How the Library of a 19th Century Club for Elites Ended Up at the University of Wyoming

In the Toppan Rare Books Library, there are several sub-collections of books. These sub-collections reflect where the Rare Books Library acquired the books, whether it was by donation, a transfer from a different part of the University of Wyoming, or purchase. One such unique subset of books is the Denver Club Collection, which is made up of a portion of books acquired from the Denver Club in the 1950s.

The Denver Club was a social club founded July 29, 1880, by prominent and wealthy male Denver citizens. The Denver Club followed in the steps of other social clubs such as the Cheyenne Club in Cheyenne, Wyoming, founded that same year. These clubs were to be spaces for the prominent elite to gather for business, leisure, or other purposes, with a main attraction being the connections one might make there. The clubs were purposely exclusive; the membership initially was limited to (white) men and in 1885 the initial membership fee was $100 with $80 in dues annually.

After meeting in a hotel in downtown Denver for several years, the Denver Club had a clubhouse built in 1888 at the corner of 17th and Glenarm St. The clubhouse featured luxurious accommodations, such as a dining room, private rooms for club members to reserve for meetings, a billiards hall, and a library for members’ use. The Denver Club library was an ornately furnished room clearly designed to evoke a refined appearance and feeling. The library collection held a variety of books including the works of Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson, as well as a wide selection of English literature in single-bound editions and volumes. The collection of books in the Denver Club Library likely reflects the tastes and interests of its members, as well as how the members might have liked their tastes and interests to be perceived.

The Denver Club building constructed in 1888. Courtesy Denver Public Library, call number X-25092.
The Denver Club’s library. Courtesy Denver Public Library, call number WHJ-10371.

In the 1950s, the Denver Club believed they needed new accommodations. The old clubhouse was torn down and construction began on one of Denver’s first skyscrapers, in which the Denver Club would occupy the top few floors. As part of this transition, furnishings and other items from the old building were sold and auctioned, including the collection of the club library. A Laramie Republican and Boomerang article dated July 21, 1952, notes that the University of Wyoming purchased the Denver Club library of 6000 books for a “very reasonable price” as well as the display shelves and catalog index. It took two trucks to bring the collection from Denver to Laramie.

Author’s photograph of Denver Club on American Heritage Center shelving.

The new DC Building still stands on the corner of 17th and Glenarm in Denver, and a selection of the books of the old Denver Club library are now housed in the Toppan Rare Books Library at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, where you can view any of the books that were once in the exclusive club library.

Post contributed by Toppan Rare Books Library Assistant Marcus Holscher.


Sources used:

Atherton, Lewis. The Cattle Kings. Indiana University Press, 1961.

Whitacre, Christine. The Denver Club: 1880-1995. Denver: Historic Denver, Inc., and The Denver Club. 1998.

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