Water in Sheridan

Written by Bonita Hutcheson and edited by Thea Hutcheson
for "Sheridan Celebrates" in 1992.

Water is important, but in a frontier community it is a priority. Sheridan sits primarily along the western edge of the South Platte River and the north and south of sides of Bear Creek. There are also abundant sources of artesian springs and well water in the area. Sheridan Middle School irrigates its property with a natural spring, as does most of the area of Sheridan near the old firehouse known as the bottoms.

South Platte River

The South Platte River is one of the four major rivers in Colorado. Its source begins in the high mountains of South Park, Colo., (A Guide to Colorado Rivers by Marion R. Cody) and winds its way down through the mountains and onto the plains where it forms a series of reservoirs. It served as a highway for many of the early travelers to this area. The river, fed by mountain runoff was prone to flood on a regular basis. Floods were reported in 1864, 1875 and 1878 (The Rivers of Colorado, Jeff Rennicke, pg. 85).

The most recent flood on The River occurred June 19, 1965, when after weeks of rain a cloudburst to the south, hit both the South Platte and Plum Creek which joins the South Platte south of Littleton. A tremendous wall of water came charging downstream, taking away houses, business, trees, bridges, and anything else in its way. Most of the bottoms area was overwhelmed, and most houses were lost, as well as the city hall. The firehouse, now called the old firehouse, was then fairly new, and reconstruction was done on it. The old city hall had to be demolished. Many of the homes in the area were re-built on their original foundations, or on the original site. All of the wells in the bottoms were contaminated, however, and potable water had to be brought in. A few years later a water district was formed and city water piped in.

The Platte is normally a small but wide body of water, once referred to as a mile wide and an inch deep. But much water, unseen, runs underground along and under this water way. In the spring good boating may still be had on the Platte. After the 1965 flood the Chatfield Reservoir was constructed, to contain the flood waters and to provide a boating and recreation area.

Bear Creek

Because Bear Creek (early documents refer to this as Montana Creek) is also the product of spring snow melt it created flooding problems of its own up until the early 70's. Despite, or perhaps in spite, of the course of the creek being changed by the highway department in order to avoid the numerous bridges that would be necessary if the proposed Colorado 70 were to follow Hampden avenue. The original watercourse ran on the north side of what is now U. S. 285. Just west of Lowell on the north side of the highway, the railroad bridge abutments are still visible, as is the low lying land that marked the original bed. The raging creek knocked out the bridge on Clay St., in an earlier flood, that bridge was never replaced. In the 1965 flood Bear Creek at its confluence with the Platte, combined to create a swirling maelstrom which destroyed the bridge over U. S. 285. Several years later minor flooding caused Bear Creek to create structural damage to the bridge over Lowell at U. S. 285.

Some downstream flooding will continue to occur, despite the construction of the Bear Creek Dam, along U. S. 285 to the east of Soda Lakes. This dam was first called Mt. Carbon Dam. A Sheridan City Councilwoman, June Lindstrom, was one of those whose work was instrumental in getting the dam built.

McBroom Ditch

When John McBroom came to the area which later became known as Sheridan, he realized early that available irrigation and household water would be a necessity. To that end, in 1859 he constructed the area's first irrigation ditch, bringing water from Bear Creek, which was called appropriately enough the McBroom ditch. The headgate of the ditch is between Lowell and Sheridan Blvd. and ends at the Platte River. There are many shareholders in the McBroom ditch water at this time.

In 1860 and 1861, John and his brother Isaac McBroom widened the ditch relieving the danger of cave ins and evening the grades. It carried somewhere in the range of 20 to 25 second feet of water. It had total decreed rights of 11.58 second feet, which could irrigate 198 acres in 1928, according to a report on Water Resources of the South Platte Basin, Colorado State Engineer, 1931.

A history of the McBroom Ditch was written by John McBroom's son, Joseph. He said that his father learned about irrigation from the Mormons in Utah. Unlimited water was used until 1882 when the Court established 11.58 second feet of water for the McBroom Ditch, and established it as part of District #9. Part of the Ditch was tiled through the Shirley Farm, (that area where Mullen Home is now) as a benefit to all parties concerned. From the description given it appears that they used pipe, as it talks about an increase of water flow, and accumulation of weeds and debris being done away with. The tile did not provide the benefits they expected however, as the underground water table fell. He further talks about when the water was badly needed and the stream flow low, the water commissioners did not take prompt action when asked to let the water into the Ditch. In later years, gasoline engines and electricity were used to pump water.

Petersburg Ditch

Peter Magnus, the next settler in the area, created a settlement of Swedes in Petersburg, near Santa Fe Drive and Hampden Ave., and instituted the sugar beet industry north of Denver, in an area which Major Stephen H.Long (Long's Peak) had claimed was "almost totally unfit for cultivation. " (A guide to Colorado Rivers, Marion R. Cody, Pg. 9.). Magnus understanding that cultivation in this semi-arid land would be different from the lusher more fertile areas of the midwest, together with Joseph M. Brown and Samuel W. Brown donated land and organized the Petersburg Ditch Company, November 30, 1861. (The Roots of Prosperity: Littleton in the 1860's by Laurence W. Steele) This ditch turned the mill wheel for the grist mill in Petersburg. The ditch was leased to Henry Alshouse on or about May 6, 1874.

During 1888 Bertha Magnus 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 use of 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 its 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 affidavit of W. P. Miller a resident of University Park since 1890, said 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. That 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. Magnus) 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. That 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.

Olson and Bell Ditch

The Olson and Bell Ditch came into being March 15, 1862. It is very difficult from the old maps to determine where this ditch began and ended. Mrs. Hornbuckle a long time resident of the bottoms informed us the Bell reservoir was to the north (uphill from the bottoms) and the water fed the irrigation ditch in front of their home. This also served the area to the south known as Olson's Park. According to the document from the Colorado State Engineer on the water resources of the South Platte River Basin, published in 1931, and showing the Olson and Bell Ditch came from Bear Creek had decreed water rights of 6.3 second feet, which could irrigate 273.5 acres in 1928.

The Brown Ditch

The Brown Ditch took its water from the South Platte River and began in south Littleton on the west side of the river, where Deer Creek joins the Platte. It rejoins the Platte around Oxford Avenue in Sheridan. No record of how many feet per second were carried in this Ditch. 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.

Petersburg Lateral Ditch

The Petersburg Lateral Ditch Company was channeled from the City Ditch and provided irrigation water to some of the owners in Petersburg. The Company was composed of citizens in the area. It is not known how much water this ditch provided.

Wells

Many citizens still water with wells, which we mentioned earlier. A capped well stands on the grounds of Ora Oliver School, and another near Monaghans Tavern. Englewood purchased the land for the second nine holes of the golf course on the west side of the Platte River, thereby also securing a number of deep wells, which they supplement their water with. A number of artesian springs also dot the area.

Water fights are still going on. It is certain that they will continue because of the value of water. The City of Sheridan for the most part gets water from the City and County of Denver, a small part of the city gets water from The City Englewood. But nearly all of the city is served by a water district.


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