Time Machine Tuesday: Denver Parks and Parkways

Visitors and those new to Denver often remark on the city’s miles of tree-lined parkways and extensive park system. In 1986, the city’s most significant parks and parkways were added to the National Register of Historic Places to gain recognition for their design quality and importance to the city’s history and life. According to the National Register nomination, prepared by a team through the Colorado Historical Society,

All of Denver’s parks and parkways…are part of a green oasis located at the edge of the High Plains…They also share a common relationship to and integration with the other layers of the city’s basic urban design structure: the landforms, the transit ways, and the grid system. And they are all part of a common legacy: the will, the effort, and the imagination of the first generation of Denver citizens, of energetic civic leaders, and of creative designers.

Denver's Civic Center, 1920s
Denver’s Civic Center, 1920s. Courtesy History Colorado.

Denver’s earliest parks and parkways date back to the 1870s and ’80s, but their development was particularly spurred on by the City Beautiful movement, which grew in popularity after the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Following that event – which showcased some of the world’s best architecture, art, culture, and design – cities across the U.S. tried to refashion themselves to emulate the great European cities. One of the central elements of the movement was the addition of parks and green space. Denver’s mayor Robert Speer was a huge proponent of the movement and is remembered for his work to beautify Denver, which included the creation of Civic Center Park as well as the planting of hundreds of trees around the city.

historic photograph of 7th Avenue Parkway
7th Avenue Parkway. Courtesy Denver Public Library Western History Department

Denver’s parks and parkways were created by well-known landscape architects of the time including Reinhard Scheutze, Saco R. DeBoer, and the Olmsted Brothers, sons of the designer of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted. These designers fashioned not only the parks and parkways in Denver city limits, but also 14,000 acres of Denver Mountain Parks as well.

To learn more about the history and design of Denver’s parks and parkways, see the original 1986 National Register nomination as well as the 2006 Directory of Municipal Parks and Parkways on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties.