The Town of Harman

Reproduced from a booklet published for Bromwell’s Bicentennial Reunion
May 2nd, 1976

A SCHOOL AND A COMMUNITY

During this Bicentennial year, Americans all over the nation are taking time out to explore their history and their heritage. Our rich national treasury of ideals and values contains many Opportunities for thought, discussion, and action. Two of our most valuable American traditions are the local community and its neighborhood school. In planning for a Bicentennial celebration, residents of Harman and graduates of Bromwell school chose an “old-timers” reunion.

Bromwell and Harman, a school and a community, are so firmly locked together in one inseparable history, that you cannot think of one without thinking of the other. This history will attempt to capture some of their spirit, color, and history, but words on paper cannot fully do this. The true soul of the school and the community lies in the minds and the memories of the people who love them so.

On May 2, 1976, graduates and community members will gather at the old schoolhouse to say “hello” to one another, exchange fond memories of the old days, and say “goodbye” to their old school which is scheduled for demolition later in the month. A new building has been constructed and will serve future pupils in the same proud tradition as did the old Harman-Bromwell Elementary School, located in the community since before the turn of the century.

THE COMMUNITY

“This used to be a fine little town of its own back in the 1880’s,” a Harman native states, “and the people here had nearly everything they needed, a good government, their own police and volunteer fire department, and an honest, good life. They used to hitch-up their buggies and wagons and go riding over to Denver across the open fields and the countryside. Well, all that’s gone now and people drive right through here and think it’s just another old part of Denver. Even some people who’ve lived here all their lives don’t know our history and, like people from other parts of town, call it the ‘Cherry Creek Shopping Center area'; but that’s not right! We should all know our own history and start calling her by her proper name again.”

The old Town of Harman is contained within the Denver Planning Office’s Cherry Creek Neighborhood, a much larger area than the 320 acre townsite purchased from 1869 to 1872 by Edwin P. Harman and his wife, Lou. The Harmans arrived in Arapahoe County, Colorado Territory, in June of 1872 from Friar’s Point, Mississippi. Harman, a successful lawyer, had resigned his Judgeship quite suddenly to come to Colorado. Local folklore tells that, as a thrice wounded and highly decorated Confederate veteran, Harman had become disillusioned with the post-bellum South and sought new opportunities as a land and water specialist in the rapidly developing Denver area.

During their journey to Arapahoe County, the Harmans traveled on the Smokey Hill Trail which curved near the north bank of Cherry Creek, through the future townsite, and across the grounds where the Harman school would be built. Harman had purchased the west quarter section in 1869 and had deeded it over to his wife before they were married. Perhaps they camped at Point Loma (now the intersection of Alameda Avenue and Harrison Street) after watering their horses at Cherry Creek, and were struck by the beauty of the land.

God provided rich alluvial and brown prairie soil along Cherry Creek’s floodplain. Choke-cherry trees, wildflowers, and buffalo grass, all grew in abundance set against the magnificent backdrop of the majestic Rocky Mountains. This was fertile land to grow the crops, to fatten the stock, and to feed the region’s growing population. This land needed people, and people need a town.

ORGANIZING A TOWN

By 1882, the Harmans acquired the entire 320 acre half-section and attempted to add it to the City of Denver as “Harmans’ Addition” on March 2, 1882. Mrs. Harman filed a map and subdivision plot on that day, but Edwin withdrew it the very next day and refiled it as “Harmans’ Subdivision” of Arapahoe County land. By 1885, the parcel had been plotted into individual tracts for home sites, and approximately 140 persons owned land.

By 1886, talk of annexing Judge Harman’s subdivision into Denver or of organizing a new town circulated throughout the community. Streets were rough and ungraded, and no central water supply existed. On October 4, a petition calling for a vote on the question of incorporation was filed with the State and bore the signatures of 140 qualified electors. An election was held on October 28 with only 23 persons voting, all for township. Articles of Incorporation were drawn and filed with the Secretary of State on November 17, 1886, and the Town of Harman, Colorado, was born.

GOVERNING THE NEW TOWN

The Town was governed by a Board of Trustees and a Mayor. On December 31st, 1886, the first meeting was held at the home of Mayor James A. Motley since the Town owned no public buildings. One of their first actions was to request that the Trustees of Harman School, Arapahoe County School District Number 4, allow the building to be used for Town meetings. The request was granted, and the seat of government moved to the schoolhouse until a town hall was built in 1891. Members of the first Town Board were: James A. Motley, Mayor; Joseph M. Riddle, J. A. Walker, J. E. Madlung, Trustees; James Conroy, Town Marshal; Louis Rojt, Town Recorder; and Edwin P. Harman, Town Attorney.

Entries in the Official Minute Book and newspaper accounts show good government by concerned citizens. Like most early Colorado towns, concern was with creating and enforcing good town laws; grading, paving, and lighting the streets; and obtaining a municipal water supply.

The Denver Evening Times of February 3, 1887, reported that “Harman incorporated because irrigation for crops and trees was needed for protection against tramps, bums, bummers, and the liquor traffic.” These undesirables gathered at unregulated saloons which sprang up as watering holes along the old Smokey Hill Trail. Tramps, bums, and “bummers” camped in the Grove Area and in the hills to the Town’s south. “Bummers”, not to be confused with tramps and bums, were unorganized bands of roughneck hoodlums, easily hired for any illegal or shady purpose like confidence games or shake-downs. To control this situation, Harman’s Trustees passed a short-lived Prohibition Ordinance which, like the “Great Experiment” of the next century, was soon repealed after great and loud protest from indignant saloon-keepers who claimed that the Board was “picking on them and illegally attempting to take away their livelihoods.”

IN AND AROUND THE GROWING TOWN OF HARMAN

In her memories of the history of the Sixth Avenue Community Church, the late Lilly Lamont, (daughter of Trustee Robert Lamont) remembers the Town around 1887: “It was open prairie with wildflowers and a good supply of buffalo grass which made fine grazing. The community was in the valley and some houses were built between Race and Madison streets, and from First to Fourth Avenues. A road ran diagonally through the community, and other roads and footpaths ran into it. On Sunday evenings, you would see people coming to Church (held in the Harman schoolhouse) on these roads and paths carrying lanterns to light the way so they would not stumble in the ruts.”

The Times reported that Harman had about two hundred residents that year with an assessed valuation of $40,000, an ample tax base to stimulate growth and to attract new residents, even though the Treasurer had only $3.80 in his account!

From 1887 until its voluntary annexation into Denver in 1895, Harman grew and prospered as a residential and agricultural community. Streets and sidewalks were graded and finished, lighted by street lamps. Irrigation pipes, ditches, and canals were constructed to insure a water supply, a Town Hall was built, and a business district developed and matured around what is now Third and Detroit.

On January 1, 1892, the Rocky Mountain News reported on Harman’s progress: “Eight thousand dollars was solicited by a committee to subsidize a rapid transit connection with Denver for a five cent fare. During the past year, improvements have been made, including the car line subsidy, in the amount of $65,000. The assessed valuation of the Town is $215,000 and it has a population of 500 which is steadily increasing. Since the assurance of a car line, a great number of applications for houses have been made, and the people are expecting a building boom in the Spring.”

The expected building-boom did take place. During one week in February, 1892, over 4,000 building lots and home sites were sold to people who wanted to take advantage of Harman’s inexpensive land and its clean air, far away from the smoke and haze caused by Denver’s many manufacturing plants and ore smelters. But the financial burden of a tax rate higher than Denver’s soon made a dent in the landowners’ pocketbooks. Talk of the advantages of annexation into Denver began to circulate throughout the community.

In March, 1894, a petition for annexation was called to a vote at the schoolhouse and was defeated by only three votes. The following September, another petition resulted in an election. Of the Town’s 126 qualified voters, 110 cast their ballots: 57 for annexation, and 53 against. The Town of Harman passed out of existence and became annexed into Denver. Perhaps the Town Board had anticipated this, because in May, 1893, they changed the name of Harman’s streets and avenues to match those of Denver.

When Harman annexed itself into Denver, Denver received good, proud, and hard working people together with the land they had tilled, and the homes and buildings they had built.

THE TOWN HALL

The old Town Hall still stands today at the corner of 4th Avenue and St. Paul Street. It is a two story brick building of the “Denver Square” style, built at a cost of $5,000 in 1891. During the Town’s life, it contained the Mayor’s office, the Police Magistrate’s office and courtroom, the Marshal’s office and jail, the volunteer fire department’s cart and hose room, the Town Board’s meeting chamber, a library and a reading room, and a public hall which could seat 300. Denver used it as police substation and firehouse until around 1932, then leased it to the Greenlief Masonic Lodge as their meeting place. In August, 1934, the City and County of Denver sold it to the Masonic Lodge which has preserved the historic structure and meets there to this day.

THE HARMAN-BROMWELL SCHOOL

There has been a public school in the Harman community since 1867, first of frame and then of brick and stone. The old Arapahoe County, Harman School District Number 4 ran from Gilpin to Dexter streets, and from about Ninth to Alameda Avenues. Children from this entire area walked or rode in a horse-drawn bus every morning in response to the ringing of the school bell. During the early days of the community and of the Town, the schoolhouse served as a social, political, and religious focal point because there were no other buildings that the public could use. Around 1887, the first congregation of the present Sixth Avenue Community Church held their services at the school, and the Town Board held their meetings there until the Town Hall was built in 1891.

The original frame school stood about where old Bromwell’s gym now stands. It was a two story building with a separate room for each grade including a kindergarten, the second one in the Denver area. The entire building was heated by a coal furnace which set the school on fire in 1883, and burned it to the ground. The school was replaced by a Colorado sandstone building in 1885, which was also severely damaged by fire in 1911. The school survived fires, but not progress and the needs of the growing population. It will be demolished in May, 1976.

Old timers remember Harman school and tell the following tales: “There was a drinking fountain which had two heavy metal drinking cups with long handles chained to both sides. The Janitor, Mr. Parks, would ring a hand bell at recess time. Teachers who lived some distance from the school would take the street car, and it was customary for girls to meet them at the stop and escort them to school. One afternoon each week, the older boys would take Sloyd classes (woodworking) at Stevens school nearby. When the boys did so, the girls would study sewing. A girl named Stella Johnson had a pony and would ride to school from the other side of Colorado Boulevard. She would leave her pony at the blacksmith’s shop at Third and Detroit, and walk the rest of the way to school. There were no school lunch programs, and children who lived more than eight blocks from the school could bring their lunch. Many used a five pound lard pail and a lunch might contain such things as sandwiches, homemade pickles, hardboiled eggs, cookies, cake, or an apple.

One teacher, Miss Fannie Johnson, wore a floor length dress and a fancy long, white apron. She taught the children “how to share the sand tables and the toys, and how to skip and sing.”

On January 1, 1892, The News reported that “The Harman Public School is in charge of a competent corps of teachers and has a large attendance. During the past year, $4,000 has been spent on an addition and on improvements to the Building. A public reading room was established recently. It contains a library with a large amount of literature which is being added to rapidly.”

In 1895, the Harman Kindergarten Mothers Association was organized by Lizzie Lamont, who was also the Secretary of the School Board. The Association helped furnish equipment for the school’s kindergarten and bought materials such as paper, window curtains, dishes and tablecloths out of their budget. Members paid a ten cent admission charge, and dues were one cent per week. Once during the school year, each mother was assessed one cake or its equivalent. The Association did charitable works for the poor people living in shacks and tents in the Grove beyond where the Cherry Creek Shopping Center now stands.

When Denver became a County as well as a City in 1901, Harman School changed from Arapahoe County’s jurisdiction into Denver’s. Shortly thereafter, the Principal informed the mothers that their help was no longer needed, and that it was no longer necessary for them to meet at the schoolhouse. The group decided to continue on as a social and civic club, renamed The Columbine Mothers Club, and has one of the longest histories of continual meeting and charitable works of any club in the Denver area.

In 1906, the Denver School Board changed Harman’s name to the Bromwell Elementary School to honor Judge Henry P. H Bromwell, a framer of the State’s Constitution and an early champion of women’s suffrage and rights.

Each of the thousands of students who attended the school has precious memories of the building, the children, the teachers, and the community. At the Bicentennial Reunion, bricks, brass coat hooks, and wooden banister spokes will be available for purchase for a small charge. The proceeds will be used to add to the school’s Harman history library. Even though these physical objects will bring hack fond memories, the citizens’ group hopes that former graduates will take time out from their busy lives to write their personal stories about old time school days, and mail them to the school’s Parent Student Teachers Association. Many graduates and life-long Harman residents have been interviewed on tape about their experiences, and the tapes will he made part of the history library for children to share. Perhaps others will spend an hour or so with a recorder and donate the tapes to the library. This will insure that future generations may share in the unique and valuable history of a community and its traditional school.

HARMAN’S CHURCHES

The Congregational Church was a pioneer effort by Harman’s Christians. As early as 1885, the congregation was holding services at the Harman School. In 1887, the first Sunday school classes were held in the school. In 1888, the Union Congregational Church was organized, and services were held in the north wing of the school which contained the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade classrooms. The Reverend W. L. Gilman was the first salaried minister. Before him, volunteers from Denver would assist in services and at the Sunday school. However, the School’s Board of Trustees objected to this religious use, and the congregation moved to the vacant second floor of a grocery store located on the alley on the south side of Fourth and Clayton. A fire forced them to move again to a vacant house in the 100 block of Detroit, but when it was rented, the congregation again moved to a carriage shop at Third and Detroit until a tent was set up nearby. But wind and storm soon damaged the tent beyond repair, and another vacant house was donated by a Black family at Fourth and Steele.

In 1891, a new church was built at Fourth and Cook and the name was changed to the Fourth Avenue Congregational Church. The Rocky Mountain News of January 1, 1892, described the new church as “Harman’s architectural pride, and a building of unusual beauty for a suburb. It is built of brick with stone trimmings, cathedral leaded windows, a fine bell, and has a seating capacity of eight hundred. Its cost was $4,000.”

Around 1921, Denver began a street program which forced the Church to move because it was not properly sited for the City’s grade and fill. A temporary frame building was erected at Sixth and Adams while the new church, renamed the Sixth Avenue Community Church, was being built. In 1925, the new church was dedicated and today proudly serves its large congregation.

On August 4, 1889, the Roman Catholic community celebrated their first Mass in the home of Harman’s Mayor, James Motley, at 157 Milwaukee. For three years, the congregation held their worship services in rented and donated facilities; in a house at Fourth and Columbine; in a vacant dry goods store; and at the Harman Town Hall. By 1892, a 25 by 40 feet frame church had been erected near the alley on the south side of Fillmore Street and Third Avenue at a cost of $1,000.

On April 27, 1903, The Rocky Mountain News reported: “The community has been worshipping in their new building at Fifth and Josephine since Palm Sunday. The Church of Saint John The Evangelist is to be dedicated on May 10, 1903. They are proud of its handsome new gothic altar and the artistically designed golden oak pews which are different from any others in the City. The Church cost $9,000, and all but $3,000 was subscribed to before completion.

The congregation worshipped there until 1953 when the present building at Seventh and Josephine was dedicated. St John’s Parochial School was completed in 1925, and continues to educate children to this date.

HARMAN TODAY

Today, the 320 acre townsite is totally contained in the larger Cherry Creek Neighborhood designated by the Denver Planning Office, with boundaries from Colorado Boulevard to University Boulevard and from Alameda Avenue to Sixth Avenue. In 1975, the neighborhood contained a population of 4,060 living in 2,050 housing units. Of these buildings, 39 were built before 1900; 643 between 1900 and 1939; 321 between 1940 and 1949; 260 between 1950 and 1959; 19 between 1960 and 1969; 58 between 1970 and 1974; and only 2 in 1975.

The Cherry Creek Shopping Center has had the greatest impact on the community’s economy and appearance and has influenced the development of stores, shops, and high rise apartment and office buildings in strips along First, Second, and Third Avenues. Around 1925, Temple Buell, a local architect with a national reputation, startled his profession by planning a shopping center on 57 acres of land that had been used as a refuse dump. By 1947, he acquired the parcel, and the Denver Zoning Board approved the Golden Moor Shopping Center’s rezoning. It was the largest real estate transaction of the time.

The hills to Harman’s south are now large estates, high quality housing, and contain the Calvary Temple complex. The Polo Grounds, where people would watch Denver’s socialites play polo on a Sunday afternoon, have been subdivided into exclusive residences. To the West, the Denver Country Club and its mansion areas, the Country Club and the Circle Drive districts, form one of Denver’s most exclusive areas.

DO YOU REMEMBER?

Harman’s vacant lots? They probably provided more entertainment for the children than any other place. Kids dug caves and built club houses and tree houses. They built bonfires and had potato roasts, and used them for ball fields, golf courses, sledding, skating, bike riding, and tree swings.

The Town Hall? It was only a fun place for children at election time when they could get free cider and donuts after listening to long campaign speeches. The adults played “cootie” games, but the children were not allowed to participate.

The City Dumps? Children scavenged rages, bottles, tires, and other discards to sell to the many rag men who drove their horse drawn wagons up and down the alleys chanting “Rags and Bottles!” The dump furnished material to build clubhouses, roofs for caves, and chugs.

The sand pits and Cherry Creek? The sand pits were between Colorado and York, and there was a clear pool at Clayton Street. No roads crossed or paralleled them. Children swam, fished, trapped minnows and frogs, hunted for turquoise and arrowheads, panned gold, raced sticks down the stream, had rock skipping contests, and cooked corn swiped from a neighboring field. Most winters, they could use the creek for skating.

Baseball at Bayaud and Steele? Harman’s merchants sponsored many sandlot teams, The Shamrocks, Vest Garage, The Cherry Creek Athletic Club, The East Denver Merchants, and many others. On a typical Sunday, as many as fifty cars lined the field with about two hundred people attending the game. When the home team hit a home run, the noise from the cars’ honking could be heard all over Harman.

Things and places that no longer exist? What about Old trolley cars and horse-drawn wagons? Teamsters, popcorn wagons, and ash haulers? Bootleggers, blacksmiths, and the beat cop, Gus Ingersoll? Gypsies, goat cart photographers, organ grinders, and medicine shows? Ice wagons and street watering wagons? Dirt streets and wooden water mains? The polo field, wheat and corn fields, and stables and barns? Swimming holes and shivarees? The city dumps at Cherry Creek and the smell from them and the stockyards when the wind was right? Neighborhood grocery stores and the local hangout, the drug store, and its owner, Doc Hoffman?

Childhood games? Mumblepeg (Root The Peg). Buck Buck. Horse, Kick Goal. Work UP. Coffee Can Lid Golf. Log or Barrel Rolling. Freeze Out. Stilt Races. Pogo sticks and long distance jumps. Pergatory. I Got It with a Bean Bag. Kick the Can. Run, Sheep, Run. Hide and Seek. Fix and Geese. Flys and Grounders.

Neighborhood Nicknames? Ozzie. Diz. Red. Huck. Iggie. Sloppy. Maniac. Skippy. Zeke. Moon. Toby. Weed. T.L. Cod. Lep. Spider. Babe. Fingers. Chick. Sonny. Fats.

Remember playing “Treasure Hung”? To initiate a new kid into the neighborhood gang, he was told that if he was the first to find and dig up a sack or box which contained valuable things, then he could keep it. In reality, the hole the treasure was hidden in contained a mixture of garbage, crankcase oil, and other smelly and sticky things. His reactions to digging into the goop told a lot about his character.