Early Sunnyside Leaders William and Ellen Smedley and Mike Pomponio

William Smedley was born in 1836 in Philadelphia. In 1860, he joined a wagon train headed for Oregon, soon returning to Pennsylvania where he trained to be a dentist before he moved west one
more time. In 1870, he developed his dental practice in gold rush-era Denver.

After marrying his wife, Ellen, in 1872, he built their first home at 1020 Ninth St. in the new residential district of Auraria. He and Ellen began raising their two daughters and three sons on Ninth Street. In a few years the Smedley family needed more room so they acquired land and built a house in the new community of Sunnyside.

Smedley was a dental innovator who, in 1871, used nitrous oxide for a tooth extraction. This was the first use in Colorado and one of the earliest in the country. Two of Dr. Smedley’s sons later joined him in the family dental practice. William Smedley believed in being involved in improving society. He was part of
the North Denver Friends Church (Quakers), started in 1893, whose first building was at W. 41st Avenue and Shoshone Street. In the 1950s the church moved to a new building at 4595 Eliot St. The earlier Friends Church building now serves as Transfiguration of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church. Dr. Smedley served for 17 years on the North Denver No. 17 School Board. The district later became part of Denver Public Schools. In honor of Dr. Smedley’s long-standing support for schools, DPS named Smedley Elementary School after him.

In addition to raising five children, Ellen Smedley was a founding member of the North Side Women’s Club. This group, started in 1895, was made up of middle- and upper-class women who had been influenced by progressive reforms and Social Gospel ideas about using their privilege to improve
the lives of those less fortunate. On the Northside, that was mostly recent Italian immigrants. While this was a bit of a maternalistic leap, the club did create meaningful change. They held some of the first English language classes for immigrants. They had a gym for the boys and held classes that helped immigrant women better adapt to American society. They were also a place for children to go when out of school. Most of these kids had mothers who worked outside of the home. Ellen, being a Quaker, believed in being helpful to neighbors.

Mike Pomponio was born in 1900, the son of a man who had come from the southern Italian city of Potenza. His father worked on the railroad and instilled in his son a passion for working-class issues and a
sense that getting involved in politics was a path toward a better life for immigrant and working-class Denverites.

Mike Pomponio lived much of his life at 3958 Pecos St. and then later at 4990 Green Court, both in Sunnyside. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the councilman for District X (now District 1) was Thomas Morrissey, a representative from another immigrant group, the Irish. Pomponio ran against Morrissey
and won election in 1933. He held his city council post for 30 years.

Pomponio formed the DX (District X) Club, first located in the Potenza Lodge at W. 38th Avenue and Shoshone Street, and later at 1531 W. 48th Ave. The organization was a social club that was also home to the political machine that kept Pomponio in power for almost 30 years. It later supported Democratic officials from the Northside. Sunnyside has been home to many people who were committed to making their neighborhood and their world a better place.

Dr. Rebecca A. Hunt has been a Denver resident since 1985. She worked in museums and then taught Colorado, Denver and immigration history at the University of Colorado Denver until she retired in 2020.


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