Park History
A Chronology of Cheesman Park
Walter Scott Cheesman
Walter Scott Cheesman was born on Long Island, New York in 1838, the youngest of nine children. His father was reportedly "involved in bookbinding and paper mills". During his youth, Walter Cheesman would live in Chicago for awhile where he worked as a druggist before coming to Denver. He also worked as a druggist with a brother in Denver where he sold basic necessities and potable spring water before expanding into real estate. He then became a leading financial player in Denver's early development. One of his most significant roles would be his involvement with other prominent Denverites in building Denver Pacific Railroad from Cheyene to Denver, critical to the town's early survival. It was completed in 1870. Cheesman was also most responsible for the early expansion of Denver's water infrastructure. He would head four successive water supply companies between 1872 and 1907. Along with three other men, he also founded the organization that became Denver Chamber of Commerce. Walter Cheesman is the namesake behind today's Cheesman Park and Cheesman Pavillion. Other landmarks around Denver are also named for him including Cheesman Reservoir and Cheesman Canyon.

Historical Dates:

  • 1858: The city of Denver was established, as legend goes, by claim jumpers including William Larimer, who then named the town after territorial governor James W. Denver as an act intended to seek his blessing on the new town, in what was then Kansas territory. The preceding claim would have named the town "Saint Charles." Both claims remain controversal. Colorado would not become a state for many years. The urgency in founding the city was because it was a nexus for miners of gold, silver and other metals in the Rocky Mountains. In its earliest days, Denver served as a major mining supply center, selling tools and basic necessities to miners. Meanwhile, the area where Cheesman Park sits today was still hardscrabble hills, populated mostly by buffalo and wildlife amidst rocks and high plains grasses.

  • 1858 November: William Larimer founded Mount Prospect Cemetery, later known as City Cemetery, on the hill that would eventually become Congress Park, Cheesman Park and Denver Botanic Gardens.

  • 1860 March: Gambler Jack O'Neal and, John Stoefel, his murderer, become the first two persons buried in the cemetery. It began to fill with bodies quickly as typhoid and other diseases plagued the overcrowded new population of Denver, which still had no sanitary infrastructure. The graveyard became sardonically known as "Jack O'Neal's Ranch".

  • 1861: Walter S. Cheesman rode into Denver on an ox cart from Chicago, to join his brother in the drugstore business. The drugstore was located at two successive addresses on Blake Street in what is now called lower downtown (LoDo). It profited by selling potable spring water at a time when local surface water sources, such as Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, were becoming dangerously polluted and the town still had no piped water supply or modern sewers. The sale of drinking water, along with badly needed medicines and chemicals, in this thirst-ravaged and disease-plagued town, no-doubt played a significant role in Walter Cheesman's expansion into real estate and financial ventures. He would soon be a leading player in Denver's growth and infrastructure development.

  • 1870: U.S. Land Office declares the Mount Prospect Cemetery location to be federal property.

  • 1872: U.S. Land Office sells property to City of Denver.

  • 1890 January 25 - U.S. Congress authorized the city to vacate Mt. Prospect Cemetery. The area is renamed "Congress Park" after the US. Congress.

  • 1893 March 14: Workers began removing graves. At some point, accusations would occur of grave robbing and hacking up bodies, as a means to avoid digging up most of the graves. Bones of any one person were divided and presented as multiple remains. This fraud is why so many graves are still believed to exist where they were.

  • 1893 March 19: Denver Republican newspaper exposes ghastly treatment of remains by workers exhuming bodies. This would include ripping of clothing and walking on remains. But apparently the full story is not yet known.

  • 1894: Grading began to convert the area to a park.

  • 1907: Denver real estate, railroad and water baron Walter Scott Cheesman dies. Although he was regarded as Denver's preeminent capitalist for some time, he also developed an image of philanthropy. He is buried at Fairmount Cemetery, roughly 5 miles east-southeast of the park, then still known as Congress Park.

  • 1909: Mrs. Walter S. Cheesman and her daughter Gladys Cheesman-Evans, donated a marble pavilion in memory of Walter Cheesman to the City of Denver as part of an agreement to rename a large part of Congress Park as Cheesman Park. A small portion of the once-larger park would still be called Congress Park, southeast of the area that later becomes Denver Botanic Gardens.

  • 1910: Cheesman Park completed including the Pavilion based on design by Willis A. Marean and Albert Julius Norton.

  • 1950s: The removal of graves was terminated. But various local history points to thousands of graves that would never be removed.

  • 2004 March 19: (CyberPark history) The web domain CheesmanPark.net was registered and became the first domain to focus primarily on Cheesman Park. (You're lookin' at it.) Prior to this time, Cheesman Park was mentioned on many websites, but had no website of its own. The similar domain CheesmanPark.com was previously taken in 2002 by another party, but had no known actual content. The domain name CheesmanPark.org would be registered by Cheesman Park Advocacy Group in 2008.

  • 2004: A public meeting hosted at Denver Botanic Gardens, leads to the formation of Cheesman Park Advocacy Group (CPAG), for the purpose of park improvements. (See our Links section for their link.)

Grave of Walter Scott Cheesman and Alice Foster Cheesman, his second wife, at Fairmount Cemetery. Photo by CheesmanPark.net
CheesmanPark.net consulted various books and online sources to compile the history on this page, pertaining to matters of Cheesman Park and Walter S. Cheesman. If you happen to want a deeper view to this local and state history, please see our links for historical pages online or go to the Western History department of Denver Public Library. Or visit the library online. Some of the best accounts in print would be the books of Phil Goodstein, including Ghosts of Capitol Hill, which are available locally at Tattered Cover bookstores. Another good resource is Colorado Historical Society.

© Cheesman Park Net, 2004 and later

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