A Brief History of Cheesman Park

Copyright © FANS for Cheesman Park. All rights reserved. Photos by Greg Sorensen.

Walter S. Cheesman
Walter Cheesman arrived in Denver from the East in 1861 and became the owner of a drugstore started by his brother, who then left Denver. Walter invested his considerable profits from the store in real estate, and by the 1880s he was one of the largest real estate developers in the area. To provide drinking water for the city, he helped establish the Denver City Water Company in 1870, and in 1894 he donated money to build Cheesman Dam -- 40 miles southwest of the city on the south fork of the South Platte River. He was also instrumental in the Colorado Electric Company, partnered with David Moffat and John Evans to bring the first railroad to Denver, and served as a member of the Denver Committee on Parks in the 1880s. Cheesman died in 1907.

​​The Origins of Cheesman Park

The area that is now home to Cheesman Park, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and Congress Park was originally a barren hillside that was the city's first cemetery. As Denver grew, homes surrounded Mount Prospect Cemetery, and neighbors complained about its character. The U.S. Congress, which had sold the land to Denver for use as a cemetery "in perpetuity," was convinced in 1890 to allow the cemetery to become a city-owned park, and the city gratefully renamed the area Congress Park. The graves were excavated and the bodies were moved to other cemeteries, although stories abound about graves remaining in the park to this day.

Cheesman Park's Historic Legacy

Today Denver’s Cheesman Park is an elegant 80-acre green oasis at the heart of Capitol Hill, one of Denver’s most densely populated neighborhoods. Considered one of the country’s best designed public spaces, the park's original plans were drawn at the beginning of the 20th century by Reinhard Schuetze, Denver’s first landscape architect. He considered the park design his masterpiece, with graceful loops of carriageways, a pavilion on a high knoll on the east side, a lily pond (never fully realized), and a large central meadow edged by groves of trees. Double rows of American linden trees were designed to flank the western edge of the park.

After Schuetze's death in 1909, S.R. DeBoer completed the park following Schuetze’s plan. The neoclassical pavilion and formal garden were completed through the work of Marean and Norton Architects and George Kessler, a renowned landscape architect from Kansas City. The memorial was dedicated in 1910 to Denver pioneer Walter S. Cheesman, and the park was renamed in his honor, recognizing his work to establish the city’s railway and water systems.

The Cheesman Esplanade was designed by the Olmsted Brothers and completed in 1914. It serves to provide a transition to Williams Street Parkway and the city's parkway system.

In 1986 Cheesman Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Click here for the complete "Denver Park and Parkway System" nomination form. 

Cheesman Park's Master Plan

In 2008 Denver Parks and Recreation adopted a Historic Landscape Assessment and Master Plan for Cheesman Park. “The Park Master Plan proposes rehabilitating Cheesman Park as a historically and architecturally significant public place that provides a safe and enjoyable park experience for all. The Park Master Plan presents a holistic approach that will guide future improvements of Cheesman Park by balancing park use with the preservation of Cheesman's Park's rich legacy. ”

Four planning goals are to guide all future work:

  • Restore Cheesman Park’s legacy through historic preservation.
  • Create an accessible park with a pedestrian focus.
  • Create a safe and enjoyable park experience for all park users.
  • Reduce crime, vehicular volume and speed, noise and pollution.

For a copy of the master plan, click here.