Understanding Denver Streets' decimal system; Or why the intersection of Broadway and Ellsworth is so important

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Denver is really easier to figure than cities with quadrants, like NW, SE, etc. Basically, Avenues run east-west. Streets run north-south. Numbered avenues are north of Ellsworth. Named avenues are mostly south of Ellsworth. There are some exceptions though. Colfax Ave is 15Th Ave. Montview Blvd is E 20Th Ave. Martin Luther King Blvd is E 32nd Ave, Bruce Randolph is E 34Th Ave. Streets east of Broadway aren’t necessarily alphabetical until you get to York/University. Streets west of Broadway are more predictable. Then there’s Downtown, which confuses a lot of people due in part to the angle (45 degrees? Or is it 60 degrees?) from Colfax Ave as noted in the article above. The info about Speer Blvd is new to me.


There is a Naming and Numbering system that used to be in the phone book, detailing the numbering and listing of the streets, as well as conventions for naming Avenues, Streets, Courts, Drives, Ways, and Places. Per these conventions, examples of roads/addresses in violation of the conventions include: 84th Way, 91st Court, Chase Drive; Red Birch; 2400 block of Buckley Road which should be in Aurora not Brighton. In the suburbs there are many violations to the rules.


This doesn't explain "why Ellsworth" became Nexus (beyond 1 less then first).
The blog says, "But why that intersection? To answer that question, you have to go back to 1886 when Denver had only seventeen numbered avenues which began at Seventeenth Avenue and counted down to First Avenue."
Why did avenue numbers begin so far south of then city center (downtown)? Or perhaps conversely why did central Denver
start at Seventeenth Avenue and count down? It would be nice to understand how First Avenue came to be First Avenue.
Research for when library opens back up!

I had the same question. Was there a plat that laid out 17 numbered avenues, and if so who was the developer and when was it platted? I believe that everything south of Colfax in Capitol Hill was laid out by one developer who called the area "Quality Hill" or something like that. But I don't think it went down as far as 1st.

Hi Jude - Thanks for reading and for the interesting follow up questions. I'll be looking into this a little deeper when we have full access to our collection and can provide a more in-depth answer. 


Feeling a little sheepish that I'd never realized the E/W numbering convention had Broadway as its nexus. Perhaps now I can stop looking up cross streets for businesses along Colfax! Thanks, Brian.


Phils books are all wonderful. I have trouble reading maps. Denvers early streets and then the changes have driven to distraction and I have often just given up. So thank you for this information.

Hi Lavonne - Thanks for reading and commenting. We are in complete agreement regarding those old Denver maps - they can be maddening. Phil has done an amazing job of turning them into something a normal person can understand! 


i believe the origin of the numbers of the east/west avenues relates to their conjunction with the original diagonal numbered streets — near civic center, 15th, 16th and 17th Streets all neatly join to 15th (Colfax), 16th and 17th Avenues; the pattern breaks down after that, but with the importance of those particular streets, it seems very likely they inspired the avenue names

that raises the question of why 16th Street is the middle of downtown; the answer is clear when viewing maps of early Denver, at a time when Auroria was gridded much like downtown, but at a slightly different angle; the 1879 Thayer map (linked below), shows 1st St. at the extreme SW corner of the congressional grant boundaries that then defined Denver; 1st St. was only about two blocks long; it extended south-southeast from the S. Platte River to the southern boundary of Denver (along which Colfax extended, though it hadn't reached that far west yet); 4th St. is the lowest numbered remaining street; Meow Wolf's new building currently faces a diagonal section of Walnut St. almost exactly where 1st St. once was

here's the 1879 Thayer map:

and here, if DPL allows it, is a commercial site which has overlayed that map on Google Maps (use the transparency slider in the upper right):


Colfax (which didn't extend that far yet, but was still the boundary of Denver)

nea the fact that in response to the question "why 17 numbered avenues" — i believe it relates to the fact that 8 long blocks, or 16 short blocks, usually equal one mile; by counting

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