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A trip down Broomfield’s memory lane … and beyond

Broomfield's history spans the decades … and centuries

The Colorado Central Railroad, ?shown in this early day photo, was the first railroad to reach Boulder.
The Colorado Central Railroad, ?shown in this early day photo, was the first railroad to reach Boulder.

Broomcorn, the namesake plant of Broomfield is not a type of corn, but rather a variety of sorghum. That comes later in the story.

Long before white Europeans settled the American West, Colorado land was home to over 50 indigenous tribes. Most recently, the Arapaho and Cheyenne called Colorado their home. After gold was discovered, these Plains Indians were forced to reservations out of state.

A pathway that is now Broomfield’s Highway 287 became an important thoroughfare and stagecoach stop for explorers of the American West. Named the Cherokee Trail after a party of Cherokee Indians who joined the gold rush in 1850, the route was later known as the Overland Trail.

“Broom Corn” will be a suspended sculpture that will feature 12 stalks of broomcorn, the crop for which Broomfield was named, balanced in an ascending arc that moves with air currents inside the new Broomfield Community Center when it opens in the fall. (Photo courtesy of Creative Machines)

The California gold rush of 1849 lured thousands through the region and a decade later in 1859 the Pikes Peak gold rush brought more.

Colorado Territory was formed in 1861, with 17 counties established. The land of the future town of Broomfield was situated in Boulder, Jefferson, Weld counties. (Broomfield would later stretch into Adams County as well.) Land in the new territory was divided into sections that were each a square mile.

In 1873, the Colorado Central Railroad all but replaced stagecoach travel. Later, other railroads were built to connect with Denver that passed through and onto Boulder and Longmont.

The Homestead Act of 1862 brought settlers west to make their fortunes. Some, like Broomfield’s William Brown, who came from England in 1881 to work in the coal mines, became farmers when the mining life didn’t pan out. Brown claimed land in section 34.

In 1884, when the community of farmers and ranchers centered around Section 36 grew large enough for U.S. Post Office deliveries, Broomfield was chosen as the name. Presumably the name came from broomcorn, which had flourished on nearby farms through drought and even plagues of grasshoppers. The tall grain yields long fibrous stems that were manufactured into household brooms and brushes. (Several towns in England were named the same, for their broomcorn fields.)

Homesteaders in the area also grew traditional crops like wheat, corn, alfalfa and fruit trees and they raised beef cattle and dairy cows.

A defining feature of the American West is the shortage of water, but Broomfield farmers were fortunate that Adolf J. Zang saw an opportunity. Zang was the only son of wealthy Denver businessman Philip Zang, a German immigrant. In 1885, Adolf bought land in Broomfield and developed ditches and reservoirs for irrigation. Adolf continued to live in Denver as his primary residence, but he amassed acreage and built the Elmwood Stock Farm for raising his prize-winning muscular black Percheron draft horses, a working breed made for the farm.

Nevertheless, growth was slow and the population of Broomfield at the turn of the 19th century was only around 150 residents.

While the railroads still ran, transportation evolved and in 1908 Broomfield became part of Denver & Interurban running between Denver and Boulder. The electric railroad was replaced by a bus system in the 1930s, just before the Great Depression.

Broomfield residents formed schools and churches and the first bank – all of the necessities of a town. Other farm related businesses developed like the Broomfield Cheese Factory and the Silver Standard Flour and Feed Mill. Henry Crawford kept hundreds of beehives and also served as Broomfield’s postmaster.

When anyone had leisure time, the Zang reservoirs were a refreshing amenity for summertime swimming and rowing.

During the Depression, with Prohibition repealed, the Adolf Coors Company bought a grain elevator nearby and some farmers began growing barely, a key ingredient for beer.

Meanwhile, an idea had been percolating since the 1920s. A more direct road could cut the distance between Denver and Boulder by seven miles. By the 1940s, plans were in the works. The Turnpike Land Company was formed with some land purchased from the early settlers and construction began in 1950.

On January 19, 1952 a thousand people attended the opening of the Denver-Boulder Turnpike, with Governor Dan Thornton remarking, “… It will show Colorado’s beauty to the world.”

Boulder to Broomfield cost 15 cents per car, with 10 cents more to continue to Denver, paid at Broomfield, the sole stop.  A favorite tale from this era was the friendly stray dog that began hanging around the tollbooth. Nicknamed Shep, he became a beloved pet, adopted by the whole community.

The Front Range boomed in the 1950s with new employers at federal scientific labs like the National Bureau of Standards in Boulder and the Rocky Flats ‘top secret’ atomic plant in Jefferson County.

A development on parts of the old Zang ranch was created to house a growing workforce. Just over 900 houses in the ‘First Filing’ of Broomfield Heights subdivision went under construction in 1955. Amenities like electric appliances and garbage disposals attracted thousands to come tour the first 18 show houses of the planned development.

The new community was touted as the perfect place to raise a family. Broomfield Heights was the best of country living combined with the latest in modern living. Residents would have the advantage of being minutes from both Boulder and Denver as well as within easy reach of mountain recreation. The ‘dream city’ of Broomfield Heights was even profiled in the national Architect and Engineer magazine.

As families moved in, more schools were needed and then those were quickly filled to capacity. However, students still had to completed their high school education in Louisville and Lafayette until Broomfield High School was built in 1959.

Post Turnpike growth was astounding. In 1961, with a population approaching 5,000, the city incorporated and elected Don DesCombes as the first mayor. The city’s library opened in 1963. As former first lady and Denver girl Mamie Eisenhower donated many of the books, the building was named in her honor.

The ‘second filing’ homes at Broomfield Heights filled in in the following years. As a testament to its resounding success, the toll road was paid off in 1967, 13 years earlier than planned.

Growth was embraced in Broomfield just as neighboring Boulder was enacting growth-limiting measures. Two notable large developments were the Interlocken business park, which began in 1983 and Flatirons Crossing Mall, opening in 2000.

Conducting official business in four separate counties became more difficult as the population grew. Broomfield took a bold step to go on its own and after passing on the 1998 state ballot, the City and County of Broomfield was formally established in 2001.

Old Broomfield, which in some ways seemed to be frozen in time, became part of the incorporated city of Broomfield the same year.

While mid century population growth had been swift, Broomfield exceeded that in the new millennium nearing 40,000 residents in 2000, surpassing 55,000 by 2010, and reaching close to 65,000 in 2015. Broomfield officials welcomed new companies with incentives and more housing was developed for new Broomfield residents.

The past has shown that in keeping with historic trails, Broomfield is positioned well for opportunity. And like the broomcorn for which it’s named, the city has proven itself successful under changing circumstances.

For further reading: Broomfield: Changes Through Time, by Silvia Pettem.