Neighborhood Spotlight: Barnum
A Brief History
Rumor has it Barnum was originally purchased to house the Ringling Brother’s and Barnum Bailey’s Circus animals in the winter. Although Phineas T. Barnum’s animals were never housed in Colorado (in fact Barnum only had four documented trips to the state), Barnum did buy the 760 acres of land on March 21st, 1878 for $11,000, and the area still retains his name. Barnum later sold off chunks of the land and eventually sold the remaining land to his daughter Helen Buchtel for $1.
It was Helen and her second husband William who were responsible for most of the initial development of Barnum. Established as an independent incorporated community in 1887, with William as their Mayor, the residents of Barnum were considered scrappy with a good sense of humor. The sticky poorly draining soil in the area quickly became a symbol of the community with the saying “if you stick with Barnum, Barnum sticks with you.” Nevertheless, the neighborhood remained a destination for working-class families and in 1896 Barnum was annexed to Denver, bringing in new residential development, businesses, and amenities.
Just like the rest of the Denver, the Great Depression hit Barnum hard, but the strains were eased a bit with the nearby establishment of the Denver Ordnance Plant in 1940 making Barnum and other westside neighborhoods a popular place for the workers to live. In the years after World War II, continued suburbanization, and the development of a vast metropolitan Denver led to a rapid boom in Barnum. In the 1950s, as the Barnum baby boomers were leaving the city for the suburbs, large numbers of Hispanic residents, both from long-established Colorado families relocating to jobs and opportunities in Denver or relatively new immigrants from Mexico, began to make Barnum a distinctly Hispanic neighborhood. In the 1970s, Barnum became a popular neighborhood for new immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, their influence on the area can still be seen in the varied Asian American businesses of Federal Boulevard south of Sixth Avenue.
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