Image of a picture postcard of Downtown Denver around 1950-1960. The photograph has been taken from an intersection along Sixteenth Street. Signs on buildings read "Paramount (Theatre)" "Denver" "Skagg's" and "Swift's Ice Cream," among others. Cars are travelling in one direction along Sixteenth, toward the D&F Tower in the distance.


Marveling at the Mile High City

November 22, 2022 marks the 164th birthday of our beloved Mile High City. To honor the occasion, Jori Johnson and Cody Robinson, part of History Colorado’s research team in the Stephen H. Hart Research Center, uncovered some marvelous images of the Mile High City that you just may have missed.

Denver was born on this day, November 22, in 1858. If you’re into collecting fun facts, here are some interesting tidbits about our state capital that you can use to impress your friends:

  • Denver is actually 5280 feet above sea level, so the "Mile High City" is not a misnomer.
  • The city is named after Kansas Territorial Governor James W. Denver.
  • The Denver Performing Arts Complex is one of the largest in the United States, covering four blocks and twelve acres.
  • Shakespeare’s Macbeth was performed in Denver, before a hospital or school was built in the city.
  • The 16th Street Mall in Denver was designed by master architect I.M. Pei, who also created the glass pyramid outside of the Louvre in Paris.
  • When Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. began his music career, he decided to change his name to reflect his favorite state; we know him as John Denver.


We are so excited to celebrate this beautiful city through some amazing photos you may not have seen before from History Colorado’s collection. As we marvel at 164 years of Denver history, enjoy some views of the city throughout her life—and see if you can find any of these locations today!

Madame Carolista walking on a tightrope above Larimer Street in Denver, July 18, 1861

Photo of a crowd gathered in front of one-story Old West-style buildings with signs that read "Wholesale & Resale: Clothing Store" and "Confectionary - Ice Cream." Along the dirt street, a crowd has gathered in a circle below a tiny figure high above the crowd. The figure balances along a tightrope stretched between what is likely to be two buildings, although the photo does not show what the rope is secured to. There is a horse and cart in the front and oxen to the right corner of the foreground.
History Colorado. 86.70.29

On the earliest side of photographic history of Denver, this event took place on Larimer Street between the New York Store and Graham’s Drug Store. The photographer, George D. Wakely, was born in England and was well known as a photographer in Denver from 1859–1864.

Union Station in the Late Nineteenth Century

Photo of several trains stopped along several lines of train tracks. Crowds of people, most wearing brimmed hats and either suits or skirts, are gathered around the trains to board. A few people are pushing bicycles. At the end of the tracks, black puffs of smoke can be seen rising in the air. The long train depot building is on the right of the photo.
History Colorado. PH.PROP.3745

Denver’s Union Station is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city, from all iterations of the facade. However, this view is one that not many today have seen. The “behind the scenes” view of what entering Denver looked like shows the amount of traffic we were already experiencing in the late 1800s! Imagine the likes of Oscar Wilde seeing this same view, as he made his way into Denver during his 1882 tour.

Mining Exchange Building

View of the Mining Exchange Building at 15th (Fifteenth) and Arapahoe Streets in Denver, Colorado. Shows a Victorian Romanesque style building with tower, rusticated stone trim and arched doorway. The statue of a miner sits atop the tower. Signs read: "A. W. Rucker Law Office" and "Hicks & Bailey Investment Co." Carriages and wagons are on Arapahoe Street; a sign on a trolley car reads: "Eleventh Ave."
History Colorado. 86.200.2275

Downtown Denver during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century had some spectacular buildings that permeated the landscape. This fantastical building was built in 1891 and torn down in 1963, but it clearly symbolized the creativity and money flowing through Denver’s downtown.

In Elitch Gardens

Photo on a vintage stereoscope card. The image is labeled by hand at the bottom with the words "By A. Martin" and "In Elitch Gardens, Denver, Colo." The photo shows a tall white round tower, like a lighthouse, with a spiral row of light bulbs ascending the tower. It sits on a square pedistal that is in the center of a flowerbed. Four strings of lights attach to the top of the tower. An archway in the background says "Elitch Gardens."
History Colorado. 84.192.419

Every child wants to go to Elitch’s (if they’ve been lucky enough to see it on the highway), but the location of the current park is not its original location! On May 1, 1890, John and Mary Elitch opened the doors to Elitch Gardens and Theatre on 38th and Tennyson. The gardens and zoo contained some wonderful sights to see, such as the pagoda seen here or the carousel, still in operation today. Elitch Gardens became such a Denver staple that its slogan was once, “Not to see Elitch’s is not to see Denver.”

View of Denver from the Capitol

Panoramic view of Denver, Colorado from the Capitol Building. Shows the Arapahoe County Courthouse, a Greek Revival building with a dome topped by a tin statue of "Justicia." Shows the Kittredge Building on 16th Street, the Hotel Broadway at the intersection of 16th Street and Broadway, and the Denver Fire Department's Engine House no. 1on the corner of Colfax and Broadway. Signs read: "Palace Stables," "Drink Zang's Pilsner Beer, Broadway Bar," "Hotel Broadway," "Automobiles, Repairs, Storage."
History Colorado. 86.200.3589

What a difference a hundred or so years makes in Denver’s history. This image was taken from the Colorado State Capitol Building’s dome overlooking the space that is now Civic Center Park. The image, taken by William Henry Jackson at the turn of the twentieth century, shows some notable buildings that are still around today. Can you make any out?

Keeping Watch Over South High School

Image the top of a brick building, upon which a brick pedestal sits. On that pedestal there is a seated bird-like gargolye creature, its wings spread. On either side of the sculpture are two smaller stone birds, looking in opposite directions from each other.
History Colorado. 86.288.49

The architectural gems in Denver extend beyond the beautiful buildings of downtown. Built in 1926, architecture firm Fisher & Fisher designed South High School on the south side of Washington Park and added exciting details such as a winged gargoyle, seen in this photo taken in 1928. In fact, the school newspaper is called The Gargoyle!

A Dwarf Among Giants

Photo of a Victorian home being demolished, with multi-story buildings towering over it. There is a chute coming from the front upstairs window of the house, down to the front lawn. The roof is being torn down and large parts of it are missing, exposing wooden beams. All of the windows are gone. Tall trees stand near the house, and an vintage car is in the corner of the front yard. Atop a tall building in the distance are tall letters that say "Hotel Cosmopolitan."
History Colorado. 86.296.6968

Parts of downtown Denver were once residential streets, which is hard to imagine today, with all the high-rise buildings. This image of the Tabor mansion, captured August 28, 1928, shows the massive change Denver was going through, even before the demolition days of the 1960s and 1970s. What a wonder this would have been to see!

City Park Fountain at Night

Photo of fountains at Denver's City Park, illuminated in the nighttime darkness. There are two smaller sprays up into the air on each side of a larger cluster of water sprays, with one tall burst of water in the center. The water glows white, and the reflection of the illuminated fountain sprays are visible in the perfectly still water of the lake in the foreground.
Denver Post Collection, History Colorado. 86.296.8153

City Park by night is a magical view whilst out and about in Denver. The park was established in 1882 and is the largest urban park in the city. Today, tons of events happen at the park, including the conclusion of the Colfax City Marathon. This image, taken in the 1920s, shows a more whimsical side to the open space.

What would City Park be without the geese?

Photo of gaggle of about fifteen geese in Denver's City Park. Some are wading in the calm waters of the lake, while others are standing on the pavement "shore" watching the swimming foul. A few are stepping out of the water and onto the concrete. In the distance, a few people are walking along the lakeside, and the reflection of distant trees is mirrored on the farthest edges of the water.
History Colorado. 86.296.8055

It’s not just people who think Denver is a magical place to be. If you don’t believe us, just look at these geese flocking to City Park in the 1920s. City Park remains a hotspot for birds, and birdwatchers flock to the park to check them out.

16th Street

Image of a picture postcard of Downtown Denver around 1950-1960. The photograph has been taken from an intersection along Sixteenth Street. Signs on buildings read "Paramount (Theatre)" "Denver" "Skagg's" and "Swift's Ice Cream," among others. Cars are travelling in one direction along Sixteenth, toward the D&F Tower in the distance.
History Colorado. 88.526.912

Denver’s 16th Street has always been a vital thoroughfare of downtown. Even though it has changed frequently and is now the pedestrianized 16th Street Mall, there are still visible landmarks that make the street an iconic destination for tourists and locals alike. (The D&F Clock Tower is always a recognizable sentry of our beloved downtown.)

Calypso Clown, Elitch Gardens

Photo of Elitch Gardens. In the background is the Calypso ride, which is stationary in this image and a few people are walking toward the gate to enter the ride. In front of the ride is a large white clown face, with its mouth open wide and its large red tongue has a large hole in the center. The clown is staring straight ahead. Above the face is a sign that reads "I'm Happy the Paper & Trash Eating Clown. Please feed me."
History Colorado. PH.PROP.3125

Last but not least, something wild and fun to see in the streets of Denver. Elitch Gardens knows how to show off. What, at first glance, appears to be a large clown is, in fact, a trash can. It seems even trash receptacles like to be flashy in Denver.