Good Historical Archaeological Inquiry Starts with Good Archival Research
Solving the History Mystery!
How do we begin to understand the history of 1200 block of Broadway?
There are several ways to begin our search. Historical data can be found in a number of sources including maps, household indexes and historic photographs. These items give us great clues and can aid us in knowing what may lie below the ground for archaeological inquiry.
What the maps show us:
Early maps indicate what types of structures were on this site. One very early map by H. Wellge in 1889 clearly shows a wood frame house located at the corner of 12th and Broadway along with brick residences along Broadway and Lincoln (link: H. Wellge map).
Sanborn fire insurance maps produced by the Sanborn Map Company from the 1860's to the present day are large scale city maps, detailed to the block and building level, that show residential, commercial, and industrial uses of sites, building footprints, potential environmental hazards, and construction details of structures. These detailed maps were originally designed to assist fire insurance agents in determining the potential damage from fires, assessing risk, and setting premiums. Since the information on these maps is so detailed, historians and archaeologists use them to obtain great clues about the size and use of historic buildings.
Sanborn Insurance Maps for the 1200 block of Broadway show the evolution of the area from 1890 to 1951. The 1890 Sanborn map (link: 1890 Sanborn map) shows the same arrangement of residential homes as the earlier Wellge map. In 1904 the smaller lots were sold and attached domestic residences were built along 12th Avenue (link: 1904 Sanborn map). At the same time, at the corner of 13th and Broadway, a round building known as the Broadway Natatorium was constructed at the site (a natatorium is a building containing a swimming pool).
By 1929 the Sanborn maps show the block dominated by the automobile industry related businesses (link: 1929 Sanborn map). Finally the 1951 Sanborn map shows the block again dominated by auto service and sales related businesses (link: 1951 Sanborn map). The only residential structure remaining is an apartment building on Lincoln.
Householder Directory and the Clerk and Recorder's Records
One great source of information that can give historians and archaeologists clues as to who lived or worked at a particular building is the The Denver Householder Directory. This index of occupants started in 1924 and was based on earlier directories. It has continued to be published right up to the present day. These are arranged by address, allowing the historian and archaeologist to find out who was living in the house and/or the owner or the name of a business.
What the Householder's Directories show us:
Long term residences living in 1200 block
Street: Address: Name(s) (prominent year(s) of occupation):
- 12th Ave 23 Yale, Mildred, R. (Widow to Frank F.) (noted living there from 1926 - 1947)
- Lincoln 1241 Rangeleigh Apartments (1926 - 1951)
- Broadway 1200 Platt-Butler Motor Co. autos (1929- 1931)
- Baptie Chevrolet (1932 - 1933)
- Capital Chevrolet (1934-1941)
- Hoskins-Beaty Motor (1947)
- Western States Finance Corporation (1950)
- Weaver-Beatty Motor Co (1951)
- Broadway 1236 Nelson and Nelson Grocers (1926)
- Broadway 1278 Botterill Tom, Inc. Auto (1927)
- Capital Chevrolet Co. (1945 - 1951)
A number of the row house residences appear to be widows and a few auto dealers move from one side of the block to the other (Capital Chevrolet). When we map out each of the residences and business for each year we can see the spatial distribution (link: Householder Map).
What the Clerk and Recorder's records show us:
The block and the area was first developed by Henry Cordes Brown (link: HCB photo). Brown came to Denver in 1860, homesteaded in Capitol Hill, and tried to sell the Hill area as an elite residential neighborhood (link: Capitol Hill Community). He donated the site for the state capitol to encourage the selling of his lots in the surrounding subdivision. He built Denver’s finest hotel, the Brown Palace Hotel at 17th and Broadway.
"A picture is worth a thousand words" is a popular saying. Indeed looking at several old photos is like viewing the past as if you were transported to another time.
The very earliest photo from this area is one taken from the corner of 12th and Lincoln looking at the newly constructed St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at 1160 Lincoln Street, dating to around 1890 – early 1900’s (link: St. Mark’s photo). This can be compared with a later photograph, ca. 1930, taken from the same location, presumably from the lawn of one of the attached residential homes shown on the 1929 Sanborn map (link: St. Mark's ca. 1930). Notice the growth of the trees surrounding the church, the paved roads, automobiles, overhead streetlights and telephone poles.
Perhaps the best overall image of the block is a view looking south from 13th Avenue toward 12th Avenue and Broadway, taken between 1920-1930. We can see the types of businesses prevalent at the time, including Tom Botterill Auto Sales, and the dominance of the automobile and streetcar system (Link: Botterill, 13th to 12th, ca. 1930).
The Rangeleigh Apartments (link: Rangeleigh Apartments photo) located at 1241 Lincoln is seen in this photograph ca. 1929. The apartments served as a temporary boarding house for new arrivals to Denver.
Perhaps the greatest aid to the archaeologists however was this excellent 1938 aerial photo taken by Robert Sardakowski (link: 1938 aerial photo). The photo has been modified with an inset of the 12th and Broadway block to show the archaeological excavation area.
Solving this history mystery begins with good archival research.