Sunday, June 2, 2019

Denver's Legacy of Summer Fun

Blogger: Amber Schamel
John and Mary Elitch

One of the most fun Summer activities here in the Denver area is a visit to Elitches. Elitches is our local theme park that today offers thrilling rides, a water park, concerts and endless fun. But it all began back in Denver’s early days.

Denver was only 30 years old when Elitches first opened. At the time, Denver was a bustling town, just beginning to grow and boom.

John and Mary Elitch moved from California to Colorado in 1880. John was a restaurateur but had always shared a dream with his wife to be a zookeeper at a beautiful resort, and perhaps a theater on location as well. When John moved to Denver, he purchased a 16-acre farm that was originally intended to grow produce to supply his restaurants. But instead, he and Mary decided to chase their dream and turn it into a zoological garden. They built a theater and transformed the land into a magical place of plants, flowers and animals. On May 1, 1890, the Elitch Zoological Gardens opened for the first time. Among the guests at the opening ceremony was P.T.Barnum, a good friend of John Elitch. It was Barnum who had donated many of the animals for the zoo.

Elitch Gardens was a huge success. However, the mutual dream of John and Mary encountered tragedy. John caught pneumonia in March 1891. Mary stayed at his side until he died on March 10th, only a couple of months away from the day Elitch Gardens was supposed to open for its second season. 

Entrance to Elitch Botanical Gardens 1890
The Gardens had been John’s excitement, dream, and joy. Mary was determined to continue the endeavor in his memory. Since that time, Elitches has become an icon and tradition of the city of Denver. According to the Elitches website, the gardens hold many “first” honors including:

  • One of the first zoos west of Chicago
    The iconic Elitches tower
  • The home of Denver’s first symphony orchestra
  • Denver’s first botanic garden
  • Colorado’s first Children’s Museum and activity center
  • The site of Denver’s first motion picture theater, and…
  • Home of the Trocadero Ballroom, where most of Denver danced and romanced

While Elitches has been sold several times throughout the years, the namesake honoring John and Mary Elitch has stayed intact. Mary Elitch was allowed to continue living in her home in the gardens until her death. In 1994, the park was relocated from its original site in the West Highlands to downtown Denver where the white and red tower has become an icon of the beautiful city. 


Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Schamel writes riveting stories that bring HIStory to life. She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".  She lives near Denver, Colorado near her favorite stretch of mountain range. Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!

1 comment:

  1. Did you mean that the Zoological Gardens opened in 1880?
    Thanks for the post. Sounds like a beautiful place!