In recent years, Riverdale Road—an 11-mile-long thoroughfare connecting Thornton to Brighton—has become the subject of many blogs, YouTube videos and even local TV news segments on the paranormal.
Riverdale Road's reputation as "the most haunted road in the country" comes from a handful of stories passed down over the years. There's the ghost jogger who taps on the sides of passing cars...the phantom Camaro with one headlight...the hitchhiker in white who disappears into the night.
Perhaps the story that yields the most intrigue involves a mansion owner who went insane and set his home aflame with his family inside. The family perished in the fire...and the man was never seen again.
We decided to look into Riverdale Road's history to see if such a horrific fire had in fact occurred. Our findings led us to the David Wolpert House.
YES, THERE REALLY WAS A FIRE
At around 1 a.m. on November 28, 1975, a home located at 9190 Riverdale Road became engulfed in flames. The two-story brick home, believed to have been built in the 1860s, was severely damaged. On December 4th, the Denver Post reported:
The flames Friday left only remnants of walls of the main building plus a smaller structure in the rear.
No fatalities or injuries were reported as the home had not been inhabited at the time of the fire. According to The Forgotten Past of Adams County, Volume 1, there was good reason for this:
In May 1975, when the chicken house burned down, the fire department came and extinguished the fire and put in a report to county health authorities stating that the house was a fire hazard and a danger to the community. The health department ordered the owner to dismiss the tenants. When they moved, heavy vandalism started.
WHO BUILT THE MANSION?
Just a few months prior, in January 1975, Dr. Hugo Rodeck (former director of the University of Colorado Museum from 1939 to 1971) had submitted a National Register of Historic Places nomination form for 9190 Riverdale Road. His application form, preserved by the Colorado Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP), describes the home's physical appearance and its history, attributing the building to an early Colorado settler named David Wolpert:
Two story and attic, brick house, built about 1864. Fine looking structure with dignity, in a favorable position beside a through drive, backed by Platte River banks and flood plain....The Wolpert's were typical of the hordes of people coming west to make their fortunes in gold and silver. Like many other argonaut [sic], Wolpert found his true fortune in agriculture and permanent settlement.
A look at William B. Vicker's History of the City of Denver, Arapahoe County, and Colorado reveals that David Wolpert came west from Ohio in 1859. He was lured by gold discoveries in the Rockies and traveled to New Mexico and then Colorado, visiting Pikes Peak, South Park and Fairplay. Wolpert and a party of sixteen men
....then crossed the mountains to Blue River, near Breckenridge where they began prospecting; but being driven out by the Indians, the entire party returned to Pike's Peak, whence Mr. Wolpert soon came to Denver. Deciding to try farming, then an experiment in Colorado, he pre-empted a piece of land on the Platte, nine miles below Denver, where he has since resided, and which he has converted into one of the finest farms in the county.
Wolpert married Catherine Henderson on January 20, 1864. The couple had two daughters, Lucille and Mary, and a son David. David Wolpert, Sr. died on October 21, 1909, at the age of 75, and Catherine died in 1915. The couple is buried in Riverside Cemetery.
HOW DID THE FIRE START?
What is unclear is how the fire started, and if there were any investigations into its cause. The only newspaper report of the fire on Denver 4, 1975, in the Denver Post does not allude to any suspicion of arson. There were, however, business interests in the 145-acre parcel that the Wolpert House stood on.
On January 25, 1975, a story titled "Drive To Save Old Home Started" in the Rocky Mountain News revealed just why Dr. Hugo Rodeck and wife Orian Sallie Lewis Rodeck had been working so hard on behalf of the Adams County Historical Society to preserve 9190 Riverdale Road:
The house until recently was in little or no immediate danger except from neglect, but now the property has been purchased by a development firm and there is talk of a new city, Washington City, going in on the site.
Instead, the area where the Wolpert House once stood is now the site of the Pelican Ponds Open Space.
One of Riverdale Road's favorite spooky tales can probably be attributed to the 1975 David Wolpert House fire. After all, what could serve as a better set-up for a ghost story than a historic brick mansion in the country mysteriously burning up in the middle of night?
As for the other chilling Riverdale Road yarns? The stories of their origins await your research!