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Before they were Angels, Vikings, Rebels or Thunderbolts. Before they were Patriots, Spartans, Lancers, Commanders or Warriors. THEY WERE COWBOYS! In 2011, we celebrate 128 years of the Cowboy Spirit at West High School. Here's our story...
They were cowboys. They came to the great American frontier seeking a new life, perhaps to forget an old one. They came for gold and silver, land and cattle. They came for fame and fortune; they came for anonymity. They came on horseback and on the iron horse, on foot and in a wagon. They stopped to rest where Cherry Creek met the South Platte River in the land of the Arapahoe. Most of them moved on, but some of them stayed to build a great American city called Denver.
One of the pioneers who stayed was Owen J. Goldrick. His dream was to build a school in the wild west gold camp called Denver. In 1859, his school opened in west Denver (12 th and Blake St.) in a log cabin with 13 students. Goldrick realized that private money alone would not suffice and so convinced the Colorado Territorial Legislature to create the first public school law in Colorado. The result was two school districts in Denver, District 1 in the east and District 2 in the west.
The first public school in Colorado was opened on December 1, 1862 in West Denver. In 1865, the first identifiable west side school opened in the old Arsenal Building at 11 th and Lawrence. The school officially became a secondary school in 1880 when the new Central School was opened. West High School was organized in 1883 and in January, 1884 moved to a wonderful new building on Colfax Ave. and Mariposa St. called the Franklin School. For years, the name of Franklin School and West High School were synonymous.
The first West High School which, "opened in 1893 at 5th Avenue and Fox Street, and remained as such until the present West High was built in 1925."
On June 13, 1884, at 2:00PM, Charles McDonough, Effie Hallam, Lelia Williams, Frances Brandt, Laura Duccy, and Morrison Stillwell became the first graduates of West High School. They were at the head of an unbroken line of young men and women, graduates of West High School, which has spanned more than 125 years. The 1884 class motto was “Forti et fideli nihil dificil”, To the brave and faithful, nothing is difficult. Charles McDonough gave the first commencement address. He asked, “What is it that enriches a nation?” He said it was the “enlightened and industrious” product of our schools that “made a nation’s wealth.” This is still true today.
The Franklin School was intended to serve as West High School for 100 years. It lasted nine. In 1893, a new West High School opened on the corner of 5 th and Fox St. It was built at the staggering cost of $95,872 and contained 25 classrooms and a library with 1000 books. “The Spirit of West That Knows No Better” was their motto and it was written, recited, believed in, and remembered with total commitment for many years to come.
In 1902, the School District No. 1 (East) and School District No. 2 (West) merged to become Denver Public Schools. East High School, founded in 1872, was now the district’s “first” high school. This is the only concession made by West High School alumni that East was ever first in anything.
West High School entered the 20 th Century like the rest of the nation, proud and optimistic. Denver Mayor Robert W. Speer lead a coalition of the city’s elite to create “city beautiful”. The city’s greatest and most beautiful thoroughfare that bears his name passes within sight of West High School. As the city grew during the early years of the 20th century, it wasn't long before West High School was bursting at the seams again. It was apparent that we had outgrown the grand facility on 5th and Fox. Plans were made to build a new school just to the west of the Sunken Gardens on Elati Street. Construction began on a huge facility that would cover most of four city blocks. The building was design in English gothic style and executed in light brick with buff terra cotta trimmings. It contained spacious halls and numerous academic, scientific and vocational classrooms, It had an auditorium that seated 1500 and a gymnasium that seated 2000. This was truly the building to last 100 years.
Workmen use horse-drawn graders to level the ground at the West High School track at 10th and Elati. Between 1931 and 1935
On a cold January morning in 1926, 1000 students and teachers said "goodbye" to their school of 33 years and marched from 5th and Fox to the new West High School at 9th and Elati. After 83 years, it is still the Home of the Cowboys.
View of West High School, in Denver, Colorado; also shows a park with landscaping and letters in flowers: "Sunken Gardens." Between 1925 and 1930
Much has changed over the years. The students of West High School who walked to school down shaded streets on red sandstone sidewalks, the young men in straw hats, suits, high stiff collars and polished shoes and the young ladies in flowered hats and dresses with fluffy collars that covered everything, would not recognize the students of today. Gone are the classes in Greek and Latin. Gone are the industrial tools of another century. What has not changed is our commitment to academic excellence. We will prepare students to face the challenges of the 21st century: academically, vocationally, and socially.
Present day West High School
Thanks to Gene Vervalin and his book, "A Walk on the Westside: the Story of an American High School" available from the West High School Alumni Association. A copy of Mr. Vervalin's book may be seen in the West Hich School Library Media Center. Visit the West High School Alumni on this web site.