A Brief History of Golden

Washington Avenue, circa 1867. Source: Denver Public Library

Washington Avenue, circa 1867. Source: Denver Public Library

Clear Creek is the historic heart of the Golden community. In the late 1850s gold was discovered in Colorado. Prospectors often looked for gold in the streams coming out of the mountains. When they found it, they followed the streams until they found the source of the gold. In 1859, gold was discovered in Clear Creek. The miners followed the Creek into the mountains and eventually found large deposits in Central City and near Idaho Springs.

Meanwhile, Golden benefited from its position as the last “flat place” before entering the Rocky Mountains. The town became a commercial and agricultural center where people could stock up on the food and equipment they needed to venture into the mountains.

Soon Golden had industry as well—smelters to process the metal mined in the mountains, flour mills to grind the wheat grown on the plains, brick works to form the local clay into building materials, and coal mines to help power it all.

During the 1860s, before Colorado became a state, Golden was the Territorial Capitol. The building where the legislature met still stands at 12th and Washington. Local outrage ran high when Denver snagged the honor of becoming the permanent capitol.

Colorado School of Mines in 1894. Source: Denver Public Library

Colorado School of Mines in 1894. Source: Denver Public Library

Our local newspaper, the Golden Transcript, was established in 1866 by George West, one of the town’s founders, and is still in publication today.

The Colorado School of Mines was established in 1870, to help train the geologists and mining engineers who supported the Colorado mining industry. Over the years, the school has expanded its programs as new technologies arose, beginning with mining in the 19th century, adding petroleum exploration in the 20th, and becoming a leader in renewable energy in the 21st.

Adolph Coors arrived in Golden in 1873, and the brewery he founded is still going strong. Coors is a major employer in the area, and their free tours bring more than 250,000 visitors to Golden every year.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was established during the 1970s “energy crisis.” NREL brings a highly educated workforce to Golden and exerts a strong local influence for sustainable lifestyles.

Clear Creek remains a central element in the life of our town, providing us with both drinking water and recreation. Most community events take place near the Creek, and the Clear Creek Whitewater Park is a popular spot for kayaking and tubing.

Coors Brewery - Established in Golden in 1873.

Coors Brewery – Established in Golden in 1873.

Historic Downtown Golden served as the regional supply center for well over a century, serving not only the city itself but the surrounding farms and ranches in the mountains west of town. By the 1980s, our historic downtown was experiencing the decline that was common to most historic town centers. In response, we established the Golden Urban Renewal Authority (GURA) and charged it with stimulating business, improving the appearance, and making downtown a popular gathering place once again.

The results have been spectacular. The historic buildings have been preserved while the streets and sidewalks have been enhanced with planters, trees, and benches. Residents and visitors alike gather downtown for shopping, dining, and lingering.

Golden also has three residential Historic Districts. The 12th Street district, just west of downtown, includes a number of fine, upper-middle class Victorian houses. The 8th and 9th Street historic district, on the north side of Clear Creek, includes more modest Victorian homes—good examples of working-class houses. The East Street historic district, just east of downtown, includes a mixture of Victorian and early 20th century Craftsman-style homes.

Funicular railway on Lookout Mountain. This was one of two funiculars in Golden. The other ascended Castle Rock on South Table Mountain.

Funicular railway on Lookout Mountain. This was one of two funiculars in Golden. The other ascended Castle Rock on South Table Mountain.

Golden has always welcomed tourists. In the early 1900s visitors took the trolley out from Denver, then hiked or rode a mule up South Table Mountain to enjoy the views. A few years later, a funicular railway carried passengers up to the top of Castle Rock, which welcomed visitors with a restaurant and dance hall. You can still see the scar from the tracks running up the mountainside.

By the 1920s, automobiles were coming into wide use. Denver established its Mountain Parks system, and pleasure trips to the mountains became popular. Golden was the gateway to the mountains, and was once again the place to get outfitted before heading into the hills.

The iconic “Welcome Arch” was added in 1949. This was the dawning of the “westerns” era in Hollywood, and Golden was justifiably proud of its status as an authentic western town.

The late 20th century saw the founding of several of our museums – the Quilting, Mountaineering, Railroad, and Art museums joining the long-established Geology, History, and Buffalo Bill museums. Outdoors enthusiasts have also discovered Golden, and the City is a popular spot for hiking, biking, kayaking, fly-fishing, and rock-climbing.

Buffalo Bill Days is one of several annual festivals held in downtown Golden.

Buffalo Bill Days is one of several annual festivals held in downtown Golden.

Golden continues to thrive in the 21st century. Our historic mining and smelting industries have given way to high tech and “green” industries. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has joined Coors and the Colorado School of Mines as major influences in the community. Clear Creek still flows through the town, supplying excellent Rocky Mountain drinking water and providing a place to play year round.


“A Brief History of Golden” was excerpted by permission from Guidebook to Golden Colorado by Barb Warden.

For Further Reference


To learn more about Golden’s history, check the following books.  Most of these are available for purchase at the Golden History Center or for check-out at the Golden Library.

Black, Robert C. Railroad Pathfinder: The Life and Times of Edward L. Berthoud. Cordillera Press, Evergreen, Colorado. 1988.

Brown, Georgina. The Shining Mountains. B&B Printers, Gunnison, Colorado. 1976.

Eckley, Wilton. Rocky Mountains to the World: The History of the Colorado School of Mines. The Donning Company Publishers, Virginia Beach, Virginia. 2004.

Lomond, Carole. Jefferson County Colorado – A Unique & Eventful History! Views Publishing Company, Golden, Colorado. 2009.

Lowther, Todd. Castle Rock and the Ku Klux Klan. Gypsey Publications, Golden, Colorado. 2007.

Norman, Cathleen. Golden Old & New: A Walking Tour Guide. Preservation Publishing, Lakewood, Colorado. 1996.

Ramstetter, James K. Life in the Early Days. Alameda Press, Denver, Colorado. 1996.

Wagenbach, Lorraine, and Jo Ann E. Thistlewood. Golden: The 19th Century: A Colorado Chronicle. Harbinger House, Littleton, Colorado. 1987.

Wagenbach, Lorraine, Editor. A Woman’s Life in Golden. Written by the Members of the Pioneer Delphian Study Club. Golden History Museums, Golden, Colorado. 2010.

Warden, Barb.  Funiculars of Golden Colorado. Golden Dot Com Publishing, Golden, Colorado. 2013.

150 Golden Years Slide Show

Golden celebrated its 150th birthday in June of 2009.  Many, many people worked hard to make the celebration a success.  We had a great parade downtown and capped the evening with a laser light show and a slide show of Golden’s history in photos.  You can buy the DVD that was shown that night at the Golden Visitors Center (10th and Washington).  Cafe 13 at 13th & Arapahoe shows that CD non-stop during business hours.


You can learn more about Golden’s history at the Golden History Museums.  These City-operated museums include the Clear Creek History Park, Golden History Center, and the Astor House.

Historic Preservation Board

Golden has a Historic Preservation Board.  Its members are volunteers.  They must apply for the job and are interviewed and chosen by the City Council.  The Board is consulted on a variety of issues regarding preservation of historic structures within the city.  Learn more about the HPB by visiting their page on the City’s web site.  The page shows the current board members, describes their charter and responsibilities, and includes links to a number of interesting documents.  If you’re interested in keeping track of what this group is doing, you are welcome to attend their bi-weekly meetings.

Ronzio Photo Collection at the Golden Landmarks Association Office

The Ronzio collection includes approximately 350 photographs. The collection includes the first laws published in Golden for the Colorado Territory. It is considered one of the more comprehensive photographic collections of Golden.  To see it, visit the Golden Landmarks Association office during business hours.

Links to Other Web Pages Covering Golden History

History of the M

History of the Golden Gem (the building that Starbucks is in!)

Lariat Loop Trail

Magic Mountain – The Lost Heritage of Heritage Square