The History of Boulder, CO

Boulder, CO

Early History

The Boulder Valley was originally home to the Southern Arapaho Tribe who had a small village near Haystacks mountain. Other tribes, including the Cheyennes, Ute, Comanches, and Sioux also visited the area on occasions. The southern Arapaho tribe was close allies of the Cheyenne and more loosely the Lakota and Dakota tribes. Historically, the Arapaho had moved south into the area in the 1700s.

In 1858 the first settlers arrived in the Boulder Valley and established the first non-native settlement in the valley. This contravened the first Fort Laramie Treaty. However, the local Arapaho chief Niwot granted the settlers permission to stay the winter and then leave. The settlers broke the agreement and stayed. Despite breaking their promise, Chief Niwot tried to maintain a peaceful relationship with the settlers, but in 1862 after more settlers arriving and settling in Indian territory, the Sioux uprising took place, and the Anglo-European response was to solve the Indian problem once and for all.

As settlers moved west into present-day Colorado in 1864, there had been spasmodic fighting with the Native Americans. The most notable battle was “The Sand Creek Massacre.” In this action by US Volunteers under the command of Colonel John Chivington attacked and destroyed a joint Arapaho and Cheyenne village. In the process, they killed and mutilated a large number of residents, about two-thirds of which were women and children. This was hailed as a great victory at the time but later described as genocide.

It was thought for a long time that chief Niwot had died at Sand Creek. However, later it was found out that he had survived and many years later (1907) converted to the Baptist Faith with 100 other Arapaho. There is a statue of the chief outside Boulder Courthouse.

Growth of Boulder

In 1861 the US Congress established the “Territory of Colorado,” and Boulder is no longer part of Nebraska. It was in the early 1860s, that Boulder started building infrastructure. Boulder had grown into a supply town for the miners and was a much more stable community than the various mining settlements in the area. Boulder benefitted from its role as a supply town and this promoted more growth. In 1860 the first high school opened, and then In 1861 laws were passed which paved the way for Boulder to become home to the state university. By the end of the decade, the first newspaper had opened (Boulder County News).

The 1870s saw no let-up in growth. In 1870 the Denver and Boulder Valley Railroad begins was set up.

Then just one year later, in 1871 Boulder Town was Incorporated officially – this was in direct violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty. The railroad was now operating and the population had grown to over 323. Construction work had begun at the University of Colorado and in 1877 it opens.

At the same time, momentous things were happening statewide and Colorado Territory now became the State of Colorado.

In 1880, at the start of the new decade, Boulder passes 3,000 population making it eligible for incorporation. Two years later Boulder is incorporated as a second-class town. The first meeting of the new town council takes place in the new town hall. Expansion continued throughout the 1880s with the first courthouse being built. At the university, the Medical School opened its doors.

1890 saw Boulder Railroad depot built to serve the Union Pacific Railway that had opened two years before. More infrastructure was built with the Highland School opening. And at the university, the new Law School opened for students.

At the end of the century, Boulder now boasted a lot of modern infrastructure neighborhoods had been built, the city had a post office, a hospital, telegraph, bank, and a new water system. Some neighborhoods even boasted flagstone sidewalks, demonstrating the degree of urbanization. The growing prosperity of Boulder saw the opening of the first private school, Boulder, Mount St. Gertrude Academy, in 1892

The Twentieth Century

The economy had started to slow down for Boulder by 1905 and it was deemed necessary to try and boost tourism. Part of this plan was the construction of Hotel Boulderado. By subscription, the community raised the money and by 1909 the new hotel was open. This was the beginning of a forty-year period where tourism was king in Boulder.

There were other attempts to stimulate the economy and in 1902 the Boulder Oil Field began operation, the second field to commence operations in Colorado. The field was active for a few years, but a minimal trace of it remains today. The maximum production was 1909.

The University continued to grow with the Museum of Natural History, closely followed by the School of Commerce., Boulder. Colorado University Events Center (arena) opens. History was made with Lucile Buchanan is the first black female graduate from the University of Colorado.

More Higher Educational facilities moved to Boulder such as the US Navy School of Oriental Languages transfers from California to Boulder and the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research Mesa Laboratory. The Culinary School of the Rockies.

Despite these new educational facilities coming to Boulder, during the period 1920 to 1940 there had been very little population growth. The population of 11,006 in 1920 only growing to 12,958 in 1940. The end of the second world war brought a sudden influx of growth and by 1950 there were 20,000 residents.


The first hints of the coming era of prohibition had been seen in 1907 when Boulder adopted the “anti-saloon” ordinance. This was introduced following a powerful female-led prohibition movement. Technically, this measure stayed in force until 1967, although in 1933 3.2% beer, had become legal with the end of prohibition nationally. In 1916 Statewide prohibition began in the State of Colorado and this lasted until the repeal of the national prohibition in 1933.

Boulder, Colorado

Historic International Connections

On the east side of Boulder’s Municipal Building is the “Sister City Plaza.” This was built to celebrate all the sister cities that Boulder has around the world. Boulder has regularly made these connections since 1983 when the first sister-city connection was made.

  • · Nicaragua Jalapa, Nicaragua (1983)
  • · China Lhasa, China (1986)
  • · Tajikistan Dushanbe, Tajikistan (1987)
  • · Japan Yamagata, Japan (1994)
  • · Mexico El Mante, Mexico (2000)
  • · Cuba Yateras, Cuba (2002)
  • · Kenya Kisumu, Kenya (2008)
  • · State of Palestine Nablus, Palestine (2016)
  • · Nepal Kathmandu, Nepal (2018)
  • · Israel Ramat Negev, Israel (2018)

Historic Buildings and Sites in Boulder

The history of the University of Colorado

Two cities competed for the site of the planned University of Colorado. One was Carlton, and the Other was Boulder. The losing city was to be awarded the state prison as a consolation prize. Carlton already had the Colorado Territorial Prison so logic pointed to them being home to the state prison. Boulder was duly awarded the state university. Carlton seems to have a prison surplus as it now has six prisons in the city.

The cornerstone for the university main building was laid on 20th September 1875 and it opened almost exactly two years later. At the time there were not many high schools that could bring students to the correct level for university so they also built a preparatory school on the campus. In the fall of 1877, there was an exclusive student body that consisted of 15 university students, and 50 preparatory school students, something that we would find difficult to imagine today. Of the 65 students, there were 38 male and 27 female students with ages between 12 and 23 years old.

During World War 2 the University was one of 131 educational establishments that were selected to be part of the V-12 Navy College Training Program. This program was an effort to quickly train new navy officers.

Even though the University had female students from the very beginning it was not until a year later that the university hired its first female professor Mary Rippon. The college excelled at Boulder Kitchen Remodeling.

The university is split into several colleges or schools:

  • · College: Arts & Sciences
  • · College: Engineering and Applied Science
  • · College: Media, Communication, and Information
  • · College: Music
  • · School: Leeds School of Business
  • · School: of Education
  • · School: University of Colorado Law School
  • · Graduate School
  • · Continuing Education and Professional Studies
  • · Program: Environmental Design

The History of Boulder Station/Railroad depot

The Boulder railroad depot was originally built in downtown Boulder to serve the Union Pacific Railroad. The style of construction was “Richardson Romanesque” and made from local stone. The station cost $16,000 and was an operational station at this location until 1957. A new railroad station was built to replace it just east of town. Rather than demolish this historic building it was sold to the Denver-Boulder Bus Company who operated it as a bus terminal for 16 years. At that stage, the building was shuttered and closed for good. That was not the end of the building and in 1973 it was moved near to the original Boulder County, Colorado Fairgrounds to preserve it. Amazingly enough, that was not the end of this train depot, and it was moved once again to the city’s “Boulder Junction Neighborhood.” There is still stands, reopened as a restaurant called Roadhouse Boulder Depot.

The History of the Chautauqua Auditorium

The Chautaugua was adult education and social movement, that gained popularity in the USA in the 19th and 20th centuries. The expansion of Chautaugua assemblies took place until the 1920s. These venues were host to a variety of activities, such as talks, recitals, showmen, preachers, and so on. They were a central source of culture for a community.

The Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, Colorado, was built in 1898. In 1978 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as it was still very much in its original condition. The building was constructed of wood, had floors made of dirt, and sprinkled with sawdust. The building was thoroughly renovated in the 1970s to bring it back to prime condition, seats were repaired and other maintenance work was carried out, but the basic design of the building was not touched, and the acoustics are exactly as they were when it opened.

The Chautaugua was not only for cultural events. It also served as a cinema, and for Vaudeville shows. The projection equipment was updated several times and it continued as a movie house until 1995. For the latter years, it only showed second-run movies.

Carnegie Library Boulder, CO
Street View of Carnegie Library Boulder, CO

History of the Carnegie Library in Boulder

The Library was opened in 1906. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The library was made possible by the generosity of steel tycoon, Andrew Carnegie and cost $15,000. Part of the deal was that the city council would put aside $1,500 each year for its maintenance. At the time the people of Boulder referred to themselves as “The Athens of the West” so the architect created something akin to a small Greek Temple. The library was a central part of the city but when the city population had doubled they had to build a new, larger library, and the role of the Carnegie library was very much reduced. The building was allowed to deteriorate until 1981 when the library staff managed to reclaim the building. They chose to move the growing collection of local works to the old Carnegie Library and reopen the building as the Carnegie Library for Local History.

Andrew Carnegie built over 2,509 libraries between 1883 and 1929.1,689 were built in the USA and a further 660 built in the UK, 125 in Canada, and others around the world. Many cities that were offered grants to build a Carnegie library ultimately refused the grant because of the insistence that the city put aside money each year for maintenance and to maintain the collection. Fortunately, the city fathers of Boulder were more forward-thinking and agreed to these terms.

The Curse of Niwot

When the first settlers came to Boulder and were allowed to stay by Chief Niwot, one of the reasons that he allowed this was a dream that he had regarding the white men. He dreamt that “People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty.”

Fortunately, Niwot’s Curse has not come to pass and Boulder has protected the beauty of the land surrounding the city since 1898 when they purchased portions of the Huggins Ranch to ensure the land was preserved and kept natural. In the decades that followed Boulder continued to acquire land to ensure that Niwots dream does not come true.