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Washington Park in Denver: Commonly visited for exercise, uncommonly traversed for Denver history


Looking out on the Washington Park Boathouse and Smith Lake          Photo Credit: Suzy Guese

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“Wash Park”, as locals only know it, easily remains a favorite area in south Denver for joggers, strollers, and even roller-bladers. However, the expansive park has a large history to match, going far beyond just a playground for the spandex clad.

In 1898, the city of Denver appointed German landscape architect Reinhard Schuetze to design Washington Park. Wash Park’s origins even involve association with the mother and standard of all U.S. parks, Central Park in New York City. Much of the idea of even expanding the park system in Denver came from George Kessler who worked on Central Park and was hired by famous Denver Mayor Speer to contribute to his “City Beautiful” era of beautifying and improving Denver with parks.

Many ponytail bouncing, I-pod playing joggers through Wash Park pass by several historical elements without recognition. Smith Lake, situated in the north end, was the setting of a Civil Rights riot in 1932. Denver’s African Americans gathered here intent on integrating the park’s once bathing beach. Smith Lake also used to be a popular skating rink during cold winters in the Mile High City.

Along the park’s border with South Franklin, the home of poet and once editor of the Denver Tribune Eugene Field sits as a museum. Wash Park even has Titanic connections. Molly Brown may not have been able to save the Titanic, but she was able to salvage Field’s home from 315 W. Colfax, placing it in the park as a museum to the Denver editor. Later the home would become a branch of the Denver Public Library. Visitors can tour the home of the poet who famously wrote “Little Boy Blue” by making an appointment.

Those getting some exercise in the park, not looking for a tour, can still pass by the statue depicting one of Field’s famous poems “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” in front of the Field cottage. The statue depicts the poem of children sailing a wooden shoe, a work of Colorado artist Mabel Landrum Torrey.

The boathouse pavilion in Wash Park also bears a bit of history and unique influence. Designed in 1913 by Jacques Benedict, the pavilion was based on the 17th century pavilion of Kara Mustafa Pasa at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Today, the boathouse can be rented out for events.

With several trails and a 2.6-mile loop of the park’s perimeter, Wash Park continues to supply a setting for exercise, sports, and overall beauty. Every visitor to the park however can become much more aware of the rich history contained in the confines of such an everyday walk for many in south Denver.

For more information on Wash Park, visit the Denver Park’s and Recreation’s website.

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