Water Ditches

This page updated: July 29, 2018.

Liquid Silver Flows Through

(Water Ditches in the Sheridan area.)

Written by Bonita Hutcheson and edited by Thea Hutcheson
for "Sheridan Celebrates" in 1996.

When settlers began to colonize Sheridan and the surrounding areas, water was a major concern for crops, animals and domestic needs. Even though it is in the middle of the plains, the area is watered generously by the Bear Creek, Platte, several lakes, creeks and springs that dot what is now the southwestern end of the Denver metropolitan district. When John McBroom arrived in 1858, he was the only white man, and consequently the only farmer in the what would become Sheridan. He soon set about proving his homestead. This meant that he built a permanent home, made improvements to the property crops and lived there. In order to make successful plantings, he could not rely on the periodic moisture that the area receives. John circumvented nature's fickleness by using a revolutionary method he had discovered from the Mormons during his scouting forays in the army. He would tap the abundant water source that ran virtually at his feet-the Bear Creek. To this end he began a ditch just north and west of what is now Lowell Boulevard that ran south midway between modern day Quincy and Hampden, then emptied into the Platte River south of the confluence of the Bear Creek and the Platte River. His brother, Isaac, recently arrived from the east, helped him accomplish this feat.

McBroom Ditch

After a difference of opinion, they decided that the correct amount of "water necessary for the best results ... all the water that four men could handle at one time on one field, rushing it over and off quickly and they used that amount, probably 20 or 25 second feet, drawn through the above mentioned ditch." (The History of the McBroom Ditch, J.W. McBroom). After the ditch was dug and in use, by court order the ditch was patented, meaning their claim for use was recognized by the government and their rights regarding its use protected. This patent is #1 in Water District No. 9, the Bear Creek Water District.

It was a wise and necessary move to have the ditch patented as numerous water wars occurred when the area's population began to grow with the advent of Fort Logan, Petersburg, Orchard Place (now Englewood) and a host of other isolated settlers, farmers, breweries, mills, and later, the railroad. Even with the patent the McBrooms had difficulty getting the water they needed, especially "with the increased demand for irrigation water in the Bear Creek District, the flow of the stream was lessened especially so in dry seasons, and in the year 1913, pursuant to an understanding between the owners of the McBroom Ditch and the owner of the Shirley Farm, in doing away through which, the ditch has a right of way, a considerable portion of the ditch was tiled as a benefit to all parties concerned ... When the flow of the stream was low and water badly needed, it often took several days, after demand by the owners of the McBroom Ditch, for the water [sic] Commissioner to get water to the McBroom Ditch on account of the unwillingness of ditch owner above to comply with the law and release the water due the McBroom Ditch under its priorty [sic]." (The History of the McBroom Ditch, J.W. McBroom).

Today, the McBroom Ditch still runs its original course, although few of the people that own the property through which it runs own the water rights, most of which are owned today by the city of Englewood. [September 7, 2002: Some portions are now covered over.]

Simonton Ditch

The Bear Creek, listed in Ditch Decrees as Water District No. 9, proved to be a sought after commodity in the burgeoning south. The Simonton Ditch followed the McBroom Ditch in December 1860, being #2 in priority for water usage. It used 35.76 second feet, and was able to irrigate 759.5 acres of cropland in 1928. The Simonton Ditch took water out of the north side of The Bear Creek north of Dartmouth at about south Wadsworth and ran at a slightly southern angle and rejoined The Bear Creek at approximately one block west of Lowell where it intersects with Hampden Ave (from a 1931 report on water resources of the South Platte River Basin).

Hodgson Ditch

The Hodgson Ditch, #3 on the Bear Creek usage, came out on the south side of the creek at about south Kipling and Dartmouth and ran almost to Wadsworth, using 10.32 second feet, irrigating 180 acres. According to the Ditch Decrees for Water District No. 9, the Hodgson Ditch was enlarged on May 31, 1862 (from a 1931 report on water resources of the South Platte River Basin).

Warrior Ditch

The Warrior Ditch, #4, and easily the longest of the Bear Creek ditches, came out of the south side of the Bear Creek, north and east of Soda Lakes, running an irregular path south and east with tributaries called Arnett and Lewis Branch dropping to the south to feed Harriman Lake, and petering out about modern day Mansfield east of Wadsworth. It was approved December 1, 1861, and carried 52.15 second feet of water, irrigating 1,766 acres. Tributaries of the Warrior Ditch included #14 which served Fairbanks, Horner & Rist which was decreed in October 1864 and Decree #16, The Barnes Branch, entered April 1, 1865 (from a 1931 report on water resources of the South Platte River Basin).

Pioneer-Union Ditch

The Pioneer-Union Ditch, #5, decreed December 10, 1861, was enlarged on three separate occasions#11, decreed September 21, 1862, Decree #15, March 15, 1865, and again September 1, 1862, for two domiciles (household and livestock). The ditch came off the north side of the Bear Creek west of what is now Wadsworth, carrying 45.67 second feet of water as it flowed somewhat parallel to the Simonton Ditch and entering back into the Bear Creek at what is now Federal near Hampden, irrigating 998.5 acres (from a 1931 report on water resources of the South Platte River Basin).

Olson & Bell Ditch

The Olson & Bell Ditch, #6, decreed March 15, 1862, carried 6.30 second feet of water and irrigated 273.5 acres of cropland after coming out of the Bear Creek just west of the confluence of the creek and the Platte River. This water flowed along the railroad track at Zuni and Old Hampden, filling a reservoir near what is now Floyd and Zuni, irrigating the residential property in the Bottoms of Sheridan which includes the area including the old Firehouse at Umatilla and Hamilton (from a 1931 report on water resources of the South Platte River Basin).

Many other ditches such as The Hindry, The Lawn, Spickerman, and Lewis & Strouse served the booming population of Jefferson and Arapahoe counties for domicile, livestock and cropland (from a 1931 report on water resources of the South Platte River Basin). Practically all of the ditches were enlarged to meet the expanding needs of farms and families as they grew out from the early settlements.

Petersburg Ditches

The Platte River was also tapped to meet the needs of the Sheridan area population. The major water was for the Petersburg Company Ditch, also known as the Petersburg Lateral Ditch, which was enlarged as the area's needs grew.

State and court records indicate the existence of perhaps two Petersburg Ditches: The Petersburg Ditch and The Petersburg Lateral Ditch. Water maps show only the Petersburg Ditch, which flowed out of the east side of The Platte River south of Quincy and north parallel to the river to Overland Park.

Peter Magnes, the founder of Petersburg, a Swedish enclave, came to Colorado in 1859, staying the summer and returning to Illinois in 1860, bringing fruit trees, berry bushes, grape vines, and several kinds of seeds to the area. He became influential in Colorado, introducing sugar beet farming, was nominated for county commissioner in 1886 on both the Republican and Democratic ticket, and established himself a good neighbor through donations of land and money. Water, however, proved to be the death of him. He died of an apoplectic fit at the age of 76 during a meeting of the Petersburg Lateral Ditch Company.

Together with Joseph M. Brown and Samuel W. Brown, Magnes donated land and organized the Petersburg Ditch Company on November 30, 1861. (The Roots of Prosperity: Littleton in the 1860s by Laurence W. Steele) The ditch was leased to Henry Alshouse on or about May 6, 1874. The ditch, which became a bone of contention for many Sheridan residents, at one time led a peaceful existence as the force behind a mill wheel for grinding the sugar beets that Magnes introduced, but failed to catch on as a cash crop in the Sheridan community.

During 1888 Bertha Magnes conveyed the rights of way, right, title and interest in the Petersburg Ditch which ran across her land to the Town of South Denver. She did, however, reserve the right to irrigate all of her land from it.

According to a newspaper article in the Denver Republican, April 28, 1889, South Denver Water Works attempted to condemn the Old Petersburg Ditch. The town filed suit in District Court, stating that they had purchased 15 acres of ground in the Petersburg area, lot 6, Block 1, upon which to locate its wells and storage of water. "Upon this lot was formerly a flour mill, owned by Clark and Failing, operated for many years by a water power furnished for and through what is known as the Petersburg Ditch, which was used for irrigating land as well as for supplying water for the mill." It would be necessary to enlarge this ditch at its head, and it will be necessary for the town of South Denver to have a strip of land 50 feet wide, going 25 feet on each side of the center line of the ditch throughout is entire length. The Town wanted to condemn this land which they said would not violate the rights of the then property owners, Anna Brown and Joseph Brown. A just compensation could not be agreed upon. After a three day trial the jury ruled for the Town of South Denver, but granted Joseph Brown $2,000 damages, $662 for land taken away, and $150 for benefits. For Anna Brown, the award was $2,000 damages, $591 for land taken away, and $150 for benefits. The cost was a total of $5,443 (a large settlement for that day) for four acres they claimed was not worth $200 an acre.

An extract from the affidavit of W. P. Miller, a resident of University Park since 1890, states that University Park was in the corporate limits of the Town of South Denver, until it was annexed into the City of Denver in 1894, and that he was a Trustee of University Park. The water brought from the Petersburg Ditch was poor quality, and not of enough quantity to be of value.

On January 9, 1923 Fenner F. Burton filed suit in Arapahoe District Court, case No. 1603, claiming to own the land under the Petersburg Ditch, that some of the water rights had been conveyed to the Town of South Denver, and that said Town did maintain and operate the ditch and supply water to the grantors (Browns, and Mrs. Mangus) and did use the ditch to flow water for the use and benefit of the Town of South Denver but after the Town of South Denver became a part of the City and County of Denver, and it operated and maintained the ditch until 1912 when it denied any liability, and thereafter refused to care for the property. The City and County of Denver conveyed to Arthur W. Welfenberg the land and asked that the water rights be returned. The court then found that the rights were to be divided among the 7 claimants. Englewood Water Department is now the owner of these water rights.

Brown Ditch

The Brown Ditch took its water from the west side of the South Platte River south of modern day Bowles and began in south Littleton, where Dutch Creek joins the Platte, carrying 550 acre feet of water. It rejoins the Platte around Petersburg. It is our understanding that all the Brown Ditch rights were owned by one person in 1975. What happened to those water rights is unknown. Much of the property south of the town of Sheridan was owned by the Brown family, from Lowell to Santa Fe Avenue and to the east. The Rough and Ready Mill Race and the Last Chance Ditch were among many ditches that flowed out of the South Platte. But the best known is the Highline Canal, still serving its customers as both a source of water and source of pleasure for those who hike, bike, and skate the path while native wildlife enjoys a protected life.

The Agricultural Ditch started north of the Federal Center at 6th and Kipling and flowed south to Ward Lake and then southeasterly through Loretto Heights and then east ending east of Zuni and north of Dartmouth.

Domiciles, livestock, and crops were not all that benefited from the waters of the South Platte. Anheuser Busch Brewing Company and the Zang Brewing Company both used the water to brew their products.

Rucker Water Wars

Water was not only the lifeblood of the prairie and cause for lawsuits, it caused feuds between citizens and the United States Government. Judge Rucker owned a tract of land south of Quincy just past the Denver firehouse at about Raleigh, which contained a lake called, naturally enough, Rucker Lake. Water for the lake came from the Denver Water Company from Harriman Lake, which is due west of Rucker Lake. The Denver Water Company also served Fort Logan, which, although adjacent to Bear Creek, was unable to pump sufficient amounts of water uphill to the camp, forced instead to bring water directly in line to meet its needs.

Both Rucker and the officials of the fort felt that the other was not closing the gate and allowing the other's water to come through. There was a confrontation with arms at one point in the dispute and ultimately the U.S. government bought Judge Rucker's property and water rights. If the reader has an opportunity to hear Earl McCoy, Fort Logan Historian, do a program on the Rucker Water Wars, the researchers recommend it highly.

The Denver area is known for its gold and stories of strikes, busts, and the miners that made history colorful but the history of water in Sheridan, and its priceless liquid silver water is at least as interesting as its softer, metallic cousin.

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