Wellman Feeder Canal

Wellman Ditch (now Canal) **Ditch Abandoned

Established: May 1 1878

Priority Number: 39

Acres under ditch: 1200 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

The 3 Wellman brothers arrived in Boulder, intent on prospecting.

"The eldest two, Henry and Luther, had been to California and acquired a love for adventure, and a taste for the exhilaration of gold hunting, and when the first news flashed through the East that gold dust had been found in Cherry Creek, in the region of Pikes Peak, they resolved to go. They took their youngest brother Sylvanus along with them, and outfitting from Dixon Illinois, rolled out from there west-ward bound the 24th day of March, 1859, with one wagon, drawn by 3 yoke of oxen.

"They first saw the Boulder Valley the first day of August 1859. The fame of Gold Run, and the Horsfall and Scott lodes had already reached them, and they considered that they had occasion to go no further, either to find gold, or a rich soil, or a beautiful country. There was one point between the butte and the base of the mountains where the bottom land of the North Boulder Creek was wider than at other places, and the meadow grass for mowing more rank. The Wellman boys drove to that very place, ending their long journey there, and pitched their tents on a pleasant building spot." Boulder County News, March 16 1877

Henry Wellman, 38, and his brothers Luther, 33, and Sylvanus, 25, came from an old, respected farming family in Pennsylvania. They each had years of journeyman work in lumber, butchery, tanning, engineering, and mining, and brought these skills with them-but saw in the broad, treeless expanses of Boulder, the potential for farming.

The Wellman brothers acquired a section of land (one square mile, or 640 acres) just over a mile east of the 20 log cabins that made up downtown Boulder, along what would become Arapahoe Road. Within days they plowed and planted an acre of turnips. The crop was hardly out of the ground when a storm of locusts descended consuming everything and leaving a foot-deep pile of the bugs. Undeterred, the brothers decided to plant wheat, and dug small ditches, to draw water off Boulder Creek eastward onto their land.

Each brother married and in 1874 built stone houses on their section, near 48th street. In the late 1870s, Luther and Henry sold their shares and moved on to other areas, but Sylvanus and his family remained until his death in 1896, at 62.

In 1881, Sylvanus testified in the adjudication hearings held in Boulder regarding the water rights of the Wellman Ditch:

"The grasslands in the bottoms received their water from the overflow of the Boulder Creek..., and then for farm lands we had small ditches from Boulder Creek. Since the summer of 1859, about 800 acres were supplied in that way.... (But then), the volume of water in the creek having been reduced by the construction of (other) ditches,...we could not get the water out of the small ditches, and the water in the creek has not overflowed on the grasslands. We were (then) compelled to construct this (large) Wellman Ditch."

It appears that the Wellmans were on the losing end of the water game. Their farming practices depended on large amounts of water coming down Boulder Creek. But as their neighbors diverted more and more water and creek flows diminished, they were left high and dry. They had not aggressively developed their water nor filed on it, as their neighbors had.

The original irrigation rights on Wellman Ditch have been abandoned, and the ditch has been filled. Xcel Energy owns rights to use the ditch to divert water from Boulder Creek to storage in Hillcrest Reservoir, in the Valmont Lakes Complex.

Picture and testimony courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.
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