A History of Old San Rafael

 Written by Stella Logan, circa 1982

The San Rafael Historic District is significant historically for its representation of the growth and development of Denver neighborhoods during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for its association with developers who were influential in the growth of city, and for its association with prominent citizens who lived in the district. The land was originally part of an eighty-acre homestead claimed by Courtland C. Clements in 1865. Clements sold the land to a number of prominent businessmen, including William Clayton, John W. Horner, Charles B. Kountze, and William and Mortiz Barth. Developers Henry A. Debois, Jr., purchased Clayton’s acreage and created a subdivision named after his home town of San Rafael, California. The San Rafael Addition was filed with the city in 1874.

Two years later, Horner’s Addition in the northwest corner of the district was created by Judge John W. Horner. Horner was one of the leading mining attorneys in the state and a prominent figure in Colorado history. Horner owned several farms in various parts of Colorado and held large investments in Denver real estate.

The Second Filing to San Rafael was created by John M. Berkey in 1882. Berkey was a real estate broker and first president of the Denver Real Estate Exchange. His firm, John M. Berkey and Company, was the oldest real estate business in Colorado. The Real Estate Exchange was incorporated in 1879 was played a prominent role in advertising the advantages on Denver to potential residents, businesses, and industries. The group assisted in acquiring land donated by the city for the Grant Smelter, the Overland Cotton mills, and Fort Logan. In 1886, a third San Rafael filing was completed.

Charles B. Kountze created the Kountze Addition in 1882. Historian Lyle Dorsett called Kountze “one of five men to direct Denver’s development in the 1860s”. Kountze was an organizer of the Mining Stock Exchange in 1875, an incorporator of the Denver and South Park Railway Company, a director of several construction companies, treasurer of the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad, and founder of Kountze Brothers Bank, a private banking establishment, later reorganized as Colorado National Bank.

Barth’s Addition was also associated with very successful Denver businessmen. Brothers William and Mortiz Barth created the subdivision, which was filed with the city in 1884. The Barths were born in Germany and came to the United Sates in the 1850s, setting up a large boot and shoe business in Missouri. In 1861, the brothers traveled to Colorado, stopping at California Gulch (Leadville) and then returning to Missouri to manufacture nail boots for miners. In 1862, the brothers crossed the plains with two wagons, William settling in Fairplay and Moritz in Montgomery. In 1863, William moved to Denver and established a small business.

William became vice president of the City National Bank, a director of the San Juan Bank in Del Norte, and a director of the Denver and South Park Railroad Company. Mortiz Barth was associated with many of the same enterprises as his brother. Together they invested in real estate which made them “handsome fortunes”. William Barth purchased the Equitable building, Denver’s finest nineteenth century office building, and left an estate worth an estimated $5 million when he died in 1914. After William Barth’s death, his means of acquiring real estate was related in the Denver Post, which recorded that “when anyone possessed a parcel of land of which he desired to rid himself, he went to William Barth. And Barth, bargaining, driving the price down to the lowest possible point, usually bought”.

Although principally developed in later decades, as growth proceeded southeast from Curtis Park, the San Rafael area attracted a few residents in the 1870s. The first house built in the San Rafael subdivision was erected by James Donaldson, the real estate agent for the San Rafael Addition, in 1875 at 2096 Emerson (demolished). Donaldson, a Scottish immigrant, convinced others from Great Britain to purchase homes in the area. By 1879, Sidney B. Morrison had completed his Italianate style home at 2229 Clarkson. Morrison was manager of A.M. Morrison and Company, lumber dealers.

The San Rafael area has been characterized as serving as a “kind of bridge, between the ‘old’ elite residential neighborhood around Curtis Park and the new, emerging elite neighborhood of Capitol Hill to the south”. Development in San Rafael proceeded from the western edge of the district along Washington Street eastward. By the mid-1880s sections of the neighborhood were being actively developed. The small lots in Horner’s Addition were filled with frame dwellings by the late 1880s, while Kountze’s Addition filled with small brick houses by 1893. Barth’s Addition was developed with brick homes spreading outward from the western portion of the subdivision. The neighborhood attracted citizens with a variety of social and economic backgrounds, with professions such as blacksmith, laborer, clerk, salesperson, attorney, and doctor.

Although San Rafael was predominantly a middle class residential area, several prominent residents who influenced the development of the city lived in the district. Henry Gebhard, president of Western Manufacturing Company, sate legislator, and bank director, built a large Italianate style home at 2253 Downing. George Woodwall, superintendent at Davis Creswell Manufacturing Company, resided at 2019 Emerson in 1888. Charles J. Hughes, who lived at 2026 Emerson, was a successful attorney who represented major businesses such as Great Western Sugar Company, the First National Bank, and the Denver Tramway Company. Hughes served as U.S. Senator from Colorado during 1909-11. Dr. Jeremiah T. Eskridge, neurologist and dean of the University of Colorado Medical School, lived at 2037 Emerson. John J. Gillmore, president of the Northern Colorado Irrigation Company and the Highline Canal Company, owned the home at 2401 Emerson designed by John J. Huddart. Osmyn S. Parker, early Denver businessman who operated a wholesale cigar firm, an insurance company, and a manufacturing and import agency, lived at 2096 Emerson. One of Denver’s early women doctors, Ida Noyes Beaver, lived in a terrace apartment at 2355-61 Ogden, while Dr. Agnes Brandon Scott resided at 815 East Twenty-third Avenue. Colorado Poet Laureate Thomas Hornsby Ferril lived in the Frank Goodnow designed home at 2123 Downing, now a Denver Landmark.

Architecturally, the district is significant for its historic housing which reflects the tastes as lifestyles of the middle class during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Denver, as well as for its religious structures which represent some of the finest ecclesiastical architecture found in the city. The district is notable for its collection of Queen Anne style homes which represent one of the most popular architectural styles of the late nineteenth century, as well as for excellent examples of other styles, including Italianate, Foursquare, Classic Cottage, and Dutch Colonial Revival. Several of the buildings in the district reflect the work of early Denver architects, including A. Morris Stuckert (2080 and 2084 Clarkson); John J. Huddart (2502-04 Clarkson and 2401 Emerson); Frank Goddnow (2307-09 Clarkson and 2135 Downing); Balcomb and Rice (four houses on East Twenty-third Avenue, 2076 Ogden, and 2096 Emerson); and Franklin Kidder (Christ/Scott Methodist Church, 2201 Ogden).

The San Rafael Historic District is a unique and well-preserved collection of historic building representing Denver’s middle class housing and religious structures of the period 1874 and 1910, ranging from early vernacular frame homes to substantial architect designed dwelling and landmark churches. The district is notable for the cohesiveness of its built environment in terms of size, scale, building materials, and craftsmanship.


For additional information on Old San Rafael and surrounding neighborhoods, visit the Denver Public Library’s website.