Aug
13

Rebirth of Denver’s Union Station: Anne Evans’ Father in the News

By

Amid all its recent coverage of the rebirth of Denver’s Union Station, with its “$54 million addition of “a hotel, shops, restaurants and bars” (1), the Denver Post made a little excursion into our city’s early history. They reminded readers that, more than a century before the 1980’s, when the city “was choking on a brown cloud of pollution and struggling with a decaying downtown and a sputtering economy,”(2) a gleeful leader in a rival city had pronounced Denver “too dead to bury.”(3)

The year was 1865, and Denver’s leaders had lost the battle to have the transcontinental railroad routed over the mountains and through their city. The Union Pacific Railroad understandably took the easier course through Cheyenne, Wyoming. Denver’s economy, already adversely affected by the Civil War and the stagnation of gold mining, plunged into what could have been a death spiral. Population declined, business dwindled. The dire economic times forced the Colorado Seminary, forerunner of the University of Denver – which had opened with high hopes in 1864 – to close its doors.

Denver - Union StationThe city’s economic turnaround was largely due to the stubborn and persistent efforts of one man, John Evans. At the time, Evans was embroiled in his own serious troubles following the October,1864 Sand Creek Massacre, the issue over which he lost his position as Colorado’s Territorial Governor. Nevertheless, when “a representative of the Union Pacific came to Denver…in 1867 to suggest that the businessmen of Denver should form a railroad company and build a line to Cheyenne with help from the Union Pacific, there was an immediate response from men like David Moffat, John Evans and William Byers.”(4)

In my book, I describe the almost superhuman efforts of John Evans to assure the success of this venture, involving “an overwhelming series of financial organizations and reorganizations, contracts with construction companies, and congressional lobbying to secure land grants. At one point, with no prospects and construction at a complete standstill, Evans resigned as president of the board of directors and signed a contract to build the railroad and pay off its debts. At the beginning of 1870, Evans again became President of the Denver Pacific Railroad, and was on hand at the Denver Depot. when the tracks finally reached the city on June 23, 1870.“(5)

The first incarnation of the Denver Union Station opened in 1881 – described as an Italianate structure with two stories and an 180-foot tower. The center section burned in 1894, and the entire structure was razed in 1914 to make room for the new neoclassical station which opened in 1917.


1 Jaffe, Mark, “Denver’s renovated Union Station has been a 30-year barn-raising,” Denver Post, Business Section, pg 1 Sunday, July 13, 2014.
2 Ibid
3 Ibid
4 Sternberg, Barbara E. with Jennifer Boone and Evelyn Waldron. Anne Evans – A Pioneer in Colorado’s Cultural History: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE. Evergreen: Buffalo Park Press with Center for Colorado and the West Auraria Library. 2011. pg 77.
5 Ibid. pp 77-78

Comments

  1. Linda Pohle says:

    I did not know that John Evans made any positive contributions to Denver and our state after his role in the Sand Creek Massacre. Now I do, thanks to your blog.

    • Barbara E. Sternberg says:

      Dear Linda: Thank you for your comment. I suspect you are not the only Denverite who thinks that John Evans’ contributions to this City and to Colorado ceased after he lost the Governorship. But that is far from the truth. For example – in addition to his business ventures, which included participation in the expansion of railroads throughout the state and investments in real estate – he almost singelehandedly saved Denver University from extinction. After its earlier incarnation as the Colorado Seminary had to shut down for economic reasons in 1867, he acquired and conserved its assets for years, and tendered them back to the Methodist Conference so the University could reopen in 1880.

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