John Evans and the Colorado Seminary

The University of Denver was founded in 1864 by newly appointed Governor of Colorado John Evans. Although the school encountered many difficulties in its early years, the institution prevailed under strong leadership.

John Evans was born in Ohio and lived most of his life in the Midwest. Before coming to Colorado in 1862, Evans had already established Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois. Two years after his arrival, Evans and a group of Denver’s civic leaders organized the Colorado Seminary, an educational institution affiliated with the Methodist Church. Evans began constructing the first incarnation of what would become the University of Denver next door to his own home in central Denver.

The Seminary first opened with 103 enrolled students. Barely making ends meet on tuition revenue, the school relied on financial support from Evans and other locals. After four operational years, the Colorado Seminary closed its doors. Evans bought the building in the hopes that he might be able to re-open the seminary in the future. In 1880 with a new Board of Trustees, Evans as president, and Dr. David Hastings Moore as the new Chancellor, the school was reopened as the “University of Denver.” It was not long before the institution outgrew its original location and with no room left to expand in central Denver, Evans began to look south of the city for a new site for his school.

University of Denver Founder and Trustee John Evans

University of Denver (DU) founder John Evans poses for a portrait. Evans was also one of the founders of Northwestern University, as well as the second governor of the Colorado Territory.

Move to South Denver

It was not just the lack of space that motivated Evans to relocate. An increasing number of brothels and saloons in the area around Colorado Seminary spurred the Methodist founders to find a more suitable place to cultivate minds. The board considered several offers of land in 1886 and settled on one made by the potato farmer Rufus Clark.

Called the “Colorado Potato King,” Clark made his way to Colorado in 1859, where he filed a homestead on 160 acres of bottom land near the Platte River south of Denver.  Over time his holdings reached 20,000 acres. When Clark approached the DU Board of Trustees, he represented a collection of farmers who offered 150 acres of land 3 miles southeast of Denver. As part of the terms of the agreement, Clark, a reformed alcoholic, demanded that no saloons be built on the property. Evans and the Board were more than willing to agree to this condition.

From there DU’s holdings grew rapidly. As the school acquired more land, Evans and the board of trustees christened the area “University Park” hoping that the area would one day become an educational utopia.


University of Denver Colorado Seminary
Male and female students pose in front of the College of Music at 14th and Arapahoe Streets on the Civic Center campus of the University of Denver (Colorado Seminary) in Denver, Colorado.
Written on original negative is: ''University of Denver, Arapahoe and 14th Streets, 1889.''