Silver Lake Ditch

Silver Lake Ditch

Established: February 28 1888

Priority Number: 48

Acres under ditch: 1000 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

Silver Lake Ditch, the last ditch built in Boulder, was conceived by George Oliver and James P. Maxwell, who owned property on the high dry mesas of North Boulder. They were late to the water game, but they knew the rules well. There was little water left in the creek for their junior ditch, so they had to develop a new water source. They also needed a ditch which was quite high above the town, to be able to get Boulder Creek water to their land.

Construction began in 1887 when Maxwell dammed first Silver Lake, and then Island Lake, just below the Arapaho Glacier. Ditch construction began in 1888, with 5 wooden flumes, totaling 1300 feet, pinned to the Boulder Canyon walls, and a 185 foot long tunnel dug through Elephant Buttress. Silver Lake Ditch flows just below Maxwell’s old house, which was on the mesa above Linden St.

Maxwell sold the Silver Lake Ditch to W. W. Degge in 1907. At the turn of the century, development companies across the west were buying dry lands, building canals, and selling off the newly irrigated tracts of land for what was supposed to be a tidy profit. It usually didn’t work out the way they planned however, and most went bankrupt. Degge, following their business model, bought the ditch and swaths of North Boulder land, and vigorously promoted Wellington Gardens. He built Mesa Park Reservoir (Wonderland Lake) and Mesa Reservoir (Hank Roberts Lake), and attempted to sell off small farms. Unfortunately, the ditch was not able to deliver the amounts of water he promised, and much of his scheme did not come to fruition.

By 1947, the ditch had fallen into such disrepair under Degge family management that the users, including Ev Long, bought the ditch from the Degges and set about repairing it. Over the next decade the 5 wooden flumes were replaced with the steel pipes that you now see hanging on the canyon walls.

21 year old J. P. Maxwell rode into Denver in 1860 and went straight to mining in Central City and Lump Gulch. In 1863, he came to Boulder, built a lumber mill, built a toll road up Boulder Canyon, and surveyed the first municipal water system. He made extensive surveys of the Boulder area as deputy U.S. Mine & Land Surveyor, served in the territorial legislature and the state senate, and was an early mayor of Boulder. He ran the appropriation hearings in Boulder in 1882, and later became the first State Engineer of Colorado. Maxwell Street and Maxwell Lake are named for him.

From W. W. Degge’s promotional materials. Degge was indicted for postal fraud in 1909.

Poster courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

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