“Did you know Denver’s Colfax Avenue is the longest continuous street in the United States?”
Chris knows me too well; as well as he knows Denver, after spending the last twenty-five years of his life living there. I was as curious as I am inevitably gullible; the two obviously go hand in hand.
I knew Denver was the mile-high city (that’s pretty common knowledge), which is an obvious plus in giving Denver's skyscrapers a little extra leverage in reaching new heights of financial success;
The West’s longest, wickedest concrete vein is still pumping life into Denver and surrounding parts (the cities of Aurora and Lakewood are at opposite ends of Colfax Avenue ) even though some stretches look like all the life has been sucked out of what was once a thriving commercial center during the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858.
Either way, I had to see this piece of Denver’s past and present for myself.
Ironically, it was progress that resulted in the most recent economic collapse along Colfax Avenue, dating back to the 1960’s. Like many of America’s mom-and-pop operations that supported the advent of a mobile society, in towns across the country following World War II, when those tourist dollars were diverted with President Eisenhower’s new Interstate Highway System, Colfax Avenue lost the economic base needed to prevent the decay that in turn generated the “white flight.”
"And that thoroughfare, born beneath the mountainous mountains of rocky peaks so high, seeing as it shall victual to prospectors, explorers, and men of chance, and whereas said men, in their sparse moments of recess and requiescence, require relief of an immediate and carnal
conformation, let Colfax Way be a den of avarice, a cauldron of covetousness, a peccadillo wharf in a sea-storm of morality. Let not a man walk Colfax Way and wonder, 'Where shall I deposit my virility this eve, where may I encounter mine intoxicant?' for he shall find all he seeks on Colfax. Curse these vexatious rickets!"
Wow, he was certainly the politician! Colfax could ride a lot of bull in the local rodeos with that rhetoric. Apparently I’m not alone in my observations. Abraham Lincoln privately regarded Colfax as "a little intriguer—plausible, aspiring beyond his capacity, and not trustworthy".
Perhaps Colfax Avenue might have fared better with its original name, Grand Avenue. Schuyler’s involvement with the worst political scandal of the 19th century essentially ended his political career in the days leading up to the end of his term as Vice President to Ulysses Grant in 1872.
The rise and fall of Denver’s famed Colfax Avenue has repeatedly followed the ebb and flow of economic boom and bust and the sin and salvation that accompanies the worship of such golden calves. And why not; Denver has been the epicenter of entrepreneurial opportunities since the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush days of 1859. Add neglect and poor government choices, and the inevitable urban decay is hardly isolated to the city of Denver, much less Colfax Avenue.
I tried to look past the pawn shops and the barren stretches of urban blight; past the used car lots and seedy bars that line parts of Colfax Avenue in hopes of seeing the promise of that post-Civil War city folks hoped would be the symbol of Denver’s upstart metropolis of the West.
Constructed in the 1890’s of Colorado white granite, the Colorado State Capitol Building (it looked like a smaller version of the U.S. Capitol Building) sits at 200 East Colfax Avenue. Some might say it’s the epicenter of Colfax Avenue’s revitalization efforts.
The Civil War soldier erected in 1907 in front of the Capitol Building had a view to die for
I also missed the wild nights for which Colfax Avenue is so famous given my daytime visit. Maybe next time I can create a little history of my own after dark. Nothing that’s the stuff of legends; just a little hint of sparkle in my otherwise ordinary life, like the gold just beneath the surface of all that rugged grit and grime and promise of grandeur that was and still is the backbone of American’s longest grand avenue.