Year Listed: 2011
County: Jefferson County
Construction Date: Various – 1847-1870s
Threat When Listed: Vandalism, Lack of Maintenance
Status: SAVE for 2016
In June of 1850, Lewis Ralston made the first documented discovery of gold in Colorado. The creek where he “found color” was named Ralston’s Creek by members of his party. The pull of the stories of riches in the California goldfields was too great for them to stop that day, however, Ralston eventually returned to the site in 1858. The resulting settlement also bore his name, and though little gold was ultimately discovered, a highly productive farming colony developed that would later be renamed Arvada – now a thriving community of more than 100,000 residents. Ralston Cemetery, a modest prairie cemetery located on a knoll with sweeping views of the Denver metro area is now all that remains of the original settlement. The first marked graves contain the Osborn triplets who died in quick succession in 1869, though it is speculated that the first burial is a mass grave dating to the late 1840s. These and the other grave markers that remain tell an important story about early gold strikes in Colorado and the settlement of the Rocky Mountain West.
In 1994, the City of Arvada purchased the site and surrounding land for open space. A fence has been constructed and friends and descendants installed a stone marker noting the site; however vandals continue to cause significant damage to the graves and markers. Many of the headstones have been stolen or broken beyond repair. Cyclists, equestrians and hikers, unaware of the significance of the site, use the cemetery for recreational purposes, inadvertently knocking over grave markers and causing harm to native plants. If the cemetery is not protected and properly researched and interpreted, preservationists fear that the site will be lost to time, vandalism and neglect.
Matthew Prythero, a local high school student, has served as a tireless and passionate advocate for the cemetery by publishing an informational website, fundraising, organizing investigatory work with ground penetrating radar, and coordinating with the City of Arvada to have Ralston Cemetery designated on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. Colorado Preservation spearheaded a collaborative effort between Matthew, the Arvada Historical Society, the City of Arvada and historic cemetery experts to develop and implement a comprehensive preservation plan for the site.
Restoration efforts began in 2013 with work on the markers as a result of a partnership between Colorado Cemetery Conservation, LLC, the City of Arvada and the Raslton Cemetery Association. Work continued in 2014 with construction of a new cemetery entrance and ongoing restoration and maintenance of the gardens around the original entrance. The cemetery was officially Saved in 2016.