Colorado History Camp set for Metro campus

Full day of presentations will be offered on Nov. 12


“Plumber: The Story of Microhistory,” “Royal Genealogy and Territory of an Ancient Mixtec Kingdom in Oaxaca, Mexico” and “Denver's Brick Sewers,” by Littleton historical consultant and Historic Littleton Inc. president Gail Keeley.

What do these topics have in common? They are among the many subjects to be explored by more than two dozen speakers at the first Colorado History Camp on Nov. 12 at the Tivoli on Metro State University's campus in downtown Denver. Plan to spend the day.

Local history nerd Carrie Lund learned about the original Boston History Camp last year and attended it, with the thought of organizing a similar program for Denver. Mike Massey, from the Historic Littleton Inc. board, met her at a Historic Denver event and was excited to volunteer and recruit others from HLInc. The word has gotten out to potential speakers and Lund has had to stop accepting any more.

Lund explains that “History Camp is the history unconference for adults.” It will be held starting at 9 a.m. Nov. 12 at the Tivoli on the MSU campus, lasting through the day, with time out for lunch. There will be more than two dozen presentations, held every hour in different rooms at the Tivoli, and you don't have to register for a topic in advance. Just step into the presentation that invites you! (If it's too full, go next door or to plan B, if you have one.) A list and map will be available.

While you needn't register for individual topics, you DO have to register for the “unconference” in advance — with or without a commemorative T-shirt! See the form at and send it in online or by mail.

A below-ground look at the past

Littleton historical consultant Gail Keeley will talk about a professional project she carried out: a historic impact assessment of Denver's brick sewers. It was needed as the Colorado Department of Transportation and the City of Denver were planning and rebuilding streets and ran across these sewers under Broadway and elsewhere. What lines were still there and of what size?

In 1966, the National Historic Preservation Act passed, stating that if you have national funding, you must assess impact on historic property — including property beneath the surface. (Like the environmental impact studies we are probably more aware of.)

There was an independent history of a line under Alameda, but not of the whole system, and the sewers were interesting for their craftsmanship as well as locations, Keeley said. She has specialized in transportation-related subjects (including Union Station, nine years; I-25 corridor, 10 years) and was hired to do this study.

Some were three rings of brick for large storm sewers and there were smaller lines used as sanitary sewers. (A ring or two or three rings of bricks and Portland cement.) The largest in place today is on 40th Street between Blake and Wynkoop, she said. (They measured up to 120 inches.) She identified 961 separate segments: 53 miles of brick storm sewers and 23 miles of sanitary sewers.

Originally, they all dumped into the South Platte River, Keeley said — as they did elsewhere in the country, until cholera became a big concern (1868-1879 in Denver). People suffered dehydration, chills and died in a couple of days.

“We take sewers so for granted today,” Keeley said.

When everyone had outhouses, contamination accumulated in the ground. The Rocky Mountain News wrote “the ground beneath is so thoroughly impregnated with filth …”

In 1872, Denver had its first piped water. In 1879, there was a vote to establish a public water system. (1,158, yes; 340, no.)

Primary treatment started in 1937, secondary treatment in 1967. Attend Keeley's Colorado History Camp presentation to learn more — including about the false teeth…

If you go

History Camp will be held at the Tivoli on the Metropolitan State University Auraria Campus. Arrive by light rail or park in the adjacent lot. Fee: $39 (plus $3.14) with lunch and T-shirt — order by Oct. 27; $29 with lunch. Information: (Lund says the Massachusetts and Iowa camps sold out five weeks early, so best not to wait until November, as seating is limited.)


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