A History of Sloan’s Lake: Then and Now
Updated: Sep 15, 2019
When you call The Julian ‘home,’ you are truly surrounded by the best that Colorado urban living has to offer. Nearby major highways to the west lead to the majestic Rocky Mountains, and to the east I-25 is peppered north to south with an array of Denver’s diverse, sprawling neighborhoods, each contributing their own unique flavor of life in greater Denver area. Just ten minutes’ walk towards the north you have Sloan's Lake, the mysterious body of water that has served as a catalyst to the development of one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods. Sloan’s Lake is one of Denver’s most sought-after, rapidly-developing areas to-date, and includes a rich history that involves an accidental agricultural phenomenon, a golden era of theme park attractions and possibly even elephant - yes, elephant - bones.
Sloan's Lake History
The City of Denver and the Sloan’s Lake area’s heritage is rooted in ‘Old West’ lore. Cloudy are the waters of Sloan’s Lake’s true origin, however, Denver Public Library archives tell the story of a local farmer, Thomas M. Sloan. Sloan dug a well in 1861 - just three years after the founding of Denver itself - with the intention of irrigating his land for agricultural, farming and cattle-raising purposes. Unbeknownst to Sloan, his drilling tapped into an underground aquifer that flooded around two hundred acres of his land – overnight. The Sloan family awoke the next morning to a lake that suddenly appeared and would forever change the course of their and the surrounding area’s lives.
Rumors of the new body of water attracted visitors from across Colorado. As the Sloan family prospered from their lakeshore farm, the near-constant visitor traffic became a popular recreational area for Coloradans to enjoy boating, swimming and ice-skating.
An Amusement Park is Established
The Sloan family posted “The Best Farm in Colorado” for sale in an 1872 issue of Rocky Mountain News. The history of Sloan’s Lake resumes without the Sloan family in 1881 when Manhattan Beach Amusement Park and Spa opened on the north shore. Manhattan Beach was touted as the first amusement park West of the Mississippi River. For over a decade, Denver visitors traveled to the novelty Manhattan Beach park by streetcar, boats and wagons to enjoy lively attractions such as a roller coaster, dance hall, Ferris wheel, boating, hot air balloon rides, wrestling bears, and exhibits with over 40 animal species on display. The park featured stunt performers specializing in contortionist acts, aerial acts, and human cannonballs.
Roger the Elephant
A disastrous accident involving Manhattan Beach’s biggest exhibit, Roger the Elephant, marked the beginning of the end for this family-favorite destination. In the summer of 1891, frightened by an ascending hot air balloon, Roger bucked a saddle basket carrying children and crushed one child while a horrified crowd helplessly watched. Legend is that Roger the Elephant was buried at 20th and Depew, which is now a neighborhood grocery store. A fire destroyed most of Manhattan Beach in 1908 and although it was rebuilt and operated as the new Luna Park, it shut down permanently in 1914.
Sloan’s Lake Park remains Denver’s second largest park and continues to be a recreational hotspot for Denverites year-round. Sloan’s Lake is a popular venue for athletic races, fundraiser events, pop-up community festivals, artisan market events, and the annual Colorado Dragon Boat Festival and Sloan’s Lake Art and Music Festival.
An Outdoor Paradise in Central Denver
Today, Sloan’s Lake Park consists of several amenities including multi-use pedestrian and biking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, and baseball and soccer fields. Although Sloan’s Lake is no longer designated for recreational swimming, visitors can enjoy fishing, boating and stand-up paddle-boarding on the water. Leashed dogs are welcome guests making Sloan's Lake the perfect place to take your four-legged best friend to view the stunning mountain and city views.
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