| Courtesy of the Western History Department, Denver Public Library
The tasks of transforming City Park into an oasis in the city were daunting. Weeds were everywhere. A sharecropper was ceded forty acres of parkland to grow oats in which the city would share the profits. The tents and shelters of transient settlers lined dusty York Street, slowing the process of developing a park until appropriate housing could be arranged for. Selecting trees that would thrive in the alkaline soil was another problem. Sopris studied varieties he believed would work, but to start the tree planting process he bought rows of native cottonwoods out of his own pocket and hired a gardener who lived in the park to shelter the new plantings from the cattle and wild animal roaming the land. To compensate for lack of water, Sopris established an artesian well on “museum hill,” the highest part of the park where the Museum of Nature and Science stands today.
Sopris retired as Park Commissioner in 1891, having served through the critical first ten years of City Park’s development. He left behind the beginnings of a dream that emerged into the reality we enjoy today.
Sopris’ son, Simpson T. Sopris memorialized his father’s influence on City Park with two structures. The Sopris Gateway at Fillmore and Seventeenth Avenue was originally a trolley stop but today serves as a pedestrian entrance into the park. It was built by architect Frank Edbrooke in 1911-12 out of red sandstone quarried from Colorado Springs. The Sopris Statue and Fountain, standing to the west of the Pavilion was another gift to City Park by Simpson Sopris. It was probably erected in 1920 and is in honor of his mother, Elizabeth Allen Sopris, The sculptor is unknown. The bronze statue of a little boy looking down towards his hands was originally holding a gnomon rod, a device that casts a shadow pointing at Polaris, within one degree of the north celestial pole. There used to be a pool below the statue.
Walk by the Sopris Gateway and read the inscription left there by Sopris’ son. It is a fitting description of the “Father of City Park,” a Denver pioneer to be reckoned with and revered.