On October 29, 1858, the first store opens in a small frontier town in Kansas Territory that a month later will take the name of Denver in a shameless ploy to curry favor with Kansas Territorial Governor James W. Denver.
The brainchild of a town promoter and real estate salesman from Kansas named William H. Larimer Jr., Denver and its first store were created to serve the miners working the placer gold deposits discovered a year before at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River. By 1859, tens of thousands of gold seekers had flooded into the area, but by then the placer deposits were already playing out and most miners quickly departed for home or headed west into the mountains in search of richer lodes.
As a result, by 1860, Larimer’s new town had almost failed before it had even really started. Although it was still centrally located for servicing the mining camps along the Rocky Mountain Front Range, Denver had neither the rail or water transportation routes needed to bring in goods cheaply. Even the trans continental Union Pacific railroad, which opened in 1869, didn’t stop at Denver initially. In 1870, Denver began to overcome its geographical isolation with the arrival of the Kansas Pacific Railroad from the East and the completion of the 105-mile Denver Pacific Railway joining Denver to the Union Pacific line at Cheyenne. Other lines began to connect Denver to the booming mining regions in the Rockies, and by the mid-1870s, the city was thriving as a railroad hub and center of the western mining industry.
By 1890, Denver had a population of more than 106,000, making it the 26th largest urban area in the nation and earning it the nickname, the “Queen City of the Plains.” However, the Silver Panic of 1893 brought the boom to an abrupt end, though it was partially revived a year later by the gold discoveries on Cripple Creek. Although the growing significance of farming and ranching helped moderate its ups and downs by decreasing the city’s dependency on mining, this cyclical pattern of economic boom and bust would continue to dominate Denver, and many other western cities, throughout much of the 20th century.