Boulder: History

A City Born of a Newspaper

For centuries before the coming of European explorers, the area surrounding what is now Boulder was a favorite winter campsite for a number of Native American groups, including the Arapaho, Ute, Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne, and Sioux. The area was rich in buffalo, elk, and antelope.

Economic depression in the East brought many pioneers and gold seekers to Colorado in the 1850s, and the first settlement in Boulder County was established at Red Rocks in 1858. An early settler, A. A. Brookfield, organized the Boulder City Town Company in 1859. The company laid out more than 4,000 lots, each with a price of $1,000. Few people could afford such a price, and by 1860 the population numbered only 364 residents.

Boulder City grew slowly through the 1860s, competing for prominence in the county with nearby Valmont, where the only newspaper in the area was printed. A group of Boulder citizens stole the printing press, and soon Boulder City was named the county seat, selected because it published the only newspaper in the area. In November 1871, Boulder was incorporated as a Colorado town, and "City" was dropped from the name.

A site for the University of Colorado was chosen in Boulder in 1872, and the Colorado state legislature appropriated funds for the institution in 1874, the same year that Boulder's first bank opened its doors. The city grew steadily through the turn of the century. In 1880 the population totaled 3,000 people, but modern conveniences like the installation of electricity in 1887 and a new railway depot in 1890 boosted the population to more than 6,000 people by 1900.

The twentieth century brought moderate growth for Boulder. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the development of high-technology industries had a great impact in the area. Companies like IBM and Rockwell and governmental agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Bureau of Standards moved into the area, resulting in an economic surge due to the creation of many new jobs. The development of the Boulder-Denver Turnpike further bolstered the area, driving Boulder's population from 20,000 in 1950 to 72,000 in 1972.

A Rocky Period for a Rocky Mountain Town

The convergence of the university environment with research centers and science and technology companies fueled continued growth in the 1990s. By the turn of the century, however, the economic scene had begun to change. A national and international recession contributed to a migration of residences and businesses from Boulder to neighboring communities, where real estate was often cheaper. Lower facility costs fostered a wide variety of businesses, and stores located outside the city began winning in competition for the retail spending of Boulder residents. Sales tax revenue in Boulder dropped by 20 percent between 2000 and 2003. Local businesses began to struggle, as did their employees, many of whom were forced to move from the city to less expensive locales.

Despite media attention in the 1990s and a rocky economical start to the new century, Boulder is an evolving and forward-looking city. Today, Boulder consistently ranks high in polls by magazines and organizations that rate cities based on livability.

Historical Information: Boulder Public Library, Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, 1125 Pine St., Boulder, CO 80302; telephone (303)441-3110