Colorado State Capitol Virtual Tour
Henry Cordes Brown, spurned by his failure in the first California gold rush, left his Ohio home in 1860 in a second attempt to strike it rich. On his way West his family passed through Denver. His wife, inspired by the beauty of Colorado, turned to him and reportedly said, "Mr. Brown, thou may press on to California if such be thy wish. I shall remain here." With that, the Browns made Denver their home, and soon they were homesteading the 160 acres commonly known as Browns Bluff or Capitol Hill.
In order to raise the worth of his other property, Brown shrewdly donated ten acres to the capitol building project. While patiently waiting for the capitol to break ground, Brown began to make the Capitol Hill area the new stopping grounds for the nuvo riche, who had made their money in mining and business. His family, along with many others, were soon building beautiful brownstone mansions up and down the Grant and Sherman Street corridors. When the economic panic of 1877 practically destroyed him, Brown sold his palatial estate to Horace Tabor for $50,000 to make ends meet, but by 1880 Brown had successfully parlayed this money into a five million dollar windfall making him one of the wealthiest men in Colorado.
After a decade of waiting for construction to begin, Browns patience ran out. In 1879, he initiated a legal battle to reclaim the ten acres of donated lands by building a fence around it. The loss of this case in 1886 left him so bitter toward the project that he did not attend the dedication of the State Capitol in 1890.
Despite his conflicts with the State Board of Capitol Managers, Browns reputation as a philanthropic man was left unscathed. Brown was a member of the Board of Trade, and helped to develop the first railroad from Denver to Cheyenne. He also helped to found the Denver City Tramway Company, Bank of Denver, and the Denver Public Library. When Denvers most elegant hotel of the times, the Windsor, would not let him enter due to his cowboy attire, Brown built his own hotel. The Brown Palace shortly became the most extravagant hotel in the state, and its clientele of presidents and statesmen has secured its ongoing status as a five star hotel today.
Brown eventually did reach California as a retirement destination, and died there in 1906. Henry Browns body, like Buffalo Bills, was placed for public viewing in the rotunda of the Capitol, and is presently buried at Fairmount Cemetery in Denver. At the time of his death, a leader of several benevolent societies said Brown was, "the most liberal man she ever knew of in a charitable way." There is also a portrait of Henry Cordes Brown in the Capitol testifying to his donation to our great state, no matter how reluctant it was.
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last modified June 20, 2003