The First Settler of Westminster: Pleasant Despain

Updated: Aug 2

Before Westminster became what it is today, early Colorado settlers shaped the area into what it is today. Rich with a history that spans from the first settler through the Restoration of Shoenberg Farms, today, this Colorado town’s heritage is one to be cherished and celebrated. From a single settler traveling from Kentucky, Westminster is now Colorado’s eighth most populated Colorado city, with a population of over 115,000 residents!

The Homestead Act of 1862

The purpose of The Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, was to provide federal land grants to bring white settlers to untamed territories west of the Mississippi. All anyone looking to cash in on this incentive had to do was survive the journey west, file an application, make improvements on the land, and file for a deed of title. Settlers could use this incentive for up to 160 acres of land.

The Despains’ Move West

One of the first settlers to develop the area now known as Westminster originally created the village known as Despain Junction. The Despain family appears on Colorado’s earliest census records – The Census of 1870 – alongside famed neighbor Richard Sopris.

According to the record, Pleasant Despain and his wife, Sarah, had four children in the household at that time – Richard, Pleasant, Jeremiah, and James. Their daughter Edith lived on a neighboring farm with her husband, Joseph Yule, whom she married in 1868 in Denver, Colorado. Another son, Benjamin, had already filed a homestead claim near both his parents and sister.

The Despain homestead land spread across an area that is now home to the Denver-Boulder Turnpike, with the home located between today’s Zuni Boulevard and Lowell Boulevard and 70th and 80th Avenues. The Despains were farmers who planted apple and cherry orchards, as well as grew wheat and corn crops. They found that the Colorado market for these crops was especially fruitful in Denver, Boulder, and the mining camps in the mountains.

The Railroad Spur and Despain Ditch Company

In 1881, the railroad was built, and Despain Junction became a spur along the line. The town offered more than just the Despain home, boasting a blacksmith, general store, and lumber yard. With water being a troublesome issue in Colorado, Despain took advantage of the need and incorporated the Despain Ditch Company after buying the rights to an irrigation canal, one that brought some of the earliest water to the region. He used these rights to fill the water tower, which he built off Lowell Boulevard and 76th Avenue. He then sold the water to other local homesteaders.

From Harris to Westminster

During the 1880s, Despain Junction was renamed Harris before ultimately becoming Westminster, as it is named today. Public records over the years from Despain Junction to Harris to Westminster show the existence of numerous Despain descendants – including the original Pleasant Despain’s great-great-grandson and namesake, a published author, and columnist.

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