Saturday, January 6, 2018

Colfax Avenue Celebrates 150 years in 2018 with a wake for Schuyler Colfax

When gold was discovered in Denver in 1858, scores of miners came West looking for the Mother Lode. Colfax Avenue was the major artery linking them to the riches of the Rockies. Originally called "Golden Road", as well as Grand Avenue, Colfax Avenue had its name changed in 1868 to honor of Schuyler Colfax (pronounced SKY-LAR), a powerful Indiana congressman and Speaker of the House of Representatives at that time.

Colorado first applied for statehood in 1865, the same year as Schuyler's western tour which brought him to Denver in May 1865. Perhaps Denver officials thought that renaming the street would help the state's cause. But if achieving statehood was the reason for the street's name change, it didn't happen overnight. Colorado did not become a state for another eleven years. Another reason for naming the street after him is most likely Schuyler's great oratory and personal charm made him popular with the citizens.

Whatever the reason, to honor Colfax, the city dedicated the road along the southern boundary of central Denver to the Hoosier politician 150 years ago, in 1868.

Schuyler Colfax was the Speaker of the House during the Civil War when the 13th Amendment was ratified, freeing the slaves. He made a point of being the last to sign the document, proud of the accomplishment.

"Live, in love of all beneath the circuit of the sun, who loathe tyranny, slavery and wrong." - Schuyler Colfax

Colfax, who went on to be Vice President of the United States under Ulysses S. Grant, had declined an invitation to accompany President Abraham Lincoln to Ford's Theatre shortly before his trip out West. A House speaker opposed to slavery could have been an additional target for John Wilkes Booth. Interesting, also, is the fact that Colfax Avenue and Lincoln Street intersect at the Northwest corner of the Colorado State Capitol Building.

As an interesting side note, Dr. Gerald Biliss, who lived at 1389 Stuart Street close to West Colfax Avenue, was a Civil War veteran and a member of the honor guard over President Lincoln’s casket.

Schuyler Colfax died in Mankato, Minnesota, on January 13, 1885, while changing trains as he was en route to Rock Rapids, Iowa to give a speech, when the temperature dipped to 30 degrees below zero.

Despite having its’ main street named after Schuyler, no one has ever thrown him a proper wake in Denver, to our knowledge. After 150 years, we think it’s Schuy High Time we do this!

Join us at the Owl Saloon, 5026 E. Colfax Avenue, Saturday, January 13th at 7:30pm, where the mummy (it’s a replica dummy) of Schuyler Colfax will be on display and a character actor will deliver one of Schuyler’s key speeches.

Colorado miners had a tradition of sticking dollar bills on the ceiling of the bar, to keep as a kind of insurance policy to give to a miner’s family in need should their fathers or husbands ever die in the mine. Honoring this long-held tradition, the Owl Saloon did this in conjunction with the Colfax Museum, where everyone will get a chance to attempt to tack a dollar to the high ceilings using two quarters as the hammer to drive it in. The Owl Saloon will match every dollar to go on the ceiling with a dollar donation to the Colfax Museum.

To curate and celebrate 150 years of everything Colfax Avenue, local Americana star and Route 40 fanatic Jonny Barber created the Colfax Museum to have a time capsule for the “longest, wickedest (as in awesome) Main Street in America!” Playboy Magazine may have never said that quote (even though it has been urban legend for 30 years), but Jonny did and still does!

Jonny Barber will sing a cowboy song, a moment of silence will be observed and a whiskey glass raised to the man who was the Speaker of the House who ratified the 13th Amendment to free the slaves, Schuyler “Smiler” Colfax!


Owl Saloon, 5026 E. Colfax Avenue, Saturday, January 13th at 7:30pm

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