DENVER (KDVR) – The stretch of pavement that the Colfax Ave Businesses Improvement District says was once called “the longest, wickedest street in America” has carried several fitting nicknames throughout its 158-year history, but if you’re reading this in the year 2022, you likely refer to it simply as Colfax Avenue.
According to Visit Denver, Colfax has been the official name of the avenue that runs through the heart of Denver for well over a century, but it was originally called Golden Road before temporarily being renamed Grand Avenue.
Interestingly enough, the street’s namesake doesn’t come from someone who is from Colorado, but rather someone who those living in the territory were trying to impress. Regardless of where its namesake lived, the street officially became Colfax Avenue in 1868.
Schuyler Colfax: Leading Colorado’s push for statehood
According to records kept by the Colfax Avenue Museum, in 1865, the same year that officials in the state applied for statehood, then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Indiana Congressman Schuyler Colfax was on a western tour that brought him to the Mile High City to inspect the mining industry in the region.
The Civil War had drained the nation’s finances and a full audit of what remained was something Congress felt was vital to complete. Speaker Colfax was heavily involved in the completion of the country’s first transcontinental railway, a form of transportation utilized heavily by mining companies, so it made sense that someone with his knowledge of the industry and the logistical system that surrounded it was sent on this western tour.
Nicknamed “Smiler Colfax,” the speaker led the push for Colorado’s statehood and would eventually be responsible for the drafting of the state’s first official legislation.
Years before his visit to inspect the mining industry, the Museum’s archives show that on Jan. 6, 1859, Colfax introduced a bill to congress that organized western territories into the “Territory of Colona,” which included portions of present-day New Mexico, Kansas and Nebraska.
Due to the timing of the proposal in relation to the Civil War, it was voted down. Colfax’s proposal to form the “Territory of Colona” was eventually resubmitted with the new name Colorado.
Colfax would go on to become President Ulysses S. Grant’s vice president and would be the final person to put pen to the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.
“Live, in love of all beneath the circuit of the sun, who loathe tyranny, slavery and wrong,” Schuyler Colfax said in a quote that now resides on the Colfax Museum’s historical page, alluding to the pride he felt being part of the effort that got the document to the finish line,
Coloradans we’re not the only territory to name something in honor of the politician. According to the Colfax Museum, officials in New Mexico named Colfax County in his honor, and officials in California christened one of their cities Colfax in the same year Coloradans renamed the avenue.