History of Arvada, Colorado

The area that is now known as Arvada, Colorado was originally home to various Native American tribes including the Arapahoe and Cheyenne peoples. White settlers first came to the area in the 1850’s during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. The first permanent settler in what would become Arvada was Lewis Ralston in 1870. He built a cabin and planted a garden near Ralston Creek.

Other pioneers soon followed and a small settlement began to form. In 1871, Benjamin F. Wadsworth arrived and purchased Ralston’s cabin and land. The following year he platted the Ralston Point townsite along Ralston Creek. He named the town Arvada after his daughter Aravilla.

Founding of Arvada

The Town of Arvada was officially incorporated on August 14, 1904 with a population of 500 residents. The primary industries at the time were agriculture and mining. Arvada was also located along the Colorado Central Railroad line that connected Golden to central Colorado. This allowed Arvada’s agricultural products including wheat, corn, potatoes, and onions to be transported and sold.

In the early 1900’s, Arvada saw slow but steady population growth. Notable buildings constructed during this time included:

  • Arvada Flour Mill (1907)
  • Arvada City Hall (1924)
  • Arvada Presbyterian Church (1925)

20th Century Development

Arvada experienced significant suburban residential development in the post-World War II era as Denver expanded westward. The city population grew from 1,036 in 1940 to 22,026 by 1970. Some key events in Arvada’s 20th century history:

1925 – Olde Town Arvada Established

The Olde Town district of Arvada was established northwest of the original townsite in 1925. It featured Arvada’s first paved streets, curbs, and gutter system. Olde Town became the commercial center of the growing city with businesses locating along Grandview Avenue.

1952 – Arvada Incorporates as a City

As Arvada experienced rapid growth in the 1950’s, the citizens voted to incorporate as a city in 1952. This provided for additional local control and services.

1956 – Arvada Plaza Opens

Arvada Plaza shopping center opened at the intersection of Wadsworth Boulevard and W. 58th Avenue. It was one of Colorado’s first suburban shopping malls and ignited commercial development along Wadsworth.

1963 – Ralston Purina Plant Opens

The Ralston Purina pet food manufacturing plant opened east of Olde Town. It became one of Arvada’s major employers.

1976 – Arvada Urban Renewal Authority Formed

The Arvada Urban Renewal Authority (AURA) was created to redevelop aging areas of the city. Projects included the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.

1993 – Arvada Square Opens

Arvada Square lifestyle shopping center opened, kickstarting revitalization of Olde Town Arvada. The area was reinvented as a pedestrian-friendly destination.

21st Century Arvada

Arvada has continued to grow in the 21st century, with some major projects including:

2006 – RTD Gold Line Opens

The RTD G Line commuter rail opens from Denver Union Station to Wheat Ridge, passing through Arvada. This improved connectivity to downtown Denver.

2014 – Ralston Creek Trail System Expanded

New sections of the Ralston Creek regional trail were added, connecting parks and neighborhoods throughout Arvada.

2016 – Arvada Fitness & Aquatic Center Opens

The Arvada Fitness & Aquatic Center opened after an $8 million renovation of the Apex recreation center. It features indoor and outdoor pools, fitness areas, and gymnasiums.

2017 – Arvada City Center Project Begins

The $430 million redevelopment project to transform the aging Arvada Plaza area into the Arvada City Center lifestyle district broke ground. It will include housing, retail, office space, plazas, and a hotel. Completion is expected in 2023-2025.

Historic Landmarks

Arvada contains several properties and districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places including:

  • Arvada Downtown Historic District: The historic commercial district along Grandview Ave established in 1925. Contains many early 20th century brick buildings.
  • Reno Park: Arvada’s first park was established here in 1911 with a gazebo and memorial to Samuel Reno.
  • St. Joan of Arc Catholic Parish: Founded in 1925, the church building was constructed in 1961 in a mid-century modern style.
  • Flour Mills of Arvada: The concrete silos of the 1907 Arvada Flour Mill still stand.
  • Oberon Middle School: The oldest remaining school building in Arvada, constructed in 1922.
  • Water Tower Park: Home to Arvada’s iconic 1927 railroad water tower.

Museums and Cultural Institutions

Some of Arvada’s major museums and cultural institutions include:

  • Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities: Opened in 1976, this multifaceted campus includes theaters, art galleries, classrooms, and sculpture gardens.
  • Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus: This Arvada branch of the renowned children’s museum opened in 2015.
  • Homestead Barn: The 1911 prairie-style barn hosts exhibits on Arvada history.
  • Lake Arbor Art Gallery: Located in the Lake Arbor subdivision, this gallery displays works by Colorado artists.
  • Apex Center: The Apex recreation complex includes the Apex Art and Apex Theater galleries.
  • Olde Town Arvada: The historic district contains multiple independent art galleries, antique shops, restaurants, and breweries.

Historic Events and Festivals

Arvada hosts various annual events that celebrate its history and community, including:

  • Arvada Days: Held in July, this community festival includes a parade, live music, food, carnival rides, and fireworks.
  • Fall Festival: The Arvada Historical Society’s October festival has historic reenactments, demonstrations, kids activities, and craft booths.
  • Olde Town Holiday Celebration: Tree lighting, caroling, Santa visits, shopping, and other holiday festivities occur in Olde Town each December.
  • ** Fourth of July Festival:** Live bands, beer garden, kids zone, and one of Colorado’s largest Fourth of July fireworks shows.
  • Harvest Festival and Scarecrow Contest: Family activities like pumpkin bowling and scarecrow making in October. Local businesses decorate scarecrows along Grandview Ave.

Demographics and Population

Some key facts about Arvada’s shifting demographics over time:

  • 1870: Arvada founded with approximately 12 residents
  • 1904: Around 500 residents at time of incorporation
  • 1940: 1,036 residents
  • 1970: 22,026 residents after post-war suburban expansion
  • 1980: 66,590 residents
  • 1990: 86,488 residents
  • 2000: 102,153 residents
  • 2010: 106,433 residents
  • 2019 Estimate: 121,214 residents

Arvada’s population nearly doubled from around 50,000 in 1970 to over 100,000 by 2000. Growth has continued but slowed, with the 2019 estimated population just above 120,000.

The racial makeup of Arvada is approximately:

  • 89% White
  • 1% Black or African American
  • 1% Native American
  • 3% Asian
  • 4% Some Other Race
  • 2% Two or More Races

And ethnically about 14% of the population is Hispanic or Latino.

Arvada has historically been primarily residential, with over 70% single-family housing units. New development is focused on adding density around transit corridors to evolve into a more urban community.

Government and Services

Arvada is a home rule municipality with a Council-Manager form of government. This includes:

  • An elected Mayor and City Council serving 4-year terms.
  • A professional City Manager appointed by the Council to run day-to-day municipal operations.
  • Services provided by the city government include police, fire protection, libraries, parks, recreation, street maintenance, zoning, and land use planning.

Arvada also receives services from special districts like Jefferson County Public Schools and the Arvada Fire Protection District. Regional services like water and public transportation are provided by:

  • Denver Water
  • Regional Transportation District (RTD)

Arvada operates under a budget of approximately $250 million per year, primarily funded by sales and property taxes. Current initiatives include expanding parks and trails, redeveloping the Arvada City Center, improving transportation options, and increasing sustainability efforts.

Business and Economy

Arvada has a diverse economy including retail, healthcare, education, manufacturing, energy, and technology companies. Some of the largest employers are:

  • Lockheed Martin Space Systems – Aerospace technology
  • Jefferson County Public Schools – Public education (over 3,000 employees)
  • Vestas – Wind turbine manufacturer (over 1,500 employees)
  • St. Anthony Hospital – Healthcare (over 1,000 employees)
  • Walmart – Retail stores (over 500 employees)
  • Safeway – Grocery stores (over 300 employees)
  • Arvada’s economy was historically driven by agriculture, mining, and the railroad. In the mid-20th century, manufacturing and industrial companies located in Arvada. In recent decades, retail has dominated with large shopping centers and auto dealerships along highways and major roads.
  • As Arvada transitions to a more urban community, there is increased focus on bringing professional services, corporate offices, and technology companies to the city. Areas like Olde Town and the new Arvada City Center district are revitalizing with shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, apartments, and businesses.
  • Major business parks and retail centers include:
  • Arvada West Business Park – Offices and light industrial
  • Interlocken business park – Offices near I-70 and Highway 93
  • Village Greens – Retail shops and restaurants
  • Westminster Promenade – Big box stores and restaurants
  • Olde Town Square – Shops, eateries, and offices
  • Transportation
  • Arvada’s growth and development has been closely tied to transportation networks like railroads, highways, and public transit:
  • Railroads
  • The Colorado Central Railroad first connected Arvada to Denver and mountain communities in the late 1800’s. This allowed Arvada’s agricultural products to reach larger markets.
  • Interstate Highways
  • Interstates 70 and 76 were built through Arvada in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This improved automobile access but also divided neighborhoods.
  • RTD Public Transit
  • The Regional Transportation District (RTD) currently serves Arvada with local and regional bus routes as well as the G Line commuter rail. The G Line provides a direct transit link to downtown Denver.
  • Future Projects
  • Planned transportation improvements include:
  • Gold Strike station opening on the G Line in 2024
  • Bus rapid transit along Wadsworth Blvd and Sheridan Blvd
  • Expanded bike lanes and trails to improve walkability
  • Arvada aims to connect amenities and districts through a multimodal transportation network of cars, buses, light rail, biking, and walking.
  • Education
  • Most K-12 students in Arvada attend Jefferson County Public Schools (Jeffco Schools), the third largest school district in Colorado. Within Arvada there are:
  • 20 elementary schools
  • 6 middle schools
  • 4 high schools – Arvada West, Arvada, Pomona, and Ralston Valley
  • Arvada also has several private and charter school options.
  • Higher education institutions include:
  • Arapahoe Community College (ACC) Arvada Campus – Offers associates degrees and vocational training.
  • Colorado School of Trades – Specializes in technical skills like machining, welding, and HVAC.
  • Many Arvada residents also attend Red Rocks Community College, Metropolitan State University, University of Colorado, and other Front Range institutions.
  • The City of Arvada and Jeffco Schools work closely on shared amenities like the Apex Center recreation facilities and Trail Winds recreation center.
  • Media and News Outlets
  • As part of the Denver metro area, Arvada is covered by all the major Denver television stations, radio stations, and newspapers.
  • Local news sources include:
  • Arvada Press – A weekly community newspaper owned by Colorado Community Media
  • Arvada Report – Online local news site
  • The ACM diaries – Hyperlocal news for Arvada, Wheat Ridge, and Golden
  • Arvada Radio – Internet station playing Arvada-relevant music and programs
  • City of Arvada social media – Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor
  • Residents also receive district-wide publications like The Jeffco Schools Insider from the school district.
  • Organizations like the Arvada Chamber of Commerce, Arvada Center, and local churches have their own newsletters and social media feeds with community updates.
  • Future Outlook
  • Arvada has grown from a small farming settlement to a thriving Front Range suburb. It is now transitioning into a more sustainable, connected, and urban community.
  • Major initiatives and projects that will shape Arvada’s future include:
  • Revitalizing and increasing density in Olde Town and around transit corridors
  • Completing the Arvada City Center as a new downtown district
  • Improving walkability, biking, and public transit
  • Bringing more local jobs, businesses, and amenities
  • Balancing growth with maintaining charm, livability and affordability
  • Arvada aims to preserve its history and community feel while also evolving into a city that can prosper and meet residents’ needs in the coming decades.

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  • Upon leaving the airport, get on Peña Boulevard heading west. Take I-70 west towards the mountains for approximately 10 miles before taking exit 269 for Kipling Street. Turn left onto Kipling Street and continue north for 3 miles. Turn right onto 58th Avenue and continue east for 1⁄2 mile before turning left onto Harlan Street. The destination will be on your right after passing 52nd Avenue.
  • Start by getting on I-25 north from downtown and continue for approximately 10 miles. Take exit 215 onto 58th Avenue. Turn left off the exit and go west on 58th Avenue for around 4 miles before turning right onto Harlan Street. Drive north on Harlan Street by passing 52nd Avenue and look for #5460 on your right after about 1⁄2 mile.
  • Get on US-36 east heading towards Denver. Take this freeway for around 20 miles before merging onto I-25 south towards Denver. Drive approximately 5 miles before taking exit 215 for 58th Avenue. Turn right off the exit onto 58th Avenue heading west for 4 miles before turning right onto Harlan Street. Look for #5460 half a mile down Harlan Street on your right just after passing 52nd Avenue.