More Than Names and Dates: Local Historians Build Community

Denver has not risen to the level of recognition of its writers to which Dublin has.  As you walk along the streets of old Dublin town, a city full of literary talent, you will see that the city administration and council has placed brass plaques in the pedestrian sidewalks indicating literary happenings. “Leopold Bloom entered this pub to feast on his famous gorgonzola cheese sandwich on June 16, 1904, Bloomsday, in Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’.” This famous lunch is announced on a sidewalk brass plate next to Davy Byrne’s Pub, off Grafton Street in Dublin. Perhaps someday we can commemorate Neal Cassidy and Jack Kerouac enjoying a baseball game at Sonny Lawson Park in Five Points or stopping for beers at My Brothers Bar down on 15th Street in “On the Road”. Or someday we may remember Mary Coyle Chase for living in a working class cottage on Delaware Street in west Denver, all the while writing the award winning play, “Harvey”. For that to happen, a town needs a mayor and council members who have actually read some of our great city writers and care about others commemorating and remembering those writers. Not likely anytime soon.

Ruth Eloise Wiberg, 1976
Original Photo by Howard Brock, Rocky Mountain News
Photo Courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Ruth Eloise Wiberg grew up in North Denver, attending historic Highland Methodist Church on West 32nd and Osceola Street. She relished and marveled at the ethnic diversity found here in North Denver: the Italian, German, and Irish roots which had blossomed along with her own roots from Northern Europe. She became a student of the many architectural treasures which sprouted up along the tree-lined streets of old Highlands. For years Ruth presented a slide show to service, church, and community organizations, helping people appreciate and identify those historic buildings. Ruth would not only delineate an architectural style for a notable home, she would tell you about the colorful characters who called a particular house “home.”

Eventually, in 1973, and after the enthusiastic urging of her many friends, Ruth’s fantastic slideshow and lectures became a book, “Rediscovering Northwest Denver: Its History, Its People, Its Landmarks”. Published originally in hardback, the paperback edition published by University of Colorado Press in 1995. Dr. Tom Noel, “Dr. Colorado”, helped with that and I was honored to write the preface.  

Ruth’s history covers the political battles to keep Denver from annexing Highlands.  It took 3 votes before the people of Highlands decided to come into Denver.  They did not want the bars, bordellos, and political shenanigans of Denver darkening their area.  

Ruth examines the colorful history of neighborhood churches. After the mines closed in the Silver Panic of 1893, the parishioners at Chapel of Our Merciful Savior Episcopal increased in large numbers. She also covers the parish histories of old St. Patrick’s, Mt. Carmel, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Ruth gives John Brisben Walker his just due for donating the land for Regis University to Italian Jesuits from Naples.  

Ruth loved parks and reports of which developers donated land for parks in North Denver, like McDonough Park across from St. Catherine’s Church on West 42nd and Federal in Harkness Heights.  We will never see the likes of them again in North Denver.

Ruth includes several walking tours for different areas of North Denver. I have borrowed from her early expertise on the many tours I give for those interested in the historic stories of our neighborhoods.  We hope the Coronavirus subsides soon so we can have historic tours again. Ruth’s book serves as a community builder. 

She traces early street names in the vicinity. Did you know West 32nd Avenue was once called “Fairview”? That’s because from that street you could see all the way south on Boulevard F, now Federal, to Pikes Peak in El Paso County. West 29th Avenue was christened “Ashland” where Ashland School used to be. That’s where Golda Mier attended North High School before she moved to Israel to become the first prime minister to attend North. West 38th Avenue replaced old “Prospect” where all the prospectors trod with their donkeys to find gold in the mountains. 

Ruth did more than just write and talk about historic sites in North Denver. In 1972 Ruth and I hosted a lunch in the old Plain View Inn for members of the Denver Landmark Commission. After lunch we took the commissioners around North Denver. One said he had not been on the “side streets up here.”  “I drove mostly along West 38th to attend plays at the old Elitch Theatre.” The next week, landmark commission staff were directed to start preparation for 15 sites for historic designation. 

Realtors told me that if their houses were mentioned in Ruth’s book, owners could ask thousands of dollars more for their homesteads. One realtor told me that he gave a bottle of wine and an autographed copy of Ruth’s book to every buyer of a home in North Denver.  

Lois Harvey has copies of Ruth’s book for sale at West Side Books on West 32nd. Smiley Library also has a reference copy available again when the building opens up. 

Happy Reading

The Honorable Dennis Gallagher is a former city auditor, city councilman, state senator and state representative. He’ll be sharing thoughts and stories from North Denver’s past and future in his reoccuring column in The Denver North Star.



  1. Great story! After reading Ruth’s book, I bought my first home in North Denver. Loved the old neighborhood – and all her stories of who built each house. I miss the Plainview Inn, the small grocery on 32nd and Julian, the beauty school where you could get an inexpensive haircut, the laundromat that showed Telly Novelas and the liquor store with the parrots.

  2. Terrific story on Ruth Wiberg by State pep., State Senator, Denver Councilman and Dener City Auditror Dennis Gallagher. Please do more local history with Dennis and others.

  3. A very good article. We had our bookstore, Abracadabra Bookshop, on West 32nd and Osceola for a number of years. It was a great location, and we love the neighborhood, full of interesting and friendly people.

  4. Ruth Wiberg’s book is a tour de force of historic research. It not only educated people on the historic value of their homes, but without it I doubt we would have as many designated historic districts as we do.. I would never have been able to write my own book, Northwest Denver, without it. Sadly, some of the houses in her book have since been lost to development mania in recent years.

  5. I too was influenced by Wibergs book. Found a copy in the early 80s when I moved to the ‘hood from Capitol Hill.. I’ve loved “coming if age ” here. Great people and great stories. My brother and I opened West Side Books & Curios in 1997 on 32nd, raising many comments:”this isn’t the West Side, this us the North Side!” Too late! The faux paux was already “on the books” we’ve been carrying Rediscovering Northwest Denver all these years since and LOVE making it available to newcomers and old hands too. Thank you, thank you thank you Dennis for this wonderful article. …

  6. Yes,
    I can understand how real estate values went up when there was a sincere appreciation and recognition of people and events that went on before. And those people and events were truly recognized and remembered.. In this age of money, money, money, we can at least justify some remembrance of history, even if it is only to charge (or get more) for real estate.

  7. Another gem of an article from Dennis Gallagher. Couldn’t help but notice this: “Ruth loved parks and reports of which developers donated land for parks in North Denver, like McDonough Park across from St. Catherine’s Church on West 42nd and Federal in Harkness Heights. We will never see the likes of them again in North Denver.” True, Now developers leave enough room for a tomato plant — not two.

  8. I so enjoyed your column about North Denver. My recent book about Mary Chase refers to North Denver but it’s great to learn more details about the area. I believe the Chases only lived in that part of town for a brief period of time before they moved to what is now called the Baker neighborhood. When she wrote Harvey she was living at 13th and St. Paul in Congress Park.. I love to learn about the Irish influence since Mrs. Chase often incorporated her heritage in her work.

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