The Tremont House Hotel was established in the fall of 1859 near Cherry Creek in Auraria (later West Denver) and soon became one of Denver’s top hotels. In the 1880s, the hotel declined as flood-prone West Denver became home to immigrants and industry while wealthy residents moved to new neighborhoods. In 1912 the building was demolished after suffering significant damage in a flood. In 1988–89 the Tremont House site was excavated to make way for a realignment of Speer Boulevard, allowing archaeologists to recover thousands of artifacts and study trade patterns, eating habits, and other aspects of life in early Denver.
Tremont House opened in late fall 1859 as a teetotaling boardinghouse called the Temperance Hotel. It was owned and operated by a Mrs. Maggard, who had just come to Colorado from Missouri. Her two-story wood-frame establishment faced east on B Street (later Thirteenth) between Third Street (Wazee) and Fourth Street (Market) in Auraria near the southwest side of Cherry Creek, about a half-mile from its confluence with the South Platte River. The Temperance Hotel shared the block with two other hotels, a grocery store, a gun shop, livery stables, and a lumberyard. It catered to people looking for an alcohol-free environment and soon became well known for its buffalo tongue potpies.
In June 1860, Maggard expanded the hotel with a two-story addition on the building’s north side, but a month later she sold the business to Nelson Sargent, who remodeled the interior, added a bar, and reopened it as the Tremont House. Operated by Sargent and his wife, the hotel soon acquired a reputation as one of the finest in Denver (which had merged with Auraria earlier that year). In May 1861, it hosted the inaugural reception for Colorado’s first territorial governor, William Gilpin, who delivered his inaugural speech from the hotel’s balcony.
After surviving the Great Fire of 1863 and the Cherry Creek flood of 1864 without any structural damage, Tremont House remained one of the city’s finest spots for dining, entertainment, and accommodations for the next ten or fifteen years. During that period, the hotel changed hands several times and was under almost constant renovation. Sometime in the late 1860s or early 1870s, the hotel was reconstructed as a three-story brick building with arched windows, a colonnaded porch, and a second-floor balcony. In 1874 a further expansion added a reading room, billiard hall, baggage room, and washroom.
Decline and Destruction
In the late 1870s and 1880s, Denver’s rapid growth and change caused Tremont House to lose its status as a first-class hotel. Fancy new hotels on the east side of Cherry Creek—including the Windsor (1880), the Metropole (1891), the Oxford (1891), and the Brown Palace (1892)—drew customers away from older hotels in West Denver. Meanwhile, the city’s wealthy residents were moving to new neighborhoods on the east side of the city, such as Curtis Park and Capitol Hill, leaving flood-prone West Denver to immigrants, warehouses, and railyards. Tremont House’s quality declined. The third floor was removed and the brick exterior was covered with stucco. By the early 1910s, the former high-class hotel had become a cheap boardinghouse with a saloon on the first floor.
On July 14, 1912, Cherry Creek flooded yet again, wreaking havoc in low-lying sections of West Denver. The damage was so severe that the city soon condemned more than fifty buildings in the area—including Tremont House, which was filled with several feet of mud and sand from the flood. The building was torn down later that month.
For about six decades, the site of the demolished Tremont House was used as storage for an adjacent business. In the 1970s, West Denver was largely cleared to make way for the Auraria Higher Education Center, and the Tremont House site at the northwest corner of Thirteenth Street and Auraria Parkway was turned into a parking lot for the campus.
In 1987 a proposed realignment of Speer Boulevard near the Auraria campus called for the existing viaduct to be replaced with an at-grade roadway about a block west of Cherry Creek. Initial research using historic maps, photographs, and property records showed that the new alignment would pass over the Tremont House site. To confirm those findings, researchers tested the area with ground-penetrating radar in the fall of 1988, then dug up part of the parking lot during the campus’s winter break to conduct test excavations. The Tremont House site was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, so state and federal historic preservation laws required a full-scale excavation of the site before road construction destroyed it. The Colorado Department of Transportation Archaeological Unit under Richard Carrillo conducted the excavation from March to May 1989.
Carrillo’s excavation team discovered the foundation walls of the original Tremont House as well as foundations for two structural additions and two cellars. The team found 26,000 artifacts, including some of the earliest settlement period material ever found in Denver. These materials helped show that wealthy residents of early Denver had access to luxury items from the East and Europe. The excavation also uncovered nearly 4,000 bones, which revealed what animals—mostly pigs, cattle, and chickens—were served for dinner at the hotel. Wild game made up about 10 percent of the remains.
The Tremont House excavation was probably the most famous and significant urban archaeology project in Denver history because of its highly visible location near downtown, and it contributed important new information about the city’s early years. All artifacts were deposited with the Colorado Historical Society (now History Colorado), and a detailed report was published in 1993.
After Carrillo’s team completed the excavation, the surviving Tremont House foundation walls were destroyed and the area was refilled with soil to make a base for the realignment of Speer Boulevard. The Tremont House site is now underneath Speer Boulevard near its intersection with Auraria Parkway.