Monday, June 25, 2012

Grant-Frontier Park and Montana City

Grant-Frontier Park is located on Evans Ave. on the banks of the South Platte River. It contains the site of Montana City, the first settlement of white miners and pioneers in what would eventually become the Denver area. The town was initially built in 1858 but was quickly moved further up the Platte to join the Auraria settlement. Montana City pre-dates the creation of the state of Colorado by 18 years and the settlement was considered a part of the Kansas Territory.

The history of Montana City is relatively short, since the gold diggings that were discovered there were neither as large or as profitable as the miners had hoped. The original settlement owed its existence, like many of the towns and settlements in Colorado that sprung up during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, to the belief or hope that there would be valuable minerals , primarily gold, to be found nearby. The site chosen for Montana City was on the banks off the South Platte River, just north of the confluence of Little Dry Creek, and was close to placer gold deposits that had been discovered along the Platte.

The population of Montana City was made up of a portion of the much larger Lawrence Party, a group of prospectors that had left Lawrence, Kansas in search of gold, wealth, and adventure. The Lawrence Party was one of two primary groups of gold-seekers that came to Colorado in the late-1850s. The Lawrence Party would eventually settle at Montana City while the Russell Party, from Georgia, settled at the Auraria site. Initially following the Santa Fe Trail, the Lawrence Party traveled through Bent's Old Fort, prospected near the Garden off the Gods outside of Colorado Springs, and then headed into the San Luis Valley. It was here that the group split, with some members continuing on to Taos, New Mexico and others following the Platte River north towards what would become Denver.

When the prospectors reached the confluence of the Platte and Little Dry Creek the built a row of cabins, thus creating the first permanent structures in the Denver area. Unfortunately, the mining operation failed completely, with many of the settlers leaving by the first winter and returning to Kansas. The cabins were dismantled and moved upstream to the Auraria site, which was a far more successful settlement.

Today there is a very nice park on the site, which is right next to a very busy bike path. The site has been completely demolished by time/improvements/development/etc. but there are a few structures, the cabin and mining equipment pictured above, which were reconstructed by a local high school and a local historical society. There's some neat history in the area, but there's not a lot to see there today.

Getting There By Bike...
The easiest way to get to the park, at least from where I live, is to get on Asbury, which parallels Evans, and head west. At Santa Fe, merge onto Evans and cross over the highway. The park is on the left, almost immediately after you cross the bridge. The park is also immediately next to the South Platte Bike Path, and a short ride up or down it would bring you right into the center of the site.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ryssby Church

Ryssby Church is located in unincorporated Boulder County between Longmont and Niwot, CO. It sits on N. 63rd St., just south of Nelson Rd. The church was declared a Historical Site by the State Historical Society of Colorado, and was designated a National Historic Site in 1984.

Ryssby Church, est. 1882.
In 1862 a large number of Swedes left their home village of Ryssby and settled in the Boulder Valley. The primary reason for their move was the Homestead Act, a collection of three federal laws that were signed by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. The Homestead Act gave free, undeveloped farm land to any applicant who was willing to establish a "homestead" on what was then federally owned land west of the Mississippi. The only requirements were the filing of an application, and that the land owner be over 21, tat they had not taken up arms against the lawful government of the United States, and that they remain resident for five years and show evidence of having improved the land. These plots, typically around 160 acres, was an expression of the "Free Soil" policy of the Democratic Party of the time. The goal was to empower individual land owners with land and resources and thus stem the development of slave ownership and plantation culture in the western half of the United States.

This community of settlers quickly established a community life that mirrored what they had left behind in Ryssby, Sweden. During the first years of the community the only framed building in the area, the home of Sven J. Johnson, was used as a church, community center, and schoolhouse. In 1875 a separate schoolhouse was built and church services moved to the new building. In 1877 the Rev. Frederick Lagerman arrived in the community and organized the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Ryssby, Boulder County Colorado. On October 31st, 1881, the cornerstone of the new community church was laid.

The newly constructed church, built on donated land and constructed of sandstone cut from a local quarry and donated by a church member, was designed to reflect the church that the settlers had left behind in their hometown of Ryssby. The church was officially dedicated in 1882 and began serving the spiritual needs of the community shortly thereafter.

Over the next 20 years the Ryssby community continued to prosper and, over time, many of the original settlers left the area to settle on larger and more productive farms closer to Longmont. In 1914 the Elim Congregation invited the Ryssby Congregation to join with them, and the Ryssby church, deprived of a local community, was left empty. The church was effectively abandoned until 1924 when a pastor of the Elim Congregation undertook to begin offering Midsummer and Christmas services in the historic building, a tradition which continues today.

Getting There By Bike...
The church is located on 63rd St., north of Boulder and immediately west of Niwot.  The most straight forward way to get there would be to take 61st St. north from Valmont and continue on that street as it becomes 63rd. If a shorter ride is needed you can park in Niwot and follow Niwot Rd. west to 63rd. Make a right and head north for approximately two and a half miles. The church is on the right as you are headed north.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Change of Venue, but not of Theme

There is a fairly significant change in the works here at Cycling Through History. Some weeks ago my wife, my cats, and I left the fabulous San Francisco Bay Area and relocated to Denver, CO. So far the move has been wonderful, with great opportunities, bike riding, and weather across the board.

I'm sad to lose proximity to the history of the Bay Area. I've really come to enjoy exploring the dusty nooks and crannies of my adopted cities of the East Bay and I'm sorry to say that, since I can no longer ride my bike through Old Oakland, or explore the waterfront in San Francisco on two wheels, it's time for a change of topic.

I've already begun to immerse myself in the history of Denver, and of the Front Range. I'm excited by new cities and places to visit, new historical figures to learn about, new topics to address, and new roads to ride on with my bicycle. There is a wealth of history in Colorado and I'm looking forward to learning about it and sharing it with all of you.

I'm also in love with the cycling community out here. Denver has nearly 850 miles of paved bike paths throughout the city. There are cyclists everywhere, and at all times of day. On the paths you'll see anything from a family on cruisers to fully equipped roadies, decked out with carbon  fiber everything. I'm having a great time exploring this city and I'm hopeful that, even though I've left an unbelievably great community of cyclists behind in Oakland, I can find a similarly great group of people here.

I hope that the Californians among you will make this transition with me and that the material will remain interesting and relevant. Thanks for reading and giving me reasons to continue learning about and exploring the cities that I live in.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Chapel of the Chimes

The Chapel of the Chimes is a crematorium and columbarium in Oakland, located at the top of Piedmont Ave. It stands directly outside the gates to Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery. The city of Oakland designated the Chapel of the Chimes as a distinguished city landmark in 1999.

The Chapel of the Chimes was first opened in 1909, though the current building is the result of a large-scale redevelopment of the property that dates to 1928. Lawrence F. Moore, the then business manager of the Chapel of the Chimes, hired local Bay Area architect Julia Morgan to design the new facility. The result was what some have described as her masterwork, a design with accents of both Moorish and Gothic design. Morgan designed an intimate interior space with a series of interconnected galleries, rooms, and gardens, all of which were to be lit by natural light sources during the day.

Mountain View Cemetery was one of the first places that I explored by bike after I had moved to Oakland. I love that it's quiet, and that you can ride your bike to the very top of the cemetery where there is an absolutely stunning view of Oakland, the bay, and San Francisco. If you time your trip right and get there in the relatively early spring the cemetery will be overflowing with tulips that have been planted in the beds over the years.

Getting There By Bike...
It couldn't be easier, just ride your bike to the top of Piedmont Ave.  It's on the left before you go into the gates of Mountain View Cemetery. Please be aware that this is still an active chapel. When I went by there was a funeral service in progress and a number of mourners and family members were waiting outside. Please be respectful of any services that may be ongoing.