It's no secret in Denver that Cheesman Park and the Denver Botanic Gardens sit on land that once served as cemetery grounds.
Mount Prospect Cemetery opened on the 160-acre site in 1858. In 1865, 40 acres of the cemetery became Mount Calvary, a burial place for Catholics. In 1872, Congress decreed that the site of Mount Prospect was technically federal land. The land was sold to the City of Denver with the provision that it always serve as a cemetery. In 1873, the cemetery became known as Denver City Cemetery.
By the 1880s, the City of Denver was pleading with Congress to change the status of the land from cemetery to park land. On January 25, 1890, Congress acceded to their demands, and Denver City Cemetery became Congress Park.
In 1893, the task of moving 5,000 graves began under the management of undertaker E. P. McGovern. Due to mishandling of the project (including allegations of dismembering corpses so they could be placed in child-sized coffins), McGovern was famously dismissed before all of the graves could be relocated.
Denver Mayor Robert W. Speer, a proponent of the City Beautiful movement of the early 1900s, looked to beautify Congress Park, but claimed the City did not have the funds to do so. He encouraged benefactors to donate, but didn't have any success until the widow and children of Walter Scott Cheesman (1838-1907) came forward with $100,000 for a park pavilion. Hence, the park became known as Cheesman Park.
In 1950, the City of Denver successfully persuaded the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver to deed the Mount Calvary land back to the City. While a city botanic garden was originally planned for construction in City Park, it was relocated on the Mount Calvary site. The Denver Botanic Garden was dedicated in 1966.
Want to learn more? May we suggest the following from DPL's Western History/Genealogy Department: