• Dennis McCaslin

The night in 1863 that Denver burned and an entrepreneur was born

For Old West towns, fires were a real concern. Most buildings were constructed of wood that soon became dry kindling. One such fire broke out in Denver back in 1863, and it brought out the worst and the best in men.

A constant fear for western towns was fire. The buildings were wood, and with the dry weather, they soon became kindling.

On April 19, 1863 for Denver, Colorado that fear became a reality. A pile of garbage behind the Cherokee House Hotel ignited. A wind whipped up the flames into a citywide inferno. The resulting damage was estimated to be in the range of $350,000, which doesn’t sound like much, but in the 1860’s that was most of Denver.

As with most tragedies, it brought out the worst and the best in men. When it came time to rebuild the area the local Kountze Brothers Bank announced that they were willing to give loans to merchants… The best in men? Not really. The interest was a whopping 25% per year… And we think interest rates are high today.

Prior to the fire there was quite a bit of animosity between Denver City and neighboring Cherry Creek. With both cities adversely affected, they put aside their animosity and worked together...Truly the best in men.

One of the individuals who borrowed money from the Kountze Brothers Bank was a Black entrepreneur by the name of Barney Ford. He operated a barbershop that was destroyed in the fire. Barney borrowed $9,000 at the going rate of 25% interest.

But, Barney Ford didn’t use it to reopen his barbershop. He used it to open the People’s Restaurant. Along with great food, the restaurant advertised fresh oysters and Havana cigars. How did Barney Ford do?

Well, even at the high interest rate, he paid off the loan in just 90 days.

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