open, the Catholic
Church had no money to maintain the cemetery and it fell
into disrepair. By the 1940s, Archbishop Urban J. Vehr
wanted to sell the land. In 1946, the Rotarians ap-
proached him about buying the property for their interna-
tional headquarters. After giving the Archdiocese a
$5000 deposit, however, they changed their mind and with-
drew the offer.22 It wasn't until 1950, during Mayor
Quigg Newton's administration, that the Catholic Church
finally got rid of the land.
While mayor, Quigg Newton set out to clean up eye-
sores like Mount Calvary. In 1950, he entered negotia-
tions with Archbishop Vehr for the land, intending to
extend Cheesman Park. The Archbishop agreed, and the
City of Denver bought the eighteen acres for $80,000.
The city was responsible for removing the remains of over
six thousand dead to Mount Olivet.23 According to Mayor
Newton, the removal took months. After the scandals of
1893, the city was more cautious. "It's hard to do po-
litically and publicly, to move the cemetery. In this 27
22Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 28,31. See also
John C. Mitchell, II, interview with author, Denver, CO,
27 January 1994.
^Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 31. See also Noel,
Colorado Catholicism, 79; Dunn, 43.
instance, the cemetery had been in disuse for so many
years that it had no current constituency...we had no
real complaints, but as a safeguard we decided to move it
at night."24 While the newspapers make no mention that
the move was at night, the Rocky Mountain News carried
favorable reports of the moving of the bodies.25
Although the city was as thorough as possible, exca-
vations of the land continued to dig up skulls, bones and
pieces of caskets as late as the 1990s.26 27 Generally the
workers just reburied the bones, but they called the
Archdiocese when they found a skull while excavating for
Boettcher Conservatory. The Archdiocese had them rebury
it.27 The most recent reminder of the land's grizzly past
occurred in 1992, when workers installing a greenhouse
heating system hit something other than rock. They found
an 1889 gravestone, parts of a casket, and bones.28 If
24Quigg Newton, interview with author, Denver, CO, 8
25Rocky Mountain News, various dates, 1950-1951. See
also Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 31.
MDr. William Gambill, interview with author, Boul-
der, CO, 11 March 1994.
27Beverly Capron, interview with author, Arvada, CO,
7 February 1994.
28Rocky Mountain News, March 21, 1992, 6.
frustrated Denver gardeners have trouble replicating
things they have seen growing at the Botanic Gardens,
they must remember that the soil there is exceptionally
Part of the agreement between the mayor and the
archbishop for the sale of the old cemetery was that the
land be used for public enjoyment. This caught the at-
tention of Denver Botanic Gardens. The first mention of
the possibility of moving to the old Calvary Cemetery
site appeared in the board of trustees minutes on May 23,
1956. Thomas P. Campbell, Manager of Parks and Recre-
ation, approached City Council about the use of the site
as an herbaceous unit.30 The area included the eighteen-
acre tract of Mount Calvary and the land between York and
Josephine Streets, where the old Pest House used to
stand, which could be made into a parking lot. After
nearly two years of negotiations, City Council agreed in
1958 to lease the land to the Botanic Gardens.31 All of
the provisions of the 1951 contract, except location, re-
29Bernice "Pete" Petersen, interview with author,
Littleton, CO, 2 March 1994.
30Minutes of the Botanical Gardens Foundation of Den-
ver, Book 1, May 23, 1956, 53.
31Dr. Moras L. Shubert, interview with author, Den-
ver, CO, 24 January 1994.
mained the same- Like the gardens in City Park, the city
would not provide any money to develop the land. They
would supply maintenance, utilities and employees, but
the foundation had to secure donations for development
and planting.32 They also had two years, until August
1960, to spend at least $60,000 on improvements, includ-
ing a sprinkler system.33
Spearheading the move to York Street was Mrs. James
J. (Ruth Porter) Waring. Word got out that the Elmer
Hartner home, adjacent to the old cemetery grounds at 909
York Street, was coming on to the market. Because of its
location, Mrs. Waring, who lived next door to the west,
must have realized it would be a perfect headquarters for
the Botanic Gardens. She and her husband donated a port-
folio of stocks toward the purchase of the home. When
the stocks were actually cashed in, the value was well
over what Mrs. Waring had expected.34 It easily covered
32Mitchell interview. See also City and County of
Denver, Contract with the Botanical Gardens Foundation of
Denver, February 28, 1951, amended August 28, 1958; The
Green Thumb 15(March 1958), 69.
33Minutes, Book 1, December 15, 1958, 94. See also
Contract, amended August 28, 1958.
the final purchase price of the home, which was
$63,008.86.35 In the board meeting minutes, Mrs.
Waring's name is never mentioned as the donor of the
house. The donation came from an anonymous source. A
few weeks later, however, the Denver Post announced that
Mrs. Waring bought the house and donated it to the Botan-
ic Gardens in memory of her father, pioneer businessman
and philanthropist Henry M. Porter.36
The house itself is an architectural jewel. De-
signed in 1925 by Jules Jacques Benoit Benedict, its
style has received many names. Sometimes called Mediter-
ranean, Romantic Revival, or Tudor, the architect himself
called it Beaux-Arts.37 Benedict studied at the Ecole des
Beaux-Arts in Paris, which gave this eclectic Neoclassi-
cal and Renaissance Revival style its name. The exterior
is gray stucco with a green tile roof. The use of round
3SMinutes, Book 1, October 16, 1958.
36Ibid., Book 1, August 15, 1958, 85; October 16,
1958. See also Arps, Cemetery to Conservatory, 31; Vir-
ginia McConnell Simmons, Botanic Gardens House (Denver:
Denver Botanic Gardens, 1974), 3; Green Thumb
15(October/November 1958), 339; The Denver Post, Sept.
21, 1958, 5AA; Mark S. Foster, Henry M. Porter: Rocky
Mountain Empire Builder (Niwot, CO: University Press of
Colorado, 1991), 28,30,42,63.
37National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nom-
ination Form, prepared by Sharon L. Petersen, entered
July 3, 1993, 3.
arched portals with radiating voussoirs and keystones and
irregular chimney placement give the house a Mediterra-
nean look, but the steep pitched roof is more
The interior of the home is equally exquisite. The
expansive first floor, containing four thousand square
feet, has an entry hall, dining room, parlor and library.
From the entry hall, a grand staircase curves up to the
second floor, which contains seven bedrooms. At the oth-
er end of the first floor, in the library, a staircase
lies hidden within one of the bookcases. This secret
flight goes directly to the master bedroom. The lower
five steps of this secret staircase raise up to reveal a
wine cellar. The painted ceilings in the parlor and din-
ing room were done by artist John Thompson, former head
of the art department at the University of Denver. The
bronze lighting fixtures and switchplates were cast spe-
cifically to harmonize with the paintings, and European
carpets were selected to fit the motif and space of each
38Ibid., 3-4. See also Sally Davis and Betty
Baldwin, Denver Dwellings and Descendants (Denver: Sage
Books, 1963), 173; Noel and Norgren, 189.
39Simmons, 2. See also National Register Form, 2.
Benedict was commissioned to build the house by
Richard Crawford Campbell. Campbell was married to Mar-
garet Patterson, the daughter of U.S. Senator Thomas
Patterson, owner of The Rocky Mountain News. His son-in-
law was the business manager of the News until Patterson
sold it in 1913. Campbell then started the Campbell In-
vestment Company. In his spare time, he was a prominent
yachtsman who helped bring the Sir Thomas Lipton Cup to
Grand Lake. Late in life, he and Mrs. Campbell had Bene-
dict build 909 York Street, where they moved in 1927.40
In 1930, Elmer G. Hartner bought the house from
Campbell's estate. Hartner was the president of the
Western Seed Company. Because of Hartner's love of
plants, he had a gardener plant and maintain the gardens,
install a green house and add a lily pond. He and his
family lived in the home for almost thirty years.41
Because of its spacious interior, its extensive gar-
dens, and its location next to the old cemetery, the
house at 909 York Street was perfectly suited to become
the headguarters of Denver Botanic Gardens. The Gardens
took possession of the house on March 8, 1959. The next
40Davis and Baldwin, 172-173. See also National Reg-
ister Form, 3.
41National Register Form, 3.
day, the Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association
moved its offices into the building. They were in need
of office space, since Horticulture House was being razed
to make way for the new University of Denver Law School
at Fourteenth Avenue and Bannock Street. The next week,
on March 16, Denver Botanic Gardens moved from the Museum
of Natural History at City Park into the new house.42 The
grand opening took place on April 1st. That spring the
Colorado Federation of Garden Clubs moved in to the
house. In addition to administrative offices, the house
also had conference rooms, the herbarium, a precursor to
the gift shop, and the Helen Fowler Library.43 With the
administrative move from City Park complete, construction
began on the old Mount Calvary cemetery site. By the
spring of 1959, the Gardens had a viable, secure area to
begin an herbaceous unit, as well as an elegant new head-
quarters in Denver.
42Green Thumb 17 (January 1960), 15.
43Bernice Petersen, "A Jubilee History of Denver Bo-
tanic Gardens," in Cemetery to Conservatory: A History
of the Land Around the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1859-1978
(Denver: Denver Botanic Gardens, 1980), 55. See also
Simmons, 4; Petersen interview; Dr. Helen Zeiner, in-
terview with author, Denver, CO, 3 March 1994; Avalonne
Kosanke, interview with author, Denver, CO, 1 April 1994.
SPROUTING: BOETTCHER CONSERVATORY
With the administration of Denver Botanic Gardens
moved to the old mansion at 909 York Street, the founda-
tion began creating the new garden. The first thing the
new garden needed was leadership. Director Robert
Woerner resigned January 1, 1959.1 The board had found a
replacement, Dr. Aubrey C. Hildreth, working for the fed-
eral government as superintendent of the Cheyenne Experi-
mental Station in Wyoming.2 Dr. Hildreth would not retire
from the federal government until the following April,
however, leaving Denver Botanic Gardens without a direc-
tor for more than four months.3 To solve this problem,
the foundation retained Woerner as a consultant to ap-
prove plans and supervise construction at the new site,4
Minutes of the Botanical Gardens Foundation of Den-
ver, Book 1, December 15, 1958, 93.
2The Denver Post, June 11, 1959, 65.
^Minutes, Book 1, December 15, 1958, 93.
4City and County of Denver, Contract with the Botanic
Gardens Foundation of Denver, revised August 28, 1958.
and asked the city to appoint Dr. John Durrance, a member
of the board of trustees, to act as interim director.5
Dr. Hildreth took the helm on July 2, 1959.6
Dr. Hildreth arrived in time for the dedication cer-
emony of 1005 York Street in September 1959. In his ad-
dress, Hildreth talked about Denver's unique opportunity
to combine research in alpine plants along with those
grown in temperate zones. He also discussed the possi-
bility of a conservatory, which would expand Denver's
capability to tropical plants as well.7 Hildreth predict-
ed that the Botanic Gardens, while acting as a repository
for research and education, would also become an impor-
tant tourist attraction.8
The new leader met with a huge first task. The land
of the old cemetery was cleared for planting. Rather
than hire a landscape architect, the board of trustees
designed the first master plan. Landscape architect M.
sMinutes, Book 2, July 2, 1959, 6.
7A.C. Hildreth in Bernice "Pete" Petersen, "A Jubilee
History of Denver Botanic Gardens," in Cemetery to Con-
servatory: A History of the Land Around Denver Botanic
Gardens, 1859-1978, by Louisa Ward Arps (Denver: Denver
Botanic Gardens, 1980), 57.
8Denver Post, September 21, 1959, 16.
Walter Pesman was a member of the board; most of the
board members had traveled to gardens all over the world,
and felt that they knew what a botanic garden should
have.9 Once the plan was finished, they hired a young
botany student named Beverly Kyle to do the artwork on a
four- by eight-foot piece of plywood.10 The master plan
was simple, with the emphasis on plantings rather than
landscape. The plan left the ground flat, and irrigation
came from hoses and hydrants.11 This "master plan" was
used until the late 1960s.
The board did not follow their plan exactly, howev-
er. Because of budget constraints, the Gardens often
took what it could get. Local greenhouses and floral
societies donated plants for specific gardens. For exam-
ple, the Denver Rose Society donated and planted a rose
garden in May of 1959.12 If an organization was willing
to donate something which was not on the plan, the board
9John C. Mitchell, II, interview with author, Denver,
CO, 27 January 1994.
10Dr. Moras L. Shubert, interview with author, Den-
ver, CO, 24 January 1994.
nBeverly Capron, interview with author, Arvada, CO,
7 February 1994.
12The Green Thumb 16 (September 1959), 26 9.
simply changed the plan.13 By I960, the Botanic Gardens
had moved over nineteen thousand cubic yards of earth.
The old cemetery now boasted 2,755 lineal feet of chain
link fence, plus 425 feet of six-foot high ornamental
iron fence, 3,266 square feet of masonry in the entrance
gates, and 7,264 lineal feet of ten-foot-wide gravel
While planting commenced at the York Street site,
the Botanic Gardens still maintained the garden at City
Park. Although the focus on herbaceous plants shifted to
the new location, the foundation continued to care for
City Park's rose beds until 1969, when it reverted to the
Department of Parks and Recreation.15 All that remained
at City Park was the pinetum and some shrubs.16
One of the first gardens at the new location was the
Children's Garden. Located between York and Josephine
Streets, this garden taught children about horticulture,
beginning with instruction sessions indoors. When spring
weather arrived, the children planted individual plots
13Ibid. See also Petersen, "Jubilee History," 58.
14Ibid. 17 (January 1960), 15-17.
15Mitchell interview. See also Capron interview.
16Denver Post, July 25, 1958, 3.
with either flowers or vegetables. They paid only fifty
cents for the seeds.17 Ruth Waring championed this pro-
ject,18 and gave $10,000 for the construction of a shed to
house tools. This shed was the first structure on the
property designed by Victor Hornbein and Edward D. White,
Jr.19 Because of her support, the garden's official name
was the Ruth Waring Children's Garden.20
One of the first gardens planted on the old cemetery
across the street was the Model Low-Maintenance Garden, a
gift of landscape contractor Lew Hammer.21 Begun in 1963,
this garden highlighted plants and shrubs that could grow
with little cultivation. It featured a dry stream bed
edged with fir trees and native ground cover.22 * Next to
it was the Herb Garden, planted and maintained by the
17Denver Post Roundup, March 18, 1962, 44.
18Dr. William Gambill, interview with author, Boul-
der, CO, 11 March 1994.
19Victor Hornbein, interview with author, Denver, CO,
5 April 1995.
Petersen, "Jubilee History," 57.
21Bernice "Pete" Petersen, interview with author,
Littleton, CO, 2 March 1994.
Bernice "Pete" Petersen, "Denver: Tropics to Tun-
dra" in American Horticulturist (April 1981), 5.
volunteer organization called Denver Botanic Gardens
The first garden at York Street to be designed by a
landscape architect was the Gates Garden. Following
Charles C. Gates' death in I960, Mrs. Gates donated the
money for this garden as a memorial to her husband.24 The
garden recreated the landscape around the Gates' family
home, the Chateau, in Bear Creek Canyon. Denver Botanic
Gardens hired S.R. DeBoer to do the design, since he
landscaped the Chateau. The result was a Rocky Mountain
landscape complete with cliffs, water fall, a meandering
stream and a miniature valley.25
With the implementation of these gardens, Denver
Botanic Gardens needed help maintaining the grounds.
They had only three gardeners on staff. In 1961, Judge
Philip Gilliam of Denver District Court offered a juve-
nile court work program to both Denver Mountain Parks and
Denver Botanic Gardens. The young offenders weeded and
cultivated over twenty thousand plants the first summer.26
uGreen Thumb 24(July/August 1967), 121-122.
^Ibid. See also Petersen, "Tropics to Tundra," 6.
26Petersen, "Jubilee History," 58.
The courts still send Denver Botanic Gardens community
service workers to fulfill their sentences.
With the physical development of the Botanic Gardens
came other trappings of a civic institution. When the
Gardens moved to York Street, they had no organized mem-
bership. In May of I960, Ruth Waring told the board that
there was no need for a membership, since the Colorado
Forestry and Horticulture Association's members "support-
ed and supplemented" Denver Botanic Gardens.27 Five
months later, however, Denver Botanic Gardens Foundation
and the Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association
merged, with Denver Botanic Gardens absorbing the CF&HA's
membership. They maintained dues at five dollars per
year for non-voting members.28 By the middle of 1961,
they had seventeen hundred members.29
Denver Botanic Gardens also attracted the support of
volunteer organizations. The first of these originated
from the Home Garden Club of Denver. With the Botanic
Gardens/CF&HA merger in 1960, nineteen members broke away
from the club and formed Around the Seasons, named after
27Minutes, Book 2, May 16, 1960, 25.
ibid., Book 2, October 20, 1960, 38.
29Ibid. Book 2, September 18, 1961, 59.
S.R. DeBoer's book.30 They held the organizational meet-
ing in Cheesman Park, under a spruce tree.31 Volunteers
worked in the library, the herbarium, and wrote for The
Green Thumb.32 While Around the Seasons contributed
greatly to Denver Botanic Gardens, their intent was not
to be a garden club, but a study group. They limited
membership to thirty so that they could easily take field
trips and attend lectures.33
Out of Around the Seasons grew the Associates. The
founders of the Associates, prompted by the need for ad-
ditional help at the annual plant sale, combined volun-
teers from Around the Seasons and other organizations
into one all-purpose volunteer group.34 Founded in 1964,
the Associates provided physical and financial assistance
for the Gardens. They groomed the rose gardens at both
City Park and York Street, helped with the annual plant
sale, and did general chores around Denver Botanic Gar-
30Petersen, "Jubilee History," 58.
32Green Thumb 24(January/February 1967), 7-9.
34Ibid. See also Avalonne Kosanke, interview with
author, Denver, CO, 1 April 1994.
dens House.35 They hold the annual Christmas sale, as
well as decorate the Christmas tree in the house.36 After
the conservatory opened, the Associates provided guides,
having almost forty by 1967.37
Perhaps the Associates' greatest contribution to
Denver Botanic Gardens is the gift shop. Begun in 1964
as a pie case in the lobby of the house, it began selling
post cards and handmade items, furnished by the newly
created Arts and Crafts workshop. All the proceeds went
to the Botanic Gardens.38 The Associates chose a gift to
give to the Gardens, often in cooperation with the direc-
tor. These gifts varied from tractors and eguipment to
larger structures, depending on the Gardens' need. For
example, in 1972 the Associates pledged to build a second
greenhouse, a gift valued at over $100,000.39 The gift
shop continued to grow, moving from the house to a small
space in the lobby of the conservatory, and then to its
35Minutes, Book 2, July 20, 1964, 111; see also The
Rocky Mountain News, October 3, 1964, 32.
36Petersen, "Jubilee History," 61.
37Green Thumb 24(January/February 1967), 4-6. See
also Minutes, Book 3, November 21, 1966, 29.
38Kosanke interview. See also Minutes, Book 2, No-
vember 16, 1964, 117.
39Minutes, Book 4, November 28, 1972, 41.
present location, planned originally as a tea room.40 By
1980, the gift shop had donated over $1 million to the
Gardens, over and above furnishing the gift shop.41 Al-
though in recent years the Associates have lost control
over how their donations are spent, the gift shop contin-
ues to be one of the major sources of income generated by
the volunteers.42 Truly, "a gift from the gardens is a
gift to the gardens."43
Another volunteer organization supporting Denver
Botanic Gardens is the Guild. Begun in 1960 as Denver
Botanic Gardens Junior Committee, the Guild's main inter-
est has always been herbs.44 They maintain the Herb Gar-
den, have an herb booth at the plant sale, and make
herbed vinegar for sale in the gift shop.45 In more re-
cent years, they have also begun collecting dried plant
material for arrangements.46 Unlike Around the Seasons,
42Ibid. See also Gambill interview.
43Petersen, "Jubilee History," 65.
4SGreen Thumb 10 (January/February 1968), 23.
and later the Associates, the Guild works on specific
projects for Denver Botanic Gardens, not general contri-
All the volunteers pitch in for the Botanic Gardens'
biggest event, the annual plant sale. The sale started
in 1949 as the Plant Auction. It was held at the Greek
Theater in Civic Center, and local nurserymen and CF&HA
members donated the plants to be sold.48 "We went big
time in 1964," recalls long time volunteer Pete
Petersen.49 That year plants were developed and grown
specifically for the sale.50 It was held in the parking
lot and lobby of Botanic Gardens House, with volunteers
making change out of cigar boxes.51 Today, the plant sale
extends throughout the Gardens, with buses shuttling cus-
tomers from off-location parking sites.
47Ibid. See also Petersen interview.
48Petersen, "Jubilee History," 60.
S0Fran Morrison, "Twentieth Anniversary ReviewThe
Associates of Denver Botanic Gardens," in Green Thumb
41(Winter 1984), 98.
51Petersen interview. See also Capron interview;
Gambill interview; Kosanke interview; Dr. Helen Zeiner,
interview with author, Denver, CO, 3 March 1994.
With a fenced location, a headquarters, and the sup-
port of volunteer organizations, Denver Botanic Gardens
sought to fulfill the dream begun by S.R. DeBoer at City
Park: build a conservatory. Dr. Hildreth was one of the
greatest proponents of the conservatory, claiming it was
essential in order to hold classes on botany and horti-
culture. Because of Denver's short growing season and
extreme temperatures, only native plants and a limited
number of non-native, ornamental plants would grow out-
doors year-round. In an unwitting commentary on Denver's
natural landscape, Hildreth commented, "This means that
about two-thirds of the time our gardens are drab and
Plans for a conservatory were mentioned in the board
of trustees minutes as early as 1959, although sketches
were not presented to the board until November of 1961.
Denver architects Victor Hornbein and Edward D. White,
Jr., drew the plans.52 53 "The board didn't have any money
then, but they had a lot of hope," recalls Hornbein.54
52A.C. Hildreth, "Why Denver Botanic Gardens Need A
Conservatory," in Green Thumb, 18(January/February 1961),
53Mnutes, Book 2, November 20, 1961, 64.
Six months later, board President Lawrence Long, a lawyer
living on the south edge of the Gardens, announced that
the Boettcher Foundation, a Denver philanthropic organi-
zation, had pledged $10,000 to develop detailed plans for
a conservatory.55 In 1963, the Boettcher Foundation
agreed to donate $600,000 for its construction. Claude
Boettcher had proposed the gift twice before to the city,
but neither offer was accepted during his lifetime.56 The
current donation was conditional on the city's agreement
to maintain it, the board's agreement to raise money for
an adjacent horticultural auditorium,57 and the dedication
of the building to Claude K. and Edna C. Boettcher.58 The
design by Hornbein and White was approved, calling for
10,000 square feet of floor space.59
By December of 1963, costs on the conservatory had
risen to $944,000.60 The foundation struggled to cover
the difference until the Boettcher Foundation agreed to
55Minutes, Book 2, March 19, 1962, 71-72.
56Petersen, "Jubilee History," 59.
57Minutes, Book 2, January 21, 1963, 88.
58Green Thumb 20 (March 1963), 44-45.
give the remaining $344,000, but wanted to add sixteen
feet in length to make it a proper memorial to Claude and
Edna Boettcher.61 Plans for the adjacent education build-
ing were put on hold.
The Boettcher Conservatory is the only enclosed con-
servatory between Saint Louis and the West Coast.62 The
board had originally discussed a conservatory out of alu-
minum, like Shaw Gardens in Saint Louis, but turned to
concrete in a bid to get funding from the Boettcher Foun-
dation, since Charles Boettcher founded the Ideal Cement
Company.63 As a building material, concrete had its ad-
vantages. For one thing, concrete would not rust the way
metal structures might.64 According to Victor Hornbein,
the use of concrete in the United States is not as cre-
ative as it is in countries where other materials are
more expensive and labor is cheaper. Because of that,
Boettcher Conservatory is the only conservatory in Ameri-
ca made out of cast-in-place concrete.65
62Denver Post, January 7, 1963,
The building is one hundred sixty feet long, seven-
ty-two feet wide, and fifty-one feet high, with just over
11,500 square feet of floor space. Its weight is sup-
ported by one hundred and sixteen caissons dug twenty-
five feet into the ground.66 Construction of the conser-
vatory was well underway before the architects decided
what would go between the concrete.67 They chose clear
plexiglass pyramids.68 Not only was the plexiglass strong
enough to withstand the pressure of the concrete, it also
was formed at such an angle that condensation would not
cling to it. "The board told us if any condensation
dripped, it was our necks," according to Hornbein.69
The Boettcher Conservatory was dedicated January 16,
1966. Governor John A. Love, Mayor Thomas G. Currigan,
members of the Boettcher Foundation, Denver Botanic Gar-
dens board of trustees, and Denver City Council all at-
66Green Thumb, Special Conservatory Issue, 1966, 60.
See also Post, January 9, 1966, 20-21.
68Victor Hornbein and Ed White, "The Boettcher Con-
servatory: A Report from the Architects," Green Thumb
21(November/December 1964), 273-278.
No longer was the herbaceous unit
tended the ceremony.70
on York Street restricted to the whims of Mother Nature.
The new slogan of the Gardens became "From Tropics to
10Green Thumb 23 (March/April 1966), 46. See also
Post, January 7, 1966, 78.
BLOSSOMING: THE ECKBO PLAN
With the building of the Boettcher Conservatory,
Denver Botanic Gardens could explore horticultural oppor-
tunities previously impossible. Their next challenge was
raising the money for an educational facility.
Prior to the completion of the conservatory, the
Boettcher Foundation agreed to donate an additional
$56,000 which, added to their $944,000 for the conserva-
tory, made their contribution an even one million dol-
lars. This was conditional on the board of trustees
raising $600,000 for the educational facility by the end
of 1966.1 The Gardens had trouble raising the money, and
by the beginning of 1967 hired a Chicago fundraising
firm, Ketchem and Company.2 Local business men urged the
public to support the building of the education center.
Melvin J. Roberts, president of Colorado National Bank,
touted the "intangible benefits" to Denver of making it
Minutes of the Denver Botanic Gardens Board of
Trustees, Book 3, December 3, 1965, 13.
2Ibid., Book 3, January 16, 1967, 32.
"a more attractive place to live."3 Clarence Hockom,
executive director of the Denver Convention and Visitor's
Bureau, called it "another great tourist attraction for
the city of Denver and the state of Colorado."4 Despite
the call for public support, the Botanic Gardens raised
only $275,000 of their $600,000 goal.5 In March of 1969,
the Boettcher Foundation came to the rescue with another
$500,000 so that construction could begin. Denver Botan-
ic Gardens broke ground on the project that July.6
The Boettcher Memorial Center was dedicated a little
less than two years later, on March 6, 1971. Mayor Wil-
liam H. McNichols, Jr., called it "another jewel in
Denver's crown."7 The final price tag on the building was
$850,000. Designed by Hornbein and White at the same
time as the conservatory, this building had a four thou-
sand square foot lecture hall, a plant preparation room,
three classrooms/meeting rooms, and space for the library
3Melvin J. Roberts in The Denver Post, October 13,
Clarence Hockom in Denver Post, October 17, 1965,
sMinutes, Book 3, January 16, 1967, 32.
6Ibid., Book 3, March 24, 1969, 71.
7Denver Post, March 7, 1971, 3.
and herbarium.8 The lecture hall, originally called "Hor-
ticulture Hall," was later named "John C. Mitchell II
Hall," after the president of the board of trustees.
Mitchell was also affiliated with the Boettcher Founda-
tion, and was instrumental in getting its support.9
The Boettcher Memorial Center became the "education-
al hub of the Garden."10 Long in need of more space, the
library and the herbarium moved out of Botanic Gardens
House and into their new homes in the education building.
The Helen Fowler library moved into the northeast corner
of the first floor. Helen Fowler began the library with
her personal collection of five hundred books. She also
gave her time to solicit $3000 worth of donations for
more books. By 1951, the library had over twenty-three
hundred books and continued to grow.11 After years in
Dr. William G. Gambill, "Introducing the Education
Building," The Green Thumb 28(Winter 1971), 2.
9Richard Kirk, interview with author, Denver, CO, 13
10Bernice "Pete" Petersen, "Denver: Tropics to Tun-
dra," in American Horticulturist, April 1981, 13.
Bernice "Pete" Petersen, "A Jubilee History of Den-
ver Botanic Gardens," in Cemetery to Conservatory: A
History of the Land Around Denver Botanic Gardens, 1859-
1978 (Denver: Denver Botanic Gardens, 1980), 64.
the main parlor of the house, the new location gave the
library room for expansion.12
The Kathryn Kalmbach Herbarium, again named for the
founder, moved directly above the library. Begun in the
1940s, the herbarium, which is a classified collection of
dried and pressed plants, was originally at Horticulture
House at Thirteenth and Bannock.13 It moved into Botanic
Gardens House in 1959, and occupied an upstairs bedroom.
Space was so tight that specimens were kept in the linen
closet.14 With the opening of the education center, it
also could expand.
The director overseeing the move to the education
building was Dr. William Gambill. Dr. Hildreth retired
in 1966, and Dr. Louis B. Martin took over.15 Dr. Martin
directed Denver Botanic Gardens through most of the con-
struction of the education building, but in 1969 he took
a job at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and was temporari-
12Green Thumb 4(January/February 1947), 24.
13Ibid. 17 (Fall 1960), 314.
14Dr. Helen Zeiner, interview with author, Denver,
CO, 3 March 1994. See also The Rocky Mountain News,
"Dedication of Boettcher Hall," March 9, 1971, 35.
15Minutes, Book 3, November 21, 1966, 30. See also
Rocky Mountain News, September 4, 1966, 53. See Appendix
B for a complete list of directors.
ly replaced by Assistant Director Andrew Knauer.16 In
July of 1970 Dr. Gambill, former chair of the botany de-
partment at the University of Ohio, was chosen by the
board and hired by the Department of Parks and Recreation
as the new director.17
Denver Botanic Gardens expanded during the 1970s,
acquiring land adjacent to their location for future
growth. In 1968 the board approved $53,000 to purchase
two houses on the corner of Eleventh and Gaylord Street
that had come onto the market.18 In 1970, Dr. Gambill ap-
proached homeowners on York and Josephine Streets, north
of Tenth, about possibly selling their homes to the Gar-
dens. One by one Denver Botanic Gardens acquired all the
land from just north of Ninth to Eleventh between York
and Josephine, making it possible for them to expand the
parking lot and the Children's Gardens.19 The Gardens did
not tear down the houses immediately. They used them as
rentals, and then consulted with the Colorado Historical
16Minutes, Book 3, July 22, 1969, 78; September 23,
17Ibid. Book 3, July 28, 1970, 95.
18Ibid., Book 3, September 28, 1967, 41.
19Dr. William Gambill, interview with author, Boul-
der, CO, 11 March 1994. See also Minutes, Book 4, Sep-
tember 23, 1975, 91; March 23, 1976, 98.
Society, the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission, and
Historic Denver, Inc., before demolishing them.20
Denver Botanic Gardens also expanded to the north.
They purchased a small apartment building called La Jolla
at approximately Tenth and Gaylord. Originally the six
apartments were to be offices and classrooms. That never
happened, however, and it remains a rental.21
The Botanic Gardens also received two bequests that
expanded their size. In 1977 Pauline "Polly" Roberts
Steele left a parcel of land in Jefferson County to the
Gardens, along with a cash donation. Denver Botanic Gar-
dens still own this land, and have pledged to use the
proceeds from its sale for improvements at the satellite
location, Chat field Arboretum.22
Closer to home, Denver Botanic Gardens also received
the Krohn House. David H. Krohn, born in 1885 in Kansas
City, Missouri, was the son of a Jewish immigrant. He
came to Denver as a young man and was a successful insur-
ance broker. He served on the boards of Rose Hospital
and the American Medical Center, formerly JCRS. In 1936
^Minutes, Book 5, July, 1978, 20-24.
2ZMinutes, Book 5, May 24, 1977, 5.
the Krohns built their home at 790 Gaylord, a little more
than a block south of Denver Botanic Gardens. The unusu-
al Spanish-style home had stucco walls, a tiled roof and
an entrance court with a fountain. Before her death in
1973, Mrs. Krohn requested that the home be left to the
Botanic Gardens.23 When Mr. Krohn died in 1976, his will
fulfilled her wish, leaving the Gardens the home and many
of the furnishings. A "house sitter," either the direc-
tor or other personnel, had to live in the house for
eight years, or the title would revert back to the es-
tate.24 Dr. Gambill was the first director to live there.
By the late 1980s, the eight-year period had expired, and
the home was sold. The funds went to build an office
building north of the conservatory, named the Krohn
In 1977, Denver Botanic Gardens received a gift of
five thousand bromeliads. This gave them the largest
collection of bromeliads in the country.26 The foundation
once again commissioned Victor Hornbein, this time work-
23Green Thumb 33 (Winter 1976), 119-120.
2AMinutes, Book 4, November 23, 1976, 99.
^Zeiner interview. See also Minutes, loose leaf
files, January 26, 1993.
26Minutes, Book 5, July 29, 1977, 8.
ing without Edward White, to design an area in which to
display them, along with orchids.27 The orchid and
bromeliad house was built onto the west end of the
Boettcher Conservatory. Designed to be a display hall
and not a greenhouse, the original plan called for a con-
crete dome with glass skylights to complement the conser-
vatory. Opposition on the board, however, demanded a
glass dome on the building. That design was followed,
and now the pavilion must be shaded most of the year.28
Nonetheless, it opened in June of 1981,29 and was named as
a memorial to board member Margaret E. "Mamie" Honnen.30
Mamie's Pavilion cost $450,000, all of which came from
Although the board's original master plan had served
them well, the foundation decided in 1968 to hire a pro-
fessional landscape architect to develop a master plan.
They raised $850,000 and hired the famous landscape ar-
^Victor Hornbein, interview with author, Denver, CO,
5 April 1995.
29Green Thumb 38 (Autumn 1981), 66.
30Dr. Moras L. Shubert, interview with author, Den-
ver, CO, 24 January 1994.
31Denver Post Roundup, February 3, 1980, 21.
chitect Garrett Eckbo.32 Victor Hornbein recommended
Eckbo,33 whose San Francisco-based firm, Eckbo, Dean, Aus-
tin and Williams, designed the water gardens at the Uni-
versity of Denver.34 Eckbo presented his plan to the
board early in 1969. He left the plan flexible so that
it could be implemented as money would allow, and changes
could be made to it later.35
When Dr. Gambill arrived as director in 1970, he
recalls that except for the Gates Garden at the far west
end, and the Herb and Model Gardens to the south, Denver
Botanic Gardens was just bare earth.36 The first step in
implementing the Eckbo plan was the irrigation system.
The Gardens were previously watered with hoses and hy-
drants. Now crews installed a sprinkler system.37 Wor-
ried about water rationing from the city, the Gardens
also installed a well. Crews dug 900 feet down to tap
32Dr. Louis Martin in Minutes, Book 3, January 30,
3iRocky Mountain News, October 16, 1969, 43.
3SMinutes, Book 3, February 20, 1969.
the Ogallala aquifer, which runs under the city.38
While implementing these water projects, workers found
some haunting remnants of the land's past. They un-
earthed pieces of casket, bones and even a skull. When
the workers asked Dr. Gambill what to do with the bones,
he put them in a paper bag in the back of his file cabi-
net until he could make a decision. "One day I heard
this God-awful shriek out of the secretary in my office,"
Gambill recalls. "She'd opened up the drawer of the file
cabinet and found this bag of bones in there...She said,
'You have to decide whether you keep that bag of bones or
you keep me. One of us has to go.'" Gambill waited un-
til the crews dug an especially deep ditch and then prop-
erly reburied the bones.39
With the irrigation system was in place, Denver Bo-
tanic Gardens began executing the Eckbo Plan. Perhaps
the biggest undertaking in the plan was the Japanese Gar-
den. As early as 1960, the Japanese community had urged
the Botanic Gardens to put in a Japanese garden, pledging
community support.40 In 1972 the Ikebana Club gave the
i0Minutes, Book 2, May 16, 1960, 26.
Gardens fifteen hundred dollars toward a Japanese Gar-
den.41 Eckbo designed it into the master plan.42 After
hearing him speak, Dr. Gambill hired Los Angeles based
landscape architect Koichi Kawana to design the garden.
Kawana had previously designed the Japanese gardens in
Chicago and Saint Louis.43 Throughout January of 1978,
Kawana traveled to Denver to maintain support from the
Japanese community in Denver.44
Koichi Kawana was involved in every step of the Jap-
anese Garden's execution. He personally went to a quarry
outside of Golden, chose every rock for the garden, and
oversaw the placement of over three hundred tons of that
rock.45 He also scoured the area for appropriate plant
material. Although called a Japanese garden, no plant
growing in Japan grows in this garden. Instead, Koichi
Kawana had to find substitutes that would tolerate
Denver's soil and climate. He chose these substitutes
41Ibid., Book 4, May 23, 1972, 33.
42H.R. Schaal, telephone interview with author, 2
43Gambill interview. See also Kirk interview.
^Minutes, Book 5, January, 1978, 15-17.
45Minutes, Book 5, September 26, 1978, 24. See also
based on their size, leaves and overall appearance. Here
the Japanese community greatly contributed by retrieving
evergreens from the mountains and transporting them to
Denver Botanic Gardens.46
The crowning addition to the Japanese garden was the
Tea House. Koichi Kawana had it designed and built in
Japan for authenticity. It was then disassembled, la-
belled, and shipped to Denver, along with twelve Japanese
workers to reassemble it. With the Tea House came bridg-
es, fences, and gates.47 The copper and stone lanterns
were donated by the city of Takayama, Japan, Denver's
Shofu-En, the Garden of Pine Wind, and the Tea House
were dedicated in June of 1979. The garden was not quite
finished, but the dedication was rushed to coincide with
the end of the three-month "Japan Today" festival.49 Con-
sequently, much of the ground was still bare earth.50
Numerous dignitaries attended the dedication, including
47Ibid. See also Petersen, "Tropics to Tundra," 6.
'Petersen, "Tropics to Tundra," 6.
49Green Thumb 36(Autumn 1979), 76.
S0Gambill interview. See also Minutes, Book 5, May
22, 1979, 36.
Reverend Fuinio Matsui, a Shinto priest from the Konko
Church in San Francisco, who performed the ceremony.51
Among the other guests were the mayors of Takayama, Ja-
pan, and Denver.52 Denver might be an arid climate, but
the day of the dedication rain poured from the sky. Be-
cause so much of the garden was unfinished, mud was ram-
pant. Boards were put out as makeshift paths to keep the
Buddhist monks in attendance from getting their robes too
Although not in the Eckbo plan, one of the most
stunning gardens is the Rock-Alpine Garden. It sits on a
piece of land previously used for waste materials. While
some of the board members felt it was unnecessary to have
an alpine garden with the Rocky Mountains so nearby, many
more felt that it was the part of Denver Botanic Gardens'
mission to study alpine flora.54 Denver's location made
it uniquely suited to be an alpine study center. A grant
from the Gates Foundation made it possible for the Botan-
ic Gardens to begin design and construction of the Rock
51Green Thumb 36 (Autumn 1979), 76. See also Gambill
52Petersen "Tropics to Tundra," 6.
53Kirk interview. See also Gambill interview.
Alpine Garden in 1978.5S Landscape architect Herb Schaal
with EDAW, Garrett Eckbo's firm, designed the garden,
which received the Award of Merit from both the Colorado
chapter and the national organization of the American
Society of Landscape Architects.56
The Rock Alpine Garden boasts a wider variety of
species than any other in North America, including speci-
mens from the Himalayas and Japan, as well as native
plants.57 Schaal designed varied levels, including a
stream that originates from seeps in the highest part of
the garden and trickles down the rock faces into a deep
grotto.58 Five different types and over five hundred tons
of rock were brought in for the garden.59 The Rock Alpine
Garden has over twenty-five hundred varieties of alpine
plants, about five hundred of which are native to Colora-
do.60 To house plants that would not withstand Denver's
ssMinutes, Book 5, January 24, 1978.
56Schaal interview. See also Minutes, Book 6, May
24, 1983, 44.
slMinutes, Book 6, January 27, 1981, 2. See also
Petersen, "Tropics to Tundra," 6.
58Green Thumb 36 (Spring 1979), 15.
59John Thorndike, "Mile-High Masterpiece," in Horti-
culture, October 1985, 42.
radical temperatures, Schaal planned an Alpine House ad-
jacent to a small pump house.61 Designed by architect
Kelly Oliver of Oliver and Hellgren, the climate con-
trolled, solar powered structure houses plants which re-
quire cooler conditions than can be met outdoors.62
Adjacent to the Rock Alpine Garden is the Laura
Smith Porter Plains Garden. The money for this garden
was donated by Ruth Porter Waring, and she named it after
her mother.63 Designed by Denver landscape architect Jane
Silverstein Ries,64 this garden recreates a prairie envi-
ronment that is quickly disappearing to agriculture,
ranching and urbanization.65 Not all prairies are created
equally, and this garden replicates fifteen different
plant groupings defined by climates.66
The backdrop to this garden is a pseudo-adobe brick
wall bearing the "Covered Wagon Frieze." The frieze was
61Gambill interview. See also Schaal interview.
62Green Thumb 36(Spring 1979), 13.
63Minutes, Book 4, January 27, 1976, 97-98.
64Ibid. Book 6, September 22, 1981, 13.
65Richard Brune, "Re-creating the Prairies: The
Laura Smith Porter Plains Garden at Denver Botanic Gar-
dens," in Green Thumb 44(Spring/Summer 1987), 1-12.
66Ibid. See also Gambill interview.
sculpted in 1920 by Denver sculptor Robert Garrison, who
also sculpted the bronze lions on the state building at
Sherman and Colfax, as well as the bronze seals and chil-
dren at the Voorhies Memorial in Civic Center.67 The Cov-
ered Wagon Frieze originally graced the Midland Savings
building on Seventeenth Street before coming to the Gar-
dens.68 The eleven-and-a-half inch plaques are actually
concrete, formed to represent adobe bricks. In their
original location, the tiles were often forgotten since
they were twenty-feet off the ground. They tell the sto-
ry of a Missouri farmer coming to Denver during the gold
rush. When the Midland Building was remodeled in 1964,
the plaques were removed and given to Denver Botanic Gar-
dens. Some were too badly damaged to be remounted at the
Botanic Gardens, so they are out of their original or-
der.69 Since Laura Smith Porter was a pioneer, the frieze
was a fitting addition to her garden.
67Julia Andrew-Jones, "The Covered Wagon FriezeA
Robert Garrison Creation," in Green Thumb 40(Summer
680lga Curtis, "The Forgotten Frieze," in Denver Post
Empire Magazine, November 23, 1975, 56. See also
Next to the Plains Garden lies the Xeriscape Garden.
The idea of xeriscape, promoted by the Denver Water De-
partment, addressed the need to change landscape design
to fit the climate.70 Dedicated in 1987, this garden was
designed by Gayle Weinstein, the collections curator of
Denver Botanic Gardens.71 Its goal is to show different
types of dryland plants and settings, from chaparral to
Near the east side of Denver Botanic Gardens is the
Scripture Garden, also designed by Jane Silverstein
Ries.73 A gift from Holly Coors and the Coors Foundation,
this garden highlights plants from religious writings,
displayed in an architectural setting reminiscent of the
Holy Land.74 The centerpiece is a bronze medallion which
incorporates symbols of the Jewish and Christian faiths.
70Gayle Weinstein in Green Thumb 45 (Spring/Summer
71Minutes, Book 6, January 1, 1984, 55; July 28,
13Minutes, Book 5, January 23, 1979, 31.
74Green Thumb 38(Autumn 1981), 71.
Also in the garden is a Prayer Stone, typical of gardens
throughout the world.75
The Home Demonstration Garden may be the most prac-
tical garden at York Street. This gift from the Garden
Club of Denver strove to exhibit native and introduced
plants that required low maintenance and water usage.
The goal, according to Garden Club president Bea Taplin,
was to have "practicality and a gracious and charming
Across York Street from the main entrance, on what
used to be the Children's Garden, is the Morrison Center
and Community Gardens. In the late 1970s, Denver Botanic
Gardens expanded the concept of the Children's Garden to
the whole community. Adjacent to the Community Garden is
the Morrison Center, made possible by a donation from
George R. and Pauline A. Morrison.77 The Morrison Center
is the first horticultural therapy center in the United
States.78 Instigated by Merle Moore, who succeeded Dr.
Gambill as director, the Morrison Center helps mentally,
75Petersen, "Tropics to Tundra," 5.
76Bea Taplin quoted in Green Thumb 38 (Autumn 1981),
77Minutes, Book 6, May 28, 1985.
78Green Thumb 43(Spring 1986), 2-5.
physically and emotionally disabled patrons by teaching
them to till the soil.79 This garden, also designed by
Herb Schaal of EDAW, won the Presidents Award from the
Colorado Chapter of the American Society of Landscape
Architects in 1985.80
The 1970s were a decade of phenomenal expansion at
Denver Botanic Gardens. To cap it off, they expanded out
of Denver altogether. With the acquisition of Chatfield
Arboretum in Jefferson County, they began their first
19Denver Post Contemporary Magazine, September 9,
TENDRILS: CHATFIELD ARBORETUM
As Denver Botanic Gardens reached its capacity at
York Street, the board of trustees realized that eighteen
acres was too small to experiment, especially with trees.
The mission statement of Denver Botanic Gardens provided
for botanic gardens and arboreta in the Denver area. The
York Street site, however, was too small for an arbore-
tum. The foundation began looking for satellite loca-
tions. They looked initially at 100 square miles at the
old Lowry bombing range. It already had cottonwood
groves along Sand Creek, and seemed to be an excellent
location. Indecision among members of the board of
trustees, however, kept the project from happening.1 In
1968, board member Con Tolman, who was also a member of
the Fish and Wildlife Service, heard that the Army Corps
^ayne Christian, interview with author, Denver, CO,
6 April 1994.
of Engineers was establishing a park in Jefferson County.2
He suggested that the board investigate.
The Corps of Engineers was establishing more than a
park. The United States Congress appropriated funding in
1950 for a flood control project along the South Platte
River. The government did nothing, however, until the
river's disastrous 1965 flood. Eight inches of rain fell
in twenty-four hours, causing water from Plum Creek to
roll into the South Platte, flooding Denver, killing
twenty-one people and causing $108 million of damage.3
Within a few years the Omaha district Army Corps of Engi-
neers filed condemnation proceedings on all land in the
floodplain of tributaries into the South Platte River
south of Denver. The area was finally condemned in June
of 1971, and the land was taken to provide proper flood
control. The result was Chatfield Dam.4
Part of the land taken to build the dam belonged to
the Hildebrand family. Frank and Elizabeth Hildebrand
2Dr. Moras L. Shubert, interview with author, Denver,
CO, 24 January 1994.
3The Rocky Mountain News, June 19, 1965, 1. See also
The Denver Post, June 20, 1965, 85-88; The Green Thumb
30(Summer 1973), 34.
4National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomi-
nation Form, prepared by William R. Barnhart, entered May
were German immigrants who came to Colorado with the
first wave of settlers in 1859. They settled north of
Denver, near present day Henderson, Colorado. After be-
ing flooded out in 1864, the Hildebrands moved to a one-
hundred-sixty acre homestead on Deer Creek. Whether the
Hildebrands were the first on the land was a matter of
dispute. Some old-timers said they homesteaded it, other
said they got a quit-claim deed from a half-breed Indian.
Regardless, a record of warranty deed in 1866 showed
Frank Hildebrand as the owner.5 Unlike many early home-
steaders, the Hildebrands were able to stay and prosper.
Hildebrand first ran cattle on the land, and later culti-
vated dry-land crops, including oats, barley and corn.
The family built an irrigation ditch to accommodate the
crops, and raised chicken and geese. Eventually the fam-
ily bought land around them, acquiring over two thousand
When the Corps of Engineers condemned the land,
Frank Hildebrand's daughter-in-law still lived there.
Mrs. Margaret Hildebrand still owns nine hundred acres,
but all the buildings on the property were on the parcel
taken by the government. The main house, which consists
of Frank Hildebrand's original 1866 log cabin with numer-
ous improvements and additions, most of them dating to
the 1880s, still stands. There is also an attached one-
room bunkhouse, outhouses, sheds, barns and a semi-modern
garage.7 Although Mrs. Hildebrand lived on the property
until 1971, she was never flooded out. The closest the
water ever came was the yard.8 The Hildebrand Ranch is on
the National Register of Historic Places because of the
integrity of its structures and its significance as an
attempt at cattle ranching before the "beef bonanza" of
the 1880s.9 The main house and out buildings are now part
of Denver Botanic Gardens' Chatfield Arboretum.
Also included in the parcel condemned by the Corps
of Engineers was the Green farm. This land along Deer
Creek was originally homesteaded by a man named Bertlott.
He established a small reservoir south of the property,
fed by a natural spring. Because this land is not on the
National Register, little else was known about it until
prohibition, when the land was owned by Perry Yeast Com-
9National Register Form.
pany. Federal agents foreclosed on the property, putting
Perry out of business for bootlegging. Mr. and Mrs. Ed-
ward A. Green bought the land from the Reconstruction
Finance Corporation in the 1930s. They called their five
hundred and sixty acres Green Acresi In addition to cul-
tivating corn, oats, barley, alfalfa, plums, cherries and
apples, the Greens also raised beef, dairy cattle and
Of the five hundred and sixty acres, the Corps of
Engineers took two hundred and ten for the Chatfield Dam.
The Greens retained the rest, including the small reser-
voir Bertlott built, now called Fairview reservoir.11 On
the parcel taken for Chatfield was the Deer Creek School
house. Built in 1886, it served as the school for farm
children in the Waterton Canyon area until after World
War II, when the area became part of the Jefferson County
School system. Edward Green, who had been president of
the Deer Creek school board before it was absorbed by
Jeffco, bought the abandoned schoolhouse and made it into
10Green Thumb 30 (Summer 1973), 37-38.
12Ibid. See also Green Thumb 38(Winter 1981), 98-99.
In acquiring the land for the dam project, the Corps
of Engineers got approximately seven hundred acres more
than they needed, since the government bought whole par-
cels rather than just the land in the floodplain.13 In
1968, Wayne Christian, chairman of the Botanic Gardens'
Land Acquisition Committee, entered preliminary discus-
sions with the Corps about leasing three hundred acres of
land.14 By statute, the Corps could only lease the land
to a governmental agency. Because of that, the agreement
had to be with the City and County of Denver. The city
did not want to incur another project it had to fund, so
Denver Botanic Gardens agreed that no city funds would go
to the Chatfield project.15 On July 1, 1973, Mayor Wil-
liam H. McNichols, Jr., signed a twenty-five year lease
with the Secretary of the Army, acquiring seven hundred
and fifty acres to be developed and maintained by Denver
Botanic Gardens through the Department of Parks and Rec-
reation.16 The acreage included a three hundred and fifty
uMinutes of the Denver Botanic Gardens Board of
Trustees, Book 3, November 18, 1968, 57.
15Christian interview. See also Minutes, Book 5,
January 23, 1979, 32.
16Green Thumb 30 (Summer 1973), 34.
acre site along Deer Creek with approximately four hun-
dred additional acres spread out sporadically along Colo-
rado Highway 73, now C-470.17
The stated purpose of the Chatfield Arboretum is:
to be...developed as a permanent collection
basically of trees and shrubs gathered with the
broad purpose of providing information and
pleasure to the public...[and] as a reminder
that long range environmental changes have oc-
curred and continue to do sofrom the develop-
ment of virgin prairie to productive farm land
through and beyond twentieth century urbaniza-
The agreement with the Corps of Engineers directed
Denver Botanic Gardens to maintain as much natural vege-
tation as possible, including cottonwoods and native
grasses.19 Preliminary plans to that effect were drawn up
by the Denver firm of Rogers, Nagel and Langhart Archi-
tects and submitted to the Corps of Engineers for approv-
al.20 Things proceeded slowly at Chatfield, however, and
a final master plan was not approved until 1977. This
plan came from Harman, O'Donnell and Henninger and Asso-
17Green Thumb 33 (Winter 1976), 127. See also Chris-
lsMinutes, Book 4, June 29, 1976, 104.
19Green Thumb 30 (Summer 1973), 43.
20Minutes, Book 4, July 4, 1973, 58.
dates of Denver.21 The goals of this master plan were to
stay away from formalized landscape design, to keep main-
tenance and irrigation costs to a minimum, and to main-
tain a natural feel. The strategy called for primarily
woody species, with a lot of open space for contrast.22
Denver Botanic Gardens realized that the cultivation
and care of trees for the arboretum was a long-term com-
mitment.23 The master plan called for seventeen growing
seasons of planting.24 Planting began almost immediately,
but the heavy planting came ten years later, in 1987.
From 1981 until 1987, Charlie Paxton, whose title was
"Grounds Superintendent," oversaw the early planting.25
When he left, Wayne Christian, a long-time board member
and chairman of the committee which instigated the arbo-
retum, was hired as the director of Chatfield for a sala-
ry of one dollar per year. He worked for that salary for
21Ibid. Book 5, May 24, 1977. 5.
22Green Thumb 36(Spring 1979), 10.
Green Thumb 40(Winter 1983), 230.
25Minutes, Book 6, July 28, 1981, 12. See also