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Monthly Archives: May 2016

Frances Wisebart Jacobs, Colorado’s Mother of Charities

Frances Wisebart Jacobs (1843-1892) has been called Colorado’s “Mother of Charities.”  Born in Kentucky, she married Abraham Jacobs and came with him to Colorado in 1862.  Abraham and Frances’ brother opened a clothing store in Central City.  When fire destroyed their shop, they moved to Denver and opened a new store.  Frances and Abraham had three children, one of whom died in childhood.

Always deeply concerned with the well-being of poor and sick people, Frances became President of the Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society.  Her calling in life soon became caring for the growing number of Jewish immigrants coming to the Denver area with tuberculosis.   (Then called consumption, “TB” was the nation’s major fatal disease at the time; many “lungers” came to the high and dry air of Colorado as a cure for the disease.)  Frances regularly visited the squalid shacks of consumptives, many of whom were poor Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.  She brought them medicines and bandaged their wounds, even though they carried many diseases and lived in high-crime areas.  She quickly realized that others besides Jewish immigrants needed her services, so in 1874 she helped found the non-denominational Ladies’ Relief Society with herself as vice-president.  She was called upon to address many groups and discovered that she was an excellent public speaker.  Frances became the spokesperson for many of Denver’s charities.  In 1887, through her efforts and those of four religious leaders from other faiths, several of Denver’s charity groups were consolidated under the Charity Organization Society (COS).  The interfaith COS soon became the fundraising organization for 23 charities, and Frances was its secretary.  By 1922 the COS evolved into the Community Chest, and many credit it with eventually becoming the United Way.

Frances organized the Denver Free Kindergarten Association and opened Denver’s first free kindergarten for the children of indigent parents.  

In 1892 she worked with the Jewish Hospital Association to start a free hospital for tuberculosis patients in Denver.  It was named the Frances Jacobs Hospital for Consumptives.  However, she died of pneumonia less than a month before the hospital was to be dedicated; she was only 49 years old.  The institution eventually became National Jewish Hospital, and it is still at its original location at Colfax Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.  A sculpture of Ms. Jacobs still graces the entrance to hospital, which did not charge fees for most services until many years later. 

In 1900 sixteen Colorado pioneers were chosen to have stained glass windows of their likenesses displayed in the state capitol rotunda; Frances was one of these, and she was the only woman to be chosen.   A city park at Quebec Street and Tennessee Avenue was named for her, and in 1994 she was installed in The National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.   She was buried in the Emmanuel Cemetery, the Jewish burial area just west of the main part of Fairmount Cemetery. 

According to the National Jewish Hospital website, “No one ever did more to create Colorado’s humanitarian healthcare tradition than Frances Wisebart Jacobs.” 

By Garry O’Hara


Omar D. Blair-Black History at Fairmount

Omar Blair was born in Texas in 1918, and attended high school in Albuquerque where, as one of six black students, he was not allowed to sit with the other students at graduation. But in 1979  he was named the most distinguished graduate of the same school! Growing up he wanted to become  a pilot, however at that time  the United States Army Air Corps was not accepting Black candidates for pilot training. In 1940 he enrolled at UCLA, and during his second year there the USAAC relaxed its colored restriction, and after passing the required tests he was sent to Tuskegee, a small college town in Alabama to become one of the first Black pilots. Whereas white cadets progressed through their training at different bases, the black pilots did all their training (Basic, Primary, and Advanced) at Tuskegee at different fields around the town, and they became known as “the Tuskegee Airmen”. In 2012 a movie,“Red Tails”, was made about their exploits, starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrance Howard, and Bryan Cranston.

Blair proceeded with this 332nd Fighter Group to Italy, where they entered combat, originally flying P-40 airplanes, but later the most advanced US fighter, the P-51 Mustang. Their record for escorting bombers to the war zone was exemplary, and though not 100% true, they claimed that no bomber they were escorting was ever shot down. As well Blair became known as “the Great Train Robber”. When their base was running short of fuel he organized a convoy to hijack a train bound for another base and take the fuel tanks it was transporting to his base!

Following the war he spent some time in Albuquerque, but moved to Denver in 1951 where until 1969  he worked at The Rocky Mountain Arsenal, while remaining in the Air Force Reserve from which he retired in 1985 as a Major. In 1970 he moved to Lowry Air Force Base as the Equal Opportunity Officer, and while there in 1973 he ran for and was elected to the Denver Board of Education, where he served until his retirement in 1985. In 1975 he became vice president of the Board, and two years later he became its first Black president, serving until 1981. It was during this period that Denver was required by a US Supreme Court decision of 1973 to integrate its schools and begin busing of students to achieve this, although several of the buses were bombed during this time.

Blair had also served as Commissioner of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority during the time that they initiated the Sixteenth Street Mall. In 1984 he received an Honorary Doctorate from Metro State College as a “Doctor of Public Service” for his many years of service to education. In 2003 the Blair-Caldwell African American Library at 2401 Welton Street was dedicated to him and Elvin Caldwell, the first Black member of the Denver City Council, and a manager of the Denver Department of Safety. In 2004 the Edison Charter School in Green Valley Ranch was renamed the Omar D. Blair Charter School, also honoring Blair’s work in education.

Omar Blair died in 2004, and is buried near the center of Block 121 of Fairmount Cemetery.

By Tom Morton

Pajama Genealogy and My Beulah Blakley Rose

By Carol Johnson, CGHS Member

On May 16th I attended the Fairmount Cemetery Heritage Rose Sale.  To celebrate Fairmount’s 125th Anniversary, the Fairmount Heritage Foundation, in partnership with High Country Roses, propagated new cuttings from several roses never previously available commercially.  I purchased a Beulah Blakley, a mystery rose new this year from historic Riverside Cemetery.  How interesting to find that such mystery roses are given the name of the person on the nearest tombstone.

Then, on a Memorial Day visit to Riverside Cemetery I found Beulah Blakley’s tombstone in Block 20, Lot 212.  It reads:  “Beulah B. Blakley, Eldest child of A.A. and Ophelia Blakley, Born:  June 24, 1881, Died:  April 15, 1890.”  In front of the tombstone is her rose bush, which was propagated, one of which I bought, and which is now planted in my garden.

Now I want to know more about Beulah Blakley and her family.  Find A Grave includes her obituary from the Rocky Mountain News on 16 April 1890:  “BUELAH (sic) V. BLAKLEY – Died – in Denver, Apr 15, daughter of A. A. and Ophelia Blakley, aged 8 years and 10 months.  Funeral from residence of P.W. Blakley, 3545 Blake Street, 2 o-clock today.  Friends invited.  Riverside Cemetery record, Blakeley, Berelah (sic) V., age 8, interred 4/16/1890” (Find A Grave Memorial #32766991).

In checking for other Blakleys buried at Riverside, I find one of Beulah’s younger brothers is buried in the same block and lot:  Harry E. Blakley was born on June 1, 1889, and died on June 4, 1890, only two months after Beulah.  His tombstone’s inscription reads:  “Youngest child of A. A. & Ophelia L. Blakley” and “Our Baby Boy” (Find A Grave Memorial #99597319.)

The Ausloos Urban Family Tree at Ancestry indicates that Alderson B. (sic:  A.) Blakley (1859-1931) is her father, and Ophelia L. Bonnell (1856-1935) is her mother.

In the Miller-Sheehan Family Tree at Ancestry I learn that P.W. Blakley is Proman W. Blakley, her paternal uncle mentioned in Beulah’s obituary, who is a hackman (a driver of a carriage for hire) and lives at 3545 Blake in the 1888 Denver, CO City Directory (page:  155).

The 1900 Federal Census for Denver, Arapahoe, Colorado, done 7 Jun 1900, lists Alderson Blakley as the head of family living at 3344 West 44th Avenue.  He is a married white male who is 41 years old, having been born in March, 1859, in Kansas.  He has been married for 19 years.  His occupation is Weighmaster (for the Union Pacific Railway).  His wife, Ophelia, is 42 years old, having been born in October, 1857, in Kansas.  She has had 7 children, 5 of whom are still living:  Lilburne, a son born in January, 1883, in Colorado; Arvell, a son born in March, 1885, in Colorado; Dixie, a daughter, born in April, 1887, in Colorado; Ralph, a son, born in March, 1893, in Colorado, and a 4-month-old unnamed daughter (eventually named Bonnell Collins Blakley), born in January, 1900, in Colorado (Family History Library Microfilm:  1240118; Roll:  118; Enumeration District:  0048; Page:  7B; #68-74).

The 1930 Denver City Directory lists Alderson A. Blakley as the president of A. A. Blakley Live Stock Commission Company.  He and Ophelia live at 3433 W. 44th Avenue (page 648).  The 1930 Federal Census for Denver, Colorado, shows them living at the same address and owning the house worth $8,000 with only their 47-year-old son, Lilburne, who is a Newspaper Pressman (Enumeration District:  16-221, Page:  1A, #17-19).

Another of Beulah’s younger brothers, Arvell Alderson Blakley, is listed in the 1930 Denver City Directory as a Vice President of the A. A. Blakley Live Stock Commission Company living at 4540 King Street, a house worth $8,000 which he owns. He appears in the 1940 census as a Livestock Salesman who is married to Viola and owns their house worth only $5,000 at 4540 King Street (Enumeration District:  1; Sheet No. 11A, #20).

The youngest of Beulah’s brothers, Ralph S. Blakley, elopes in 1913 with one of the Meyers sisters, who are pronounced to be “among the most beautiful girls in Denver,” and the marriage announcement appears in a front-page article in the Denver Post (8 Feb 1913, Page 1).  By 1940 Ralph’s occupation is the Vice President of the A. A. Blakley Livestock Commission Company living at 4546 King Street in the 1940 Denver City Directory (page 502).

In checking at Find A Grave for more Blakleys, I find that Beulah and Harry are the only Blakleys buried at Riverside.  Their parents, Alderson A. Blakley (1859-1931) and Ophelia L. (1856-1935) are both buried at Crown Hill Cemetery, Wheat Ridge, Jefferson, Colorado (Find A Grave Memorial #43516072 and #43516073).  Their paternal uncle, Proman W. Blakley, and his wife, Rose Ella, are buried at Crown Hill (Find A Grave Memorial # 62762334 and #62762335).  One of their brothers, A. A. (Arvell Alderson) “Val” Blakley (1885-1955) and his wife, Viola C. (1886-1968) are buried at Crown Hill (Find A Grave Memorial #29939277 and #29939330).

In spite of losing their oldest and youngest child in two months’ time in 1890, the Blakley family achieved a successful life in Denver.  Beulah’s father worked as a hackman at his father’s livery stable and a railway weighmaster before forming a livestock company and serving as Denver’s Excise Commissioner and President of the Fire and Police Board.  He faced some real political challenges during 1913-1914.

Now whenever I look at my Beulah Blakley rose in my backyard, I will recall a morning of what I call “Pajama Genealogy”, when I sat at my computer and researched Beulah and her Blakley family in Denver.  I can hardly wait for next year’s rose sale at Fairmount.  I wonder whose rose I will get then?

Join us for the annual Rose Sale Saturday May 14th! Details Here>>

Project Update : Visitor Services Area Renovation / Lower Ivy Terrace


Date: 04.04.2016

Improvements for Fairmount Cemetery and the Fairmount Cemetery Company (FCC) were discussed for several years and included the areas known as Lower Ivy Terrace and the Visitor Services Area. As lead consultant, Cemetery Planning Resource Alliance (CPRA) collaborated closely with FCC on identifying these two areas and the specific scope of work that was needed for the two developments.

Phase I of the Lower Ivy Terrace development has three outdoor or garden mausoleums uniquely designed and integrated with private burial estates in a beautiful setting near the new improvements of the Visitor Services Area (VSA). The mausoleums were designed by CPRA and in conjunction with Gibraltar Mausoleum Construction.

The Visitor Services Area improvements included a total site, entry gate, road and parking reconfiguration as well as a new building addition and re-programming of the existing chapel, administration and mortuary office.

Sprocket Design Build (SDB) was chosen as architect and general contractor for the project and led the development into construction after the site and building designs were readied.

An Upper Class Cat Fight | The Endless Family Feud

It’s between Helen and May Bonfils. Well, they were the heiresses to the Denver Post fortune. Frederick Bonfils, was the founder, publisher and editor of The Denver Post and he was a very strict guy. He never would let his girls go to any of the ice cream socials or dances or anything. They, they had to stay home and lead these very Catholic, quiet lives. Well, the older daughter, Mae did what all teenage girls do under such conditions -she went out her bedroom window and eloped with the first guy she found, who happened to be a piano salesman.

Frederick Bonfils was so upset and so angry at Mae for doing that, that he put it in his will that if she would divorce him, she could inherit all his millions. Well, he dies. The will is read, and May says,

“I’m gonna take it to court.”

She took it to court, and the judge ruled in her favor because it is immoral to require somebody to get a divorce just to inherit money. So, she got to inherit all her millions of dollars.

Now, the sister, Helen Bonfils, was not so happy about that. She had made it a point to always be the good girl, the good daughter.  As the years went by, she took care of her mother, Belle Bonfils.  When Belle Bonfils dies, the will is read, and Mae discovers that she had been disinherited again!  After some investigation it turns out that the will had been changed just a few months before Belle’s death under suspect circumstances.  Mae takes it to court again.

As the two sisters were at their seats in the courtroom, and the judge was tidying up the proceedings, and one sister said something to the other. Nobody heard what it was, but she said something, and the other sister replied, and the next thing you know, the two sisters were screaming at each other in court, and the judge is pounding his gavel, and he says,

“Stop it. I’ll throw you both out!”

So, after that trial, you could never have a social event in Denver and invite both Mae and Helen. You could invite one or the other, but not both. The judge ruled in May’s favor yet again because of the timing of the change of the will being so close to Belle’s date of death.

Indiana Sopris Cushman Denver’s first woman schoolteacher.

Indiana Sopris Cushman was Denver’s first woman schoolteacher and one of the city’s very early pioneers.  She was born in 1839 in Indiana; some say she was the namesake not of the state but of a riverboat (named the “Indiana”) that her father worked on in his youth.  She arrived here in a covered wagon in 1860 with her parents and some of her seven siblings.  Since there were few young women here at that time, she and her sister Irene were very popular.  She later wrote that when she got to Denver, “We found some very pleasant people here, but not very many families, mostly men, very few young ladies; my sister and I and half a dozen other young ladies were all there were in Denver.  Of course, we were all belles then.”

On May 7, 1860, when she was only 21 years old, Indiana opened a private school and later taught in the first public school in Denver.  She was also one of the organizers of the First Congregational Church and its Sunday school.  She married businessman Samuel Cushman in 1866.

She later wrote about an incident in Denver in 1864:  “One night we had a very bad scare.  A man came in and told us that a great body of Indians were coming, so the alarm was sounded….  A family I happen to know, a man and wife, were down town on F street eating ice cream at a restaurant and when the scare came the gentleman said, ‘Let’s go down to the Fillmore Block.’  The wife replied, ‘Oh, let’s go home and get the baby.’  ‘Oh, he said, ‘God will take care of the baby; let us save ourselves.’  That really happened.”  (The Indians never came.)

Her father Richard Sopris was one of the most prominent of Colorado’s early pioneers.  He came here ahead of his family in 1859 and was one of the first Gold Rush prospectors and an original shareholder of the town of Auraria.  He was elected to the Territorial Legislature of Kansas representing Arapahoe County (which was then the westernmost county of Kansas).  He became a captain in the First Colorado Infantry and a year later was chosen to be the first president of the Colorado Agricultural Society.  In 1862 Richard Sopris was elected sheriff of Arapahoe County.  He served as president of the Colorado Pioneer Association and was mayor of Denver from 1878 to 1881, after which he was the city’s parks commissioner.  Mount Sopris is named for him.

Indiana’s mother Elizabeth was considered the oldest of Denver’s pioneers when she died in 1911 at the age of 96.  A descendant of Ethan Allen, she was widely known as the “Grand Old Woman of the Ladies’ Aid Society.”

Indiana Sopris Cushman died in 1925 at age 86 and is buried at Riverside Cemetery with her parents and several other family members in Block 1.

Find out more about Riverside Cemetery tours and events here.

Learn more about the amazing Fairmount Heritage Foundation here.

By Garry O’Hara