Boulder's history mirrors that of many other Colorado mining towns. The foothills in the Boulder Valley were once home to nomadic Native American tribes, most notably, the Southern Arapahoe, who were led by Chief Niwot in the mid 1850s. Gold seekers entered the valley and established the first non-native settlement in 1858. The two groups settled into an uneasy peace, but the Arapahoe were eventually forced out. The area began to grown when the Boulder City Town Company was formed in 1859. The town was never a mining center but a transportation hub and supply town for the mining camps in the foothills just to the west. Statehood came in 1876, and the University of Colorado opened in 1877. A few years later, in 1879, the first railroad came into town. There were just nine students in the first class at CU (not UC, but CU in local lingo) and now enrollment is approaching around 30,000, which solidifies the city’s youthful and vibrant ambience. Boulder also boasts Naropa University,a school which is rooted in Buddhist tradition. The two schools also provide the city with a strong intellectual, academic and cultural foundation.
The early days were rough-and-tumble frontier times, soon overlaid with a prosperous merchant class whose solid late-19th- and early 20th-century homes became the nuclei of what today are the city’s historic neighborhoods. Even after the Repeal of Prohibition elsewhere, Boulder remained dry until 1967 and leaped into the national consciousness in the 1970s and ‘80s, when the counter-culture reigned and hippies from all over the country were drawn there. Many never left, and, as they grew up, their idealism helped the city become a liberal bastion in a state that often tilted toward the political right.
This city that just reached the 100,000-population milestone has long put a premium on quality of life. In 1959, voters chose to protect Boulder’s mountain backdrop, including the iconic Flatirons sandstone formations, and approved the Blue Line to restrict city water at elevations above 5,750 feet, which effectively shut down development. Eight years later, they passed a city sales tax specifically to buy critical land and put into under city open-space management. The city also turned four prime blocks in its commercial core into a pedestrian zone. The resulting Pearl Street Mall continues to be one of the most successful car-free zones in the nation. Boulder’s comprehensive plan, adopted in 1970, continues to guide zoning, transportation, urban planning and growth management decisions. Concurrently, many former hippies proved to possess strong entrepreneurial genes, spawning businesses that brought prosperity to “the People’s Republic of Boulder.”