There's gold in Arvada. It's not exactly a guarded secret, but until recently only a lucky few, locals mostly, knew of its existence. Now, thanks to the City of Arvada, the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority, and the Arvada Historical Society, the word is out and the rush is on. Mining the State Historical Fund's grant program for financial help, they developed an innovative self-guided walking tour that tells the story of the Olde Town National Historic District. Rumor has it, they even studded sidewalks with gleaming nuggets to lure visitors off the Wadsworth Bypass and into the downtown area, where historical and architectural treasures await.
Arvada's past might be summed up with three words: gold, grain, and groceries. Lewis Ralston discovered gold near the confluence of Clear and Ralston creeks on June 22, 1850. Ralston returned to Colorado eight years later, helping to ignite the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. In the early 1860s prospectors exchanged picks for plows and established a farming community called Ralston Point near the original discovery site. When the Colorado Central Railroad built its Golden-to-Denver line through the settlement in 1870, Benjamin Wadsworth established a post office and renamed the town after his brother-in-law, Hiram Arvada Haskin. Since gold mining didn't quite pan out, farming became Arvada's economic base. In 1926 entrepreneur Eugene Benjamin capitalized upon the region's abundant wheat crops by building a steel-clad flour mill near the bustling downtown commercial district. The Arvada Historical Society restored the mill in 1980 and now operates it as a museum. In 1947, on the cusp of Arvada's post-World War II population boom, Lloyd King opened a grocery store downtown. This store, the first King Soopers in Colorado, launched a grocery empire. Four years later, Arvada's population reached 2,359 and its legal designation switched from "town" to "city."
Olde Town's streets and buildings distinguish Arvada from other metropolitan-area suburban cities. Bounded by the Wadsworth Bypass on the east, Yukon Street on the west, Ralston Road on the north, and Grandview Avenue on the south, Olde Town includes late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century commercial and residential structures built in a broad range of architectural styles. One and two story brick businesses stand beside Gothic Revival and Queen Anne homes converted into shops. The roads, narrow enough to slow traffic, encourage visitors to park and saunter along wide brick-paved sidewalks illuminated with period streetlights. A shaded and quiet Town Square and the Romanesque Revival Shrine of Saint Anne Catholic Church further separates this part of Arvada from the strip malls associated with Denver's suburbs.
When the City of Arvada decided to improve the area's streetscapes, citizens-led by the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority-saw a golden opportunity to interpret this urban landscape's past through a walking tour. They, with help from the Arvada Historical Society, installed nineteen interpretive panels throughout the district, covering subjects from transportation to building styles. Every panel includes text, graphics, and historic photographs, while some have "pages" that encourage visitors to read them like giant books. A printed brochure, available from downtown merchants, supplements information from the panels.
Today's prospectors, searching for a good place to eat or shop in Arvada, should look for an old water tower, visible from Interstate 70 or the Wadsworth Bypass. It will lead them to a veritable gold mine of locally-owned restaurants, shops, and public places. And the more observant fortune-seekers just might notice several shiny ingots imbedded in the sidewalk along Grandview Avenue. Though made of brass, they still remind their discoverers of Arvada's golden beginnings.