Denver in the 1880s

The road to redemption is never smooth. Nor is it boring. With that in mind, I’ve tried to avoid using clichéd characters in my books, especially in my Charity House series. Although I’ve had the requisite lawmen and schoolmarms, I’ve also highlighted a rebel preacher, a Shakespearean stage actress, a frontier doctor, an opera singer, a swanky hotel owner, a frontier lawyer and even an artist. Each book in the series is connected in some way to Charity House, a baby farm dedicated to caring for the abandoned children of prostitutes. I’m working on the eighth book in the series, with at least four more coming.

Set in Denver, Colorado in the 1880s, the city itself is always an important character. Thus, I’ve had the opportunity to explore Denver at a time when it was morphing from a mining boom town into a metropolitan city. Two of my favorite buildings

were built at the time my books occur. Both are visited by my characters in my current manuscript.

The first is The Brown Palace. The hotel was built in early 1890, when people were still flocking to the west and seeking their fortunes in gold and silver. Denver was a favorite stop for all, whether coming from or going to the mountains. Henry Cordes Brown, a former carpenter from Ohio, arrived in the city in 1860 and was responsible for building the hotel. When he first settled in Denver he purchased several acres of land that he originally used to graze cattle. He eventually donated some of that land for the state capital and then decided the city needed a grand hotel on part of the rest.

Designed in the Italian Renaissance style, the exterior of The Brown Palace was made of Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone. The building housed the country’s first atrium lobby with balconies rising eight floors above the ground, cordoned off with cast iron railings. No wood was used for the floors or walls, unusual for the time period and making the structure fireproof.

The hotel opened on August 12, 1892.

One of the long-standing traditions still in practice today is “taking tea” at the Brown Palace. It is served in the atrium lobby, accompanied by either a harpist or piano player. Next time I’m in Denver I plan to partake in said afternoon tea. Anybody want to join me?

My second favorite structure is The Tabor Grand Opera House, built in 1881. Although professional opera was performed in Denver as early as 1860, it wasn’t until The Tabor opened that the city hosted full productions from first class companies. Built by one of Leadville, Colorado’s new millionaires, A. W. Tabor, the opera house was designed specifically to rival Europe’s grandest theaters. No expense was spared. The finest words were used and an impressive chandelier hung high above the parquet floor of the auditorium. The ceiling was 65 feet high. In the center was a circular dome painted to represent a sky with clouds.

The stage was as equally grand as the rest of the building, measuring 72feet wide by 50 feet deep. Large

stained glass windows provided ample light for daytime events. There were over 1500 velvet-covered seats in the main auditorium, as well three tiers of private boxes on either side of the stage. If I could take a trip back in time I’d love to take in a performance of the Barber of Seville, a favorite of many Denver residents at the time of the building’s completion.

Which would you rather visit? The hotel or the opera house?

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Written by Renee Ryan

Award-winning, multi-published author Renee Ryan sold her first book by winning the 2001 inaugural Dorchester/Romantic Times New Historical Voice Contest. She sold her second book to Harlequin Love Inspired Historical and has since sold nine more manuscripts to Love Inspired and Love Inspired Historical.

Visit Renee Ryan's website


11 Comments on “Denver in the 1880s”

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  1. Maxie Anderson says:

    This was interesting about Denver. That Tabor Opera House is something else.
    I would love to go there, tho, I think it would be very grand inside and nice to
    see. Maxie

  2. Karen Witemeyer says:

    I love the mountain backdrop and the wonderful historical architecture. Great stuff, Renee. Being a music lover, I would definitely choose a visit to the opera house. I used to sing with a classical chorus, and one year we put together a short European tour. One of the places we stopped was Vienna, and I will never forget walking through one of their opera houses. So opulent. Painted ceilings, chandelliers, opera boxes for the wealthy patrons. I could almost see the ghosts of past visitors in their evening dresses and tailored suits. Gorgeous!

  3. Tanya Hanson says:

    Howdy, Renee, wonderful post and pictures. I did my student teaching in Denver long ago and it’s a place that still lives in my heart. In fact, hubby and I plan on “touring” Colorado next fall. Thanks for the jump-=start to our trip. And the series, BTW, is wonderful. So glad there’s more to come. xo

  4. Connie J. says:

    Love the pictures and love to visulize places when a character in a book visits them. Our daughter lives in the mountains a little south and west of Denver so we often bypass the city when we go to visit but I’m thinking touring Denver may have to be added to our trip next time.

  5. Renee Ryan says:

    Hi everyone,

    Been a crazy morning, but here I am!!! I agree Maxie, I would love to see inside, preferably during its heyday, but that’s not happening. LOL

    Oh, Karen, I can only imagine how wonderful those old buildings are up close. Your post made me think of that scene in the movie (animated version) Anastasia, where all the fancy “ghosts” are dancing in the ballroom. Such a lovely scene.

  6. Renee Ryan says:

    Hey, Tanya, you must come back from your Colorado tour with news of both buildings. I think you should try afternoon tea…for me!

    Connie, your daughter is fortunate. Erhm…can I come visit??? LOL

  7. Mary J says:

    Hi Renee,
    Looking at the pictures,only, I would say I would like to visit the Opera House. But, then, with the description of the Atriam with 8 floors open to it. That really sounded neat. I stayed in a Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama that was built like that.
    I would now like to visit both.
    After reading one of your Charity House books, seeing a picture of the town as it was in the 1860’s does make it come to life.
    Great post. I was in Denver in 1951! Loooong time ago.

  8. Liz says:

    Both would be nice but, if forced to choose, would opt for the hotel.

  9. Quilt Lady says:

    I think I would want to see both.

  10. Mary Connealy says:

    Renee I’m sorry to be so slow stopping in. I’ve had lunch at the Brown Palace and been there one other time. My cowboy husband goes to Denver every year to the Midwest Livestock Show (with friends, I don’t get to go!!!!) but he LOVES Denver and he loves the Brown Palace. So we were out there once and went. It’s spectacular. I didn’t do tea. It makes me want to go back.
    The Opera House sounds so beautiful. I’ll tell him about it and I’ll bet he’ll go see it next time he’s in town. Is it open now for opera or for a museum?

    OH RATS!!!!!!! I checked and the Tabor Opera House is gone. >>>>>>The Tabor Grand Opera House was demolished in 1964 after more than 75 years as a venue for grand opera, light opera, popular entertainments, motion pictures, and live theater.
    Great post, Renee. Thanks

  11. Patricia B. says:

    I was afraid the Tabor House was gone. What a shame. Americans focus on progress leaves us the poorer for all the wonderful old buildings and natural wonders we have allowed to be destroyed for it. Unfortunately, I was not aware of the Brown Palace when we lived in Colorado Springs 30 years ago. We are headed out that way this coming summer and I will definitely make an effort to see it. Tea would be lovely, but I’m not sure my 15 year old grandson will be interested. I know my husband would be. Thanks for the information.

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