Arvada's Century: Development of a Community

In 1859, John Reno helped George Calvin Swadley, William Barranger, and others dig the Ralston Point Mining Ditch (later called the Wadsworth irrigation ditch). By 1860 more than thirty land claims had been filed in the Ralston/Clear Creek valley by men who came for gold but stayed to develop farms and establish a home. Crops that thrived were wheat, corn, oats, plums, celery, cherries, berries, melons, strawberries, and various vegetables. At one time, Arvada was known as the "celery capitol of the world." Arvada farmers found a good market for their produce in Denver and in hungry mining camps. They had to drive a horse and wagon into Denver City to pick up their mail and to purchase supplies. Their address was "near Ralston's Point" - the high ridge between Ralston Creek and Clear Creek.

Benjamin Franklin Wadsworth purchased a land claim in 1863 and by 1869 had moved his family into a primitive log cabin. After the Wadsworth family had settled into their log cabin, Benjamin Wadsworth began to make plans for a school located on his property. He also realized that the Colorado Central railroad, laid from Denver to Golden in 1870, would make a post office possible if a town could be platted and named. He developed a plat for a town of nine square blocks on his 160 acres, and his wife Mary Ann named the new town Arvada after her brother-in-law, Hiram Arvada Haskins. The formal notice of the new town, population 100, was posted on December 1, 1870.

Wadsworth applied for a post office and became the first postmaster. Passing trains 'threw off' mail sacks and the Wadsworth family would sort mail into boxes labeled A - Z. Wadsworth worked tirelessly to attract storekeepers and homeowners to the town. Stores were centered around streets called Railroad (later Grand View) and Centre (later Wadsworth Blvd.) and included a bank, doctors, real estate agents, restaurants, grocery stores, a pharmacy, a hardware store, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable and more.

World War I brought an upsurge in prices paid for crops, but the population fell to 840 as most eligible men joined the forces overseas. Rationing of food and supplies affected all citizens, and children helped tend war gardens. Military training was compulsory for freshman and sophomore students, and war training became an elective subject for upperclassmen.

 A.L. Davis built a two-storied brick building to house his Ford Automobile Agency in 1916, and the same year Clemency McIlvoy gave land and money to establish Arvada's first park. Marcello Nicolino erected a brick building in 1922 which housed his drugstore and a grocery store. The Ku Klux Klan had a presence in Arvada. In the early 1920s, the KKK targeted Arvada's small Italian Catholic community, burning crosses on Carr Hill, Hackberry Hill, and the lawn of The Shrine of St. Anne's Catholic Church. Arvada welcomed E.E. Benjamin's Arvada Flour Mill in 1925. Wheat moved through the Mill with a system of bucket elevators. Benjamin conducted a contest to name his fine flour, Arvada-Pride. The first sack of flour was sold on April 12, 1926. The Mill also produced whole wheat flour and self-rising pancake flour. The Flour Mill, located at 5590 Olde Wadsworth Boulevard, can still be viewed today.

World War II ended August 14, 1945, and Arvada, population 1,500, felt the excitement of the housing boom. In 1947 George Clizbe built 38 houses north of Ralston Road, and in 1948, Chet Hoskinson built 38 houses east of Carr Street in west Arvada. Hoskinson, in 1952, built 300 more houses east of Independence Street. With a population of 2,359, Arvada became a City on November 1, 1951.

Arvada's old town boomed. In November of 1947, Lloyd King opened his first King Soopers store in the Ralph E. Ashton Building on West 57th Avenue and Webster Street.

Changes came when Arvada Square Shopping Center opened in 1959 followed by Arvada Plaza Center, and these new centers, coupled with shopping malls throughout the metro-area, pulled business from Arvada's downtown commercial district. Wadsworth By-Pass was constructed in 1958, further diverting traffic from Olde Town Arvada.

Fortunately, City leaders and historians recognized the significance of the Olde Town area. Instead of razing the original downtown for new development, Olde Town Arvada is now a National Historic District and is undergoing a revitalization. Arvada's population has grown significantly from the 600 people who resided here in 1904. Today, Arvada is a thriving suburb of over 102,000 people.