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Cherry Creek has been everything from a truck-farming suburb to a garbage dump to a chic shopping area. Often, it is seen as a world in and of itself, distinct from greater Capitol Hill. Nonetheless, the Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods has claimed it for its own while Cherry Creek’s history blends in with the rest of Capitol Hill.
Unlike the other regions of Capitol Hill that were always part of the city, Cherry Creek was a separate community, the town of Harman. Its namesake, Edwin Preston Harman, was born to a slaveholder’s family on November 27, 1834, in South Carolina. After growing up in Mississippi, graduating from college in 1858, and serving as a Confederate officer in the Civil War, Harman was appointed a Mississippi judge. Unhappy with Reconstruction, he headed west. Harman visited the Denver area in the late 1860s when he spied the 320 acres between First and Sixth avenues from University Boulevard to Colorado Boulevard. Shortly after settling in the Mile High City, he staked claim to the land in 1871. Harman practiced law and was a stalwart Democrat. Simultaneously, he sought to settle freed slaves on his Cherry Creek land, turning it into something of his western plantation.
Harman’s dream never came to fruition. By the early 1880s, a few residents, mostly truck and dairy farmers, were calling the Harman land home. While Harman lived near Millionaires’ Row at 1935 Sherman Street, he served as attorney for his area. An effort to get the land annexed to Denver in 1882 failed. The town was platted in 1885 when it was feeling the pressures of growth. To provide the community with basic public services, decent roads, streetlights, and other amenities, the land was incorporated as the town of Harman on November 17, 1886.
One stated reason for this action was “protection against tramps, bums, bummers, and the liquor traffic.” This concern reflected a fact of life for Harman: it was off the Smoky Hill Trail near the banks of Cherry Creek where roadhouses were common. Around Cherry Creek and South Steele Street was an area called the Grove, land filled with cottonwoods that was a favorite rural picnicking spot. In addition to serving as the location for religious revivals and gypsy encampments, it was also a hangout for the homeless.
Harman residents objected that the Grove was filled with “undesirables.” Only by incorporating as a town, improvers were sure, could they chase them out of the Hill bars. Similarly, incorporation would allow Harman to control the Smoky Hill bars.
Work was underway in the late 1880s to install curbs, gutters, and sidewalks north of Second Avenue. (First Avenue did not cut through east of Steele Street until the 20th century.) A Harman School near the southwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Columbine Street had been serving the community since the earliest days. Its building was home of the area’s first church, today the Sixth Avenue Community Church at the southwest corner of Sixth A venue and Adams Street, which was founded in 1887. The congregation moved to 440 Cook Street in 1891. Initially known as the Union Congregational Church, it was relabeled the Fourth Avenue Congregational Church before moving to its current home in 1925. In the meanwhile, Harman School was also used as city hall before a separate facility was established at the northeast corner of Fourth A venue and St. Paul Street in 1891. The town subsidized a streetcar link with Denver the next year.
Before Harman could come into its own, the crash of 1893 hit, effectively bankrupting the town. Edwin Harman, who died in 1909, was out of the picture by this time. Residents voted down annexation to Denver by three votes in July 1894. On reconsideration, they saw they had no choice but to become part of the wicked city since Denver would take over the suburb’s debts. After voters had approved the move by a four-vote margin in September 1894, Harman became part of the Mile High City the next year.
Harman School was incorporated into District One of the Denver Public Schools – in 1901. A huge addition was tacked on to the school in 1906 when the structure was renamed Bromwell School after Henry P. Bromwell (1823-1903), a school board member who was the man most responsible for writing the Colorado constitution in 1875-76. Besides pushing statehood, Bromwell heartily advocated women’s suffrage.
The first Harman School building was destroyed by fire in 1883. A replacement school arose in 1885. It was demolished after being badly damaged by another blaze in 1911. The 1906 wing was torn down in 1976 as part of a major remodeling and expansion project to the current Bromwell School which dates from 1954-55. The Harman city hall was taken over by Denver upon annexation. A police and fire substation until the city abandoned it in 1934, the Masons subsequently occupied structure, overseeing its designation as a landmark.
During the early 20th century, the Cherry Creek neighborhood consisted of a few houses, small farms, and greenhouses. The Toothaker Greenhouse at the northwest comer of Fourth Avenue and Columbine Street was among the structures destroyed in the mid-1970s. About the time the modern Bromwell School was completed, a builder wanted to put a highrise on part of the greenhouse land. Neighborhood opposition shot down the plan. A compromise followed that allowed the developer to place a condo complex on the south side of Fifth Avenue between Josephine and Columbine streets. A small park was added across the street from Bromwell School where the developer dumped the fill from the housing project. Fourth Avenue was closed off between Josephine and Columbine streets.
This material is copyrighted by Phil Goodstein. We are grateful for his permission to present it on our site. Mr. Goodstein’s books on Denver history can be found in most local bookstores (as well as our school library) and he often gives lectures and walking tours throughout the metro area.