West Colfax has embodied all the major transportation trends in American history. In the 1850s, the Ute Indians used the present-day West Colfax Ave as a trade route to access the commercial hub of Denver. Later on in the decade, Gold Rushers used The Golden Road (West Colfax’s original name) to access precious stones in the Rocky Mountains. In 1892, the Denver Tramway Company completed streetcar lines from downtown Denver to Sheridan Ave. Improved access, thanks to the streetcar, began transforming the area from “No Man’s Land” (its actual nickname) into a residential and commercial hub. In 1896, the Golden Road was renamed Colfax after Schuyler Colfax who was the vice president under Ulysses S. Grant.
In the early 1900s, West Colfax served as the main connector between Denver and the agricultural communities of Morrison and Golden. As a result, West Colfax had a constant flow of hay wagons and peddlers. In addition, bike paths helped transport people and goods. In 1917 the Colfax-Larimer viaduct was constructed and at the time, it was the longest concrete viaduct in the world. This viaduct helped connect West Colfax with downtown Denver.
In 1934, the City of Denver paved West Colfax and in 1935 President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Core widened the street. The improved Colfax Ave became part of the interstate US Highway 40 in 1938. This major changes in the 1930s ushered in the automobile era in the following decade.
After WWII, travelers used West Colfax to access the mountains, which spurred a construction boom for motels, restaurants and hotels. West Colfax was widened again in 1949. By the end of the 1940s, most of Denver’s streetcars were eliminated and replaced by cars and buses.
The 1950s marked the “Golden Age” of tourist-strip development along Colfax. However, the popularity of West Colfax began waning as the interstate highway system was completed. When I-70 was completed in 1966, it replaced Colfax Ave (US-40) as the major east-west corridor. This diverted traffic away from West Colfax and the area entered a period of decline.
Revitalization efforts in the 1970s, 80s and 90s kept the area afloat. For example, in 1992, the City of Denver landscaped medians from Federal Blvd. to Knox Ct. and in 2011, the West Colfax Business Improvement District launched “West Colfax Green Pilot: Streetscape” which brought in solar pedestrian lights, trees, and sustainable public art.
But most importantly, in April of 2013, the light rail was completed from downtown Denver to Golden, passing through the West Colfax Area. The West Line, as this route is called, has stations on Knox and Perry Streets. The arrival of light rail to West Colfax is a major catalyst for the area and transit-oriented development is already springing up.
From horses, to streetcars, to automobiles and light rail, West Colfax has seen every form of transportation over the past two centuries. Undoubtedly, the area will continue to evolve to meet the transportation demands of its residents and visitors.