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A Brief History of the Auraria Campus

A story of a campus built, and a community lost


Before Auraria was established by miners, the land belonged to the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Ute native peoples.
Photo: John Mazzetta • The Sentry

An eclectic mix of contemporary, concrete facades and old brick buildings such as the Tivoli or St. Cajetan’s church are hallmarks of the Auraria campus students know today. With the Denver skyline as its backdrop, the tri-institutional campus is like few others. And with modern architecture going up at an ever-increasing rate, it can be difficult to imagine what comprised the cityscape long before the Auraria campus made its debut in 1976. 

Fortunately, there is a wealth of historical evidence on the history of the land which the Auraria campus now occupies. and some physical evidence as well. Of course, there’s the Emmanuel Chapel, St. Cajetan’s, and the Tivoli. Though some of the most eye-catching evidence of Auraria’s past is a short block of colorful, Victorian homes known as 9th Street Historic Park. The former residences stand as reminders of a storied and troublesome past–but more on this later.

The Auraria campus began as a mining settlement, being founded in 1858 by miners who had found gold in the area. The discovery of gold inspired the name “Auraria” itself, which is derived from the Latin term aurum, meaning gold. Auraria is Denver’s oldest neighborhood, and the settlement preceded the founding of Denver itself. However, competition with the neighboring Denver City meant the end for a standalone settlement, and in 1860 the neighborhood merged with Denver, inciting a large influx of working-class residents to the area. Mills, factories, and in 1860, a precursor to the Tivoli brewery known as Sigi’s brewery, popped up all over the neighborhood. Nearby these businesses were densely packed residences, which consisted mostly of immigrants from central and eastern Europe. 

By the early 20th century, workers began to move out of Auraria in favor of suburban living, and the demographic of the area shifted, becoming a distinctly Hispanic neighborhood. Workers from New Mexico and Mexico took up residence in the area, and in 1926, St. Cajetan’s Catholic Church was constructed in the heart of Auraria. The Church would provide a gathering place for families, and thus was a cherished spiritual and cultural heart of the community until the late 1960’s, when it took on a far different role. 

By the 1960’s, the working-class neighborhood faced immense pressure to vacate the neighborhood from Denver City Council and Mayor Bill McNichols, who described Auraria as “a deteriorating area.” Auraria residents fought back, establishing St. Cajetan’s as a center for resistance efforts. The residents fought passionately against relocation, but the city overruled their opposition. In 1969, Denver moved forward with the Auraria campus project, razing family homes and businesses, and effectively eliminating a community. 

In the wake of so much destruction, residents managed to save cultural mainstays including St. Cajetan’s and 9th Street Historic Park, though the damage to a community was seemingly irreparable. And while a student community now occupies Auraria, the storied ground where campus now stands was once a workplace for some, and a home for many.

This is a selection from the 2021 Orientation Issue. To view the full issue, visit: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/941894612/

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