The Evolution of Cheesman Park, Part 2

In 1889, a lesser-known Denver pioneer arrived in the United States from Germany. His name was Reinhard Schuetze. He had just finished school at the Eberswalde forestry academy, and was ready to jumpstart his career as a landscape architect. [1] That he did, in 1890; having arrived in Denver amidst the chaos of determining what to do about moving bodies out of the old City Cemetery (known as Congress Park, by then), he took a position designing the new Fairmount Cemetery.



Opening that same year, the Fairmount Cemetery was a sight to be seen. According to the history page on Fairmount’s website:


Fairmount is home to Colorado’s most extensive arboretum, filled with numerous Champion Trees and one of the largest collections of Heritage Roses in North America. [2]


It was the romantic beauty of this arboretum that led to Schuetze’s appointment in 1893 as the City of Denver’s first landscape architect, and there could not have been a more ideal candidate.



On May 1st of 1893, the Chicago World’s Fair opened its gates [3]. Americans, distraught with the ugliness of the Industrial Revolution’s warehouses and smokestacks and the violence and ramshackle nature of Gilded Age architecture, were delighted by the refreshing sight of the so-called “White City,” which was “an ideal city made up of classically designed monumental buildings,” according to the New York Preservation Archives Project (NYPAP) [4], taking up some 600 acres of Chicago’s Jackson Park. The coordinating architect behind the White City, Daniel Burnham, had been developing a new philosophy about cityscapes, and this “sample” city was an interactive exhibit of this new perspective. From the 1893 Fair onward, Burnham’s architectural philosophy would be known as the City Beautiful movement. [5]



“The fundamental idea” behind the City Beautiful movement, according to NYPAP, “was that the city was no longer a symbol of economic development and industrialization, but could now be seen as enhancing the aesthetic environment of its many inhabitants.” Burnham’s exhibit’s effect on American designers and engineers was twofold: it both urged them to look to their European predecessors for architectural greatness, and, for the first time ever, it made clear that a city could actually be planned, not just explode outwards from a meager mining camp. [4]



Inspired by the 1893 World’s Fair, John Evans and his son, William Grey Evans, began lobbying the City of Denver in 1894 with the prospect of composing “a plan for a comprehensive Denver park and parkway system.” The proposed system embodied many City Beautiful ideals, which was becoming a popular movement in the architecture industry across the States, but it hadn’t quite taken hold in Denver yet. So, despite seeing sample blueprints for this park and parkway system, drawn by Dutch mapmaker Edward Rollandet, the City dismissed the Evanses, declaring that the plans were “overly ambitious.” [6]


The Rollandet drawings sounded quite enticing, however. Below is the description supplied by the National Register of Historic Places’ Nomination Form for the entire Denver Park System:


The plan called for a series of parks scattered throughout the city. These parks were to be connected by parkways built along the existing grid of streets. The outer ring of parks were to be large water parks, which, with the connecting parkways, would provide a greenbelt around the city. The lakes themselves would celebrate the importance of water. Across the surface of these lakes there would be uninterrupted mountain views. (12) [6]


Either the City Government had a change of heart, or Reinhard Schuetze was deeply moved by Rollandet’s plan—my sources do not clarify why or how—but whatever the case, in 1898, Schuetze designed a set of plans for the improvement of Congress Park. Work began almost immediately, in the form of planting shrubs and trees. [6] [7]



In 1904, all opposition to reshaping Denver’s layout was pushed aside when Robert Speer was (maybe fraudulently) [8] ushered in as the new Mayor of Denver. Speer, who had visited the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 himself [9], who had made several subsequent trips to Europe to uncover the roots of the City Beautiful movement firsthand, and who later became known as Denver’s “City Beautiful” Mayor, wanted “to transform Denver from a dusty western city to a ‘Paris on the Platte,’” according to Colorado Encyclopedia. He began his mission with the beautification of Cherry Creek, which had grown unruly over the years and was prone to flooding. He had walls erected on its banks to keep it contained. To soften the look of the concrete walls, he had a stretch of grass with trees and footpaths placed between the street and the wall on either side of the creek, thereby creating what would later become known as Speer Boulevard. [9]


Although none of my sources made mention of the nature of Robert Speer’s relationship with Reinhard Schuetze, I’d imagine they probably got along well. Schuetze had been utilizing the City Beautiful ideals well before they became ingrained in American landscaping and architecture, since he’d learned them at their source—in Europe. Since Speer was such an advocate of the City Beautiful movement, I think it’s safe to assume he had few, if any, qualms, with Schuetze’s design for Congress Park. Besides, the work carried on at Congress Park unabated, under Schuetze’s direct supervision [6]. Trees were planted in open graves, headstones were removed, and occupied graves were quietly forgotten [10].


Meanwhile, Robert Speer commissioned New York City planner Charles M. Robinson and landscape architect George E. Kessler to design a city plan for Denver. It would be much like Rollandet’s plan, incidentally. The Nomination Form for the Denver Park & Parkway System describes it like so:


[Robinson and Kessler] designed three circulatory parkway systems, which were to reach into East Denver, South Denver, and North Denver like arms of a windmill, connecting and incorporating the parks like wind paddles. Those three arms were in turn connected with each other by the Cherry Creek corridor. (12-13) [6]


At the heart of this plan was the Civic Center park complex—the expanse of trees, pathways, and grass extending West from where the Capitol building sits today—which functions as a “central hub,” from which the aforementioned arms of the windmill radiate. [9]



Reinhard Schuetze collaborated with Kessler and Robinson when the time came to work Congress Park into the city plan [11]. Schuetze passed away on April 12th, 1910 [12], and the Congress Park plans fell into the hands of Saco R. DeBoer, his appointed successor [11]—but not before Congress Park was given its present name, Cheesman Park.


Congress Park was renamed because Robert Speer, shortly after taking office in 1904, announced that, despite the fact that improvements on Congress Park were already underway, the City was short on money and would give the old cemetery the name of its biggest donor. He hoped this would be incentive for donations, but no one seemed interested—that is, until 1907. [10]


On May 31st, 1907, Walter Scott Cheesman passed away. He died from “complications of maladies caused by a severe case of la grippe,” according to his obituary in the Routt County Bulletin [13]. Cheesman is often labeled as one of the early Denver pioneers. He rode into Denver from Chicago on an ox in 1861 to salvage his investment, a drug store business, from his two brothers, who were, in the words of Phil Goodstein, “problematic,” and had been “complaining that Denver is a terrible city, …a sickly city,” and that “the business [was] failing.” Naturally, as soon as his brothers handed it over, the drug business flourished with Cheesman behind the wheel. He stayed in Denver, prospering, while his two brothers went back to Chicago, where they both got sick and died young, according to Goodstein. [14]


While earning a steady profit from his drug business, Cheesman became involved in a multitude of other profitable industries—the railroad, water supply and treatment, construction, mining, finances, real estate, and politics. He was also—and this was a source of great debate in his time—purportedly as much of a humanitarian as he was a millionaire. While he was known for being young and energetic, and having “the prophetic vision and the courage that bring great things to pass,” he was also, allegedly, known to have “often exercised his power as an officer of this society to stop cruel treatment to children and animals (259).” At the time of his death, according to his obituary, he was President of the Denver Union Water Company, vice president of First National Bank, a director of the International Trust Company and of the Moffat Road, President of the State Bank of Aspen, President of the South Platte Canal and Reservoir Company, and President of the Humane Society, among other things. [15] [16]


Cheesman’s obituary noted that “Men close to him make the estimate of his wealth as being about $20,000,000.” This wealth, when he died, would be inherited by his sister, his nephew, his only child Gladys Cheesman Evans, and his widow. [16]


Seeking to right any wrongs that Walter Cheesman might have committed in his final years, Gladys Cheesman and her mother answered Robert Speer’s call for donations to the improvement of Congress Park. They offered $100,000, stipulating that it be used to create a pavilion in honor of Walter Cheesman. [10] [11]


Robert Speer happily accepted the donation, and construction began on the pavilion in 1908. It was designed by architects Marean and Norton, and its immediate surroundings were landscaped by George Kessler. Schuetze’s successor, DeBoer, did the rest of the landscaping, sticking close to Schuetze’s original plans. The pavilion was made of Colorado Yule marble, and that is how it stands to this day. [11]



By the time the pavilion was completed in 1910, the other segments of what had originally been Mount Prospect Cemetery had been abandoned completely. The last internment at the Hebrew Cemetery was recorded early that year [17], and the last interment at Mount Calvary had been recorded in 1908 [10]. Somewhere between 2,000 to 4,200 bodies remain where Cheesman Park sits today. [7] [11]


In my final segment on Cheesman Park, I’ll talk about the paranormal phenomena known to happen there, and where you might be able to have an experience of your own.



 

Sources

 

[1] "Reinhard Schuetze." The Cultural Landscape Foundation, https://www.tclf.org/pioneer/reinhard-schuetze. Accessed 07 February 2022.


[2] "History." Fairmount Funeral Home, Cemetery & Crematory, http://fairmountfuneralhome.tributecenteronline.com/who-we-are/history. Accessed 07 February 2022.


[3] Rydell, Robert W. "World's Columbia Exposition." Encyclopedia of Chicago, http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1386.html. Accessed 08 February 2022.


[4] "City Beautiful Movement." The New York Preservation Archive Project, https://www.nypap.org/preservation-history/city-beautiful-movement/. Accessed 08 February 2022.


[5] "World's Columbian Exposition of 1893." Chicago Architecture Center, https://www.architecture.org/learn/resources/architecture-dictionary/entry/worlds-columbian-exposition-of-1893/. Accessed 08 February 2022.


[6] Etter, Don. "Denver Park & Parkway System," National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service), 1986, Item no. 7.


[7] Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods Staff. "Capitol Hill Neighborhood History." Denver Public Library, https://history.denverlibrary.org/capitol-hill-neighborhood-history. Accessed 03 February 2022.


[8] Colorado State Library Staff. "Robert Speer, Denver's 'City Beautiful' Mayor." Colorado Virtual Library, https://www.coloradovirtuallibrary.org/digital-colorado/colorado-histories/20th-century/robert-speer-denvers-city-beautiful-mayor/. Accessed 07 February 2022.


[9] Schulze, Christine Wilkerson. "Robert W. Speer." Colorado Encyclopedia, https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/robert-w-speer. Accessed 07 February 2022.


[10] Goodstein, Phil. Ghosts of Denver: Capitol Hill. New Social Publications, Denver, 1996.


[11] Encyclopedia Staff. "Cheesman Park." Colorado Encyclopedia, https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/cheesman-park. Accessed 03 February 2022.


[12] Culver, Joyce Escue, creator. "Reinhard Schuetze." Find A Grave Memorial Database, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54691496/reinhard-schuetze, Find A Grave Memorial ID 54691496. Accessed 08 February 2022.


[13] "Robert W. Speer Dead." Routt County Sentinel [Steamboat Springs, CO], 24 May, 1918.


[14] Goodstein, Phil. Personal Interview. 02 February 2022.


[15] Hill, Alice Polk. Colorado Pioneers in Picture and Story. Brock-Haffner Press, Denver, 1915.


[16] "Hand of Death." Park County Bulletin [Alma, CO], 7 June, 1907.


[17] Arps, Louisa Ward. "From Cemetery to Conservatory: Part V - The Jewish Cemetery and the Pest House." The Green Thumb, Spring 1978, pp. 2.

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