Congress Park - Denver, CO
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Outspoken1
N 39° 43.754 W 104° 57.421
13S E 503683 N 4397706
Quick Description: This WPA marker sits in Congress Park in Denver to honor the work completed by the WPA that included construction of the playing fields, tree planting and terraces.
Location: Colorado, United States
Date Posted: 5/22/2011 1:09:30 PM
Waymark Code: WMBH91
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member Geojeepsters
Views: 1

Long Description:
"Part One: The First Century of Congress Park

We Congress Park residents routinely take our local park for granted. A valued and valuable oasis of open space, it serves us well for jogging, walking the dog, playing tennis or soccer, swimming, giving the kids a convenient neighborhood playground or just plain relaxing on the spacious lawns. Yet this neighborhood park and the surrounding land have evolved dramatically during 140 years of occasionally turbulent development, serving the diverse needs of an ever-changing city.

A year after General William Larimer claim-jumped property occupied by the St. Charles Town Company in 1858, establishing his own community of Denver, he laid claim to a parcel of high ground several miles east of his new town site. He designated a portion of this land, long controlled by Arapaho tribal people, as Prospect Hill Cemetery. This burial site was also known variously as Mount Prospect Cemetery, City Cemetery, the Bone Yard, Boot Hill and Jack O'Neil's Ranch--the latter name having been bestowed on the cemetery, tongue-in-cheek, in honor of a colorful local gambler deposited there after a billiard hall acquaintance bushwhacked him with a shotgun from behind the doors of the former Western Saloon.

To establish clear ownership of this not always hallowed ground, Denver representatives petitioned Congress to clarify its legal status. In 1872 the United States Congress not surprisingly declared the land in question to be the territorial property of the United States of America. The city of Denver, eager to expand its borders, purchased the land from a willing Congress, with ownership transferring at a price of $1.25 per acre during Mayor Bates' administration.

Then as now Denver was faced with the pleasant task of deciding how best to develop a sizeable parcel of land acquired from the federal government. The west side of the land continued to served as Prospect Hill Cemetery. Mayor Bates sold an additional 40 acres to the Denver Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, which Bishop Joseph Machebeuf established as Mount Calvary Cemetery. This portion of the original land transfer, which reverted back to city ownership in 1950, is located on property now occupied by the Denver Botanical Gardens.

In 1875 the Hebrew Burial Society acquired a twenty acre tract for the establishment of a Jewish cemetery, which operated as a burial ground from 1878 to 1910. The site, located between York and Josephine streets, then returned to municipal ownership and now serves as the recently expanded and landscaped parking lot for the Denver Botanical Gardens. A portion of the former territorial land sale south of the Hebrew Cemetery remained city property. Here Denver constructed a "pest house," as such institutions were often named, to quarantine persons infected with small pox. This medical warehousing facility operated from 1881 to 1910.

With urbanizing Denver expanded eastward, developers lobbied for conversion of General Larimer's cemetery lands for new public uses. In response Senator Henry Moore Teller successfully obtained Congressional authorization in 1890 permitting Denver to devote the land initially acquired for internment purposes to other functions. In appreciation of this largess, Denver renamed the territorial land purchased from Congress in 1872 as Congress Park. The deceased, whose resting place in this original Congress Park proved less than eternal, were soon dispatched to Riverside Cemetery and other sites.

On an additional 20 acre parcel the city constructed a municipal nursery to raise trees and shrubs for landscaping Denver's growing network of city parks and parkways. This facility operated until 1930, when a depression-era WPA program began conversion of the nursery to public park use. On the side of the original territorial purchase east of Josephine Street Denver granted a perpetual land lease to the Denver Union Water Company. The water company constructed an underground concrete lined water storage cistern, known as Basin No. 1, in 1899 and then built Basin No. 2 for additional storage capacity in 1906. At least one and perhaps both of these original storage facilities were topped with wood planking.

Baist's 1905 Real Estate Atlas Surveys of Denver nicely illustrates the status of the original Congress Park during this era. The far boundaries of the Park extended from Franklin Street on the west north to 13th Avenue, east to Detroit Street and south to 8th Avenue. Ambitious land developers had neatly platted the present Congress Park neighborhood by subdivision name, block and lot--but few builders had yet constructed dwellings on this freshly divided land. A pristine copy of the Baist Atlas is available for public review in the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection--see especially Plates 14, 15, 17 and 18.

Five years after publication of the 1905 edition of the Baist Atlas, Denver designated the west side portion of original Congress Park as Cheesman Park. This name change occurred as a result of a provision in the 1909 bequest of the Cheesman family, who donated funds for the construction of the grand neoclassical pavilion on the west side of the original Congress Park in honor of Denver water baron Walter Cheesman. The bequest specified that the redesigned open space area be renamed in honor of Mr. Chessman. Thus was born from the original Congress Park what we now call Chessman Park.

When Denver created by City Charter amendment the Denver Board of Water Commissions in 1918, the board absorbed the Congress park water storage assets of the Denver Union Water Company on the northeast corner of the park. The Water Board subsequently rebuilt Denver Union Water Company's Basin No. 1 in 1946 and constructed a new underground storage reservoir, Basin No. 3, in 1956. Meanwhile, the City and County of Denver obtained a building permit in 1948 to construct in Congress Park a fire alarm system building to serve the fire department's needs.

Thus after nearly a century of claim jumping, federal appropriation, municipal annexation, internment and disinterment, construction, reconstruction and demolition, the Congress Park of a half century ago assumed its current dimensions and principal contemporary public functions.

Part Two: Congress Park Becomes a Contemporary Institution

As we have seen, the original Congress Park served as the site for Catholic, Jewish and Chinese cemeteries, a small pox quarantine facility, underground water storage reservoirs, the neoclassical Cheesman pavilion built in 1910 and the City Nursery. During World War I the nursery area of the park housed the largest Victory community vegetable garden in Denver.

In the booming 1920s, builders constructed brick bungalows and a smattering of more elaborately styled housing throughout the Congress Park area and the population swelled rapidly as the city expanded eastward. To serve the recreational needs of this growing population Denver designated the area of present-day Congress Park as Victory Park, to honor the park's role in the "Great War." In the 1930s a series of depression-era WPA (Works Progress Administration) projects resulted in the construction of playing fields within the park, tree planting and the building of the distinctive terraced stone walls still visible today to passing motorists on 8th Avenue. Following World War II, in 1949, Denver formally rededicated the 17 acre parcel of land carved from General Larimer's land grab as Congress Park. By this act Denver preserved the name that the city had initially bestowed on Larimer's former property back in 1890.

Following the formal establishment of present-day Congress Park, successive city administrations added the features that comprise Congress Park as we know it today: the lower set of soccer fields and the abandoned baseball backstops, the playground area and adjacent picnic pavilion, a 12 foot deep swimming pool with a twin set of wading pools and bath houses, eight tennis courts, half of which are lighted, and a single basketball court currently in need of resurfacing.

At the northern border of the park, a narrow gate in a long steel fence leads to the least natural but most interesting public feature associated with Congress Park: a three acre manicured lawn, rectangular in shape and as level as a billiard table. The property of the Denver Water Department, this verdant plain supports four additional soccer fields. And a sign beside the gate warning that dogs are prohibited on the premise alludes to the hidden function of the sod covered field. Beneath this permeable grass and soil roofing, about two feet thick, lie twin underground storage reservoirs (Basins No. 1 and 3) holding tens of millions of gallons of treated or potable water supply--"finished water" in the language of water engineers. By mutual agreement between the City and County of Denver and its quasi-independent Board of Water Commissioners visitors may play on public lands above an artificial underground lake.

This most unusual set of soccer fields offers yet another opportunity than sport: it also provides off-hours visitors the most secluded and solitary open space available in the Congress Park neighborhood. Late on an August afternoon I have wandered through the gate to this special place and strolled across the thick, moist turf alone, with not another human being in sight. But--no paradox--other two-legged visitors were also afoot. By my quick count, some four and sixty (or perhaps it was seventy) black birds roamed the grounds, pecking at the soil in search of an early evening dinner. Long before I discovered this urban oasis, our street-wise feathered residents had found this most private and protected of all neighborhood feeding grounds.

The dual purpose storage reservoir is but one portion of the Denver Water Department's presence in Congress Park. Their facilities include an additional underground storage reservoir (Basin No. 2), off-limits to the public and located east of the soccer fields. Together these three Water Department basins can store 80 million gallons of water at a spillway elevation of 5,395 feet -- this high point in Congress Park being some 185 higher in elevation than the famed mile-high step on the west entrance to the State capitol building and the purple band of mile high seats at Coors Field. South of the storage basins the Water Department maintains a transmission and distribution system maintenance building and a vaguely Spanish mission style operations building containing remotely controlled computerized pumps to draw water into the underground basins. For the most part, however, the water stored in the Congress Park basins flows there by gravity from the Moffat, Foothills and Marston water treatment plants for gravity distribution downstream through the Department's vast network of water distribution mains. A staff of 15 to 20 employees operates this facility.

In addition to the Denver Water Department's presence, two additional agencies maintain municipal service facilities within the Park. Congress Park is the home base of the Denver Parks Department's Central District Headquarters. About 20 full-time employees and an additional two dozen seasonal workers provide year-round maintenance for the nine miles of roads, 22 miles of walking and biking pathways, 22 bridges, three-quarter acres of flower beds, and the fountains, playing fields, athletic courts and swimming pools along central Denver's parkways and at the Gates Tennis Center and Congress, Cheesman, Alamo Placita and Confluence parks. These maintenance activities range from snow removal, irrigation system management, tree trimming, and lawn mowing to planting, weeding and pruning of the flower beds in the central district park lands.

The most visible public presence in Congress Park is maintained at the Denver Combined Communications Center building and the massive candy-cane striped communications tower that rises some 230 feet (more than twenty stories) beside the two-story blond brick building. From this lofty site Denver's public safety institutions--police, fire and emergency medical services--direct a sophisticated telecommunications facility for 911 enhanced emergency police, fire and EMS dispatch and telecommunications linkages among participating agencies. The original predecessor facility to the contemporary Center initially began operation in 1937 as a police radio service. Denver constructed the main communications center building in 1948 to provide fire alarm and later civil defense alert services and the city expanded the Center again in 1993 and added a new west wing to the existing structure.

Today 160 to 170 civilian and uniformed personnel staff the Communication Center. In combination with the Denver Water Department staff and the Parks Department's permanent and seasonal workers these three agencies provide an on-site Congress Park work force of some 200 persons."

By Don Koch © 2000 Donald Warner Koch All rights reserved. from (visit link)
Project type: Other

Date built or created: WPA work in the 1930s

Location: Congress Park in Denver, Colorado, USA

City: Denver

Condition: Good upkeep with a little wear and tear

Website for additional information: [Web Link]

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