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Dossier: Daniel F. Carmichael,"Father of Brighton"

Updated: Jan 8

Sleuthing Brighton Colorado, with a full Investigative Report by the Brighton History Detective® (aka Robin Kring)

Case Number: 00001, Identify Mural Subject

Mural Location: “Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza” by Hans Joseph Geist

Subject Identified Daniel F. Carmichael, Founder of Brighton

DANIEL F. CARMICHAEL (1844-1911) is often called the “Father of Brighton” for his filing of the first Brighton land plat on Feb. 16, 1881 and his major promotion and development contributions to the town. The area was formerly known as Hughes Station, a Denver Pacific Railway depot (and Post Office), named on about June 5, 1868 for its president, Bela M. Hughes, as was the practice of the company. The name was changed to Brighton with Carmichael’s plat filing in 1881, although the name Brighton was already in use as early as 1879 by both the railway station and the Post Office. Carmichael’s wife, Alice, has been credited with choosing the name for the plat after her hometown. However, improved access to genealogy records and research may indicate “Another Story of Brighton’s Name.”

Carmichael Leads Brighton to Prosperity

Carmichael helped lead the Brighton community to prosperity in many leadership roles, beginning as one of the appointed commissioners overseeing Brighton’s 1887 incorporation election. Carmichael was twice elected mayor (Brighton’s 7th mayor in 1893 and 11th mayor in 1898) and served several terms as a member of Board of Trustees. He also helped shape law as a representative in the Colorado Legislature 1889-1891. Additionally, he was instrumental in getting Adams County separated from Arapahoe County and promoting Brighton as its county seat.

Carmichael’s leadership worked toward building community foundations to support the new town. He established and maintained Brighton’s first newspaper The Brighton Register and partnered with William G. Lovelace to establish the first bank, the Bank of Brighton. As a member of the Brighton Board of Trade, he worked to secure a sugar factory for Brighton industry. This effort eventually culminated into the Great Western Sugar Company building its showcase factory here. Carmichael founded the town’s first waterworks, building a main water system that included a large wooden water tank, mains, fire hydrants, and other infrastructure. He chaired the committee to help form School District #27 and served on the school board from 1887-91. Carmichael was also a founding director and stockholder in the Elmwood Cemetery Association.

From Boy to Major to Bridge Builder

Carmichael was born in Canada to American-born parents and lived his formative years in New York. He came to Colorado in 1872 to help build the Julesburg branch of the Union Pacific Rail Road (UPRR), after having built the first bridge over the Missouri River, known as a feat of engineering and once considered impossible. He had previously served in the Civil War, first in the 3rd Iowa Infantry, and then as a member of the 28th New York Infantry, supporting the Battle of Gettysburg, guarding Confederate prisoners at Elmira, and helping to suppress the draft riots at New York City. When, at the age of 20, he was mustered out on Nov. 1864, he had acquired advanced military rank that would years later earn Carmichael his local Brighton moniker, “Major.”

In Colorado, he served as general freight and passenger agent for the Denver Pacific Railway and various UPRR consolidations. Purchasing land in Colorado (as well as other states) to sell lots and irrigated ranchland, led to him to opening a real estate office in Denver with partner, James H. Nichols. He would continue to conduct real estate and loan businesses from Denver the rest of his life, under various partnerships and formations (including, Carmichael and Malcom and Carmichael Investment Company).

A Relationship “Gem” with a Valley Town

It was an early land purchase Carmichael made in 1879, that would begin a 32-yr. relationship with a town he would help develop into a “Splendid Valley.” He would purchase 240 acres from the UPRR, and later plat it as “Brighton” in 1881.

The plat’s unique triangle boundary was created by a federal land grant awarded to the railroad for promoting rail construction. The boundaries stretched from Bridge St. south to past Mather St. and from the west on Front (later named 1st) to 2nd (later renamed Cabbage Ave.) on the east to the railroad tracks. Railroads typically sold portions of land to help finance construction and generate future use of the railroads by helping to create towns, like Brighton.

The Prospering of the First Subdivision

Some of the town’s most significant early sites were included in Carmichael’s Brighton subdivision, including: the Platte Valley House Hotel, the Town Hall and Fire Dept., and the Post Office (which had moved from the rail depot). The first bank, school building, church (First Presbyterian Church, now known as the 1886 Church), and house (the previously built Bush house at 35 S. 1st Ave.) were also located in this subdivision located south of Bridge St. The subdivision would also be the site of Carmichael’s grand Opera House (now the site of today’s Founders Plaza) and the town’s first business block, the Carmichael Building (that contained several businesses, including a doctor’s office later donated as the first library). In the 1920s, the Colorado Cabbage Exchange built “vegetable loading sheds” at Egbert St. and the newly renamed Cabbage Avenue (formerly 2nd St.), contributing to Brighton’s reputation as the largest shipping point of vegetables in Colorado (with Colorado standing the third largest shipping point for cabbage in the U.S.). At the height of Brighton’s cabbage production period, thousands of train carloads were shipped from the siding along this street.

Carmichael’s Brighton Subdivision, together with Strong’s North Subdivision, were placed on Brighton’s Local Register as a historic district on Dec. 19, 1917.

Carmichael’s Additional Plat Filings

Carmichael later platted additional residential and ranch areas, including Carmichael Reserve (a portion later known as Walnut Grove Addition), where the first permanent Adams County Courthouse (now used as Historic City Hall, 500 S. 4th Ave.) and Brighton Waterworks (575 Bush St.) was built. He sometimes partnered with other investors like Granville Malcom, creating Malcom’s Addition (the first subdivision east of the railroad tracks and home of the town’s first park). Carmichael donated land at various times to the community, including the first school house, church, and fairground (a racetrack called Driving Park, located on what is now Carmichael Park). He and other Brighton boosters organized monthly Market Days at the latter for selling farm produce and livestock.

The Carmichael Mansion and its Family

In 1884, Carmichael built and moved his family to a 19-room mansion in the new town of Brighton. He had married Alice (Evans) Carmichael in 1870 at New York. The couple had six children: Almet Skeel (named for his uncle), Edward Daniel, twins Mabel and Elisa (Lida), Elizabeth (Lizzie), and Adelaide. The main residence stood where 34 South 5th Ave. is now and was surrounded by a 4,000-acre farm and cattle ranch. Alice was an early member and active in the First Presbyterian Church. Daniel Carmichael served as an elder of the church. Carmichael earned the 33rd Degree in Freemasonry and also served on the National Guard. He continued to conduct his successful real estate investment business from a Denver office. The convenient train commute, boarding one of sixteen daily trains, was one of the many benefits touted to prospective property buyers for living in a suburban area away from the turmoil and smoke and dust of the larger cities. The mansion was later used in 1902 as the first Adams County Courthouse (with the county jail in the basement). However, it was destroyed in a fire in 1904.

Meeting Adversity and Tragedy

Carmichael’s investment business continued to flourish; Unfortunately, like other Colorado investors, Carmichael suffered severe financial losses during the Panic of 1893. However, he was able to rebuild his investment business and fully recover from the financial crisis. Carmichael continued to serve and boost Brighton, and he was elected mayor for the second time in 1898. Sadly, it was during this time, that he and his family faced tragedy when they lost two daughters Lida (21) and Lizzie (20), within a year of each other in 1897 and 1898. Carmichael later moved his family back to Denver to be closer to growing real estate interests (as a census record of 1900 confirms). Historical records are sparse for Carmichael and his family at this point; however, a few indicate he continued to boost Brighton after the move, including continuing to serve on the school board and donating additional land (such as 12 lots to St. Augustine’s Church in 1906, originally intended for a planned hospital).

Saying Goodbye to Brighton’s Friend

Carmichael’s obituary later reports that his health began to decline in 1909, and in 1910 Daniel, Alice, and their daughter Maude relocated to Los Angeles, California in hopes the climate and lower altitude would aid in Carmichael’s failing health. His daughter Adelaide had previously relocated there in 1905 with her new husband, Jack Lumgair, after marrying in 1905. Carmichael’s son, Almet Skeel Carmichael, remained in Denver and conducted the active management of Daniel’s Carmichael Investment Company. Son, Edward Daniel Carmichael (sometimes reported as D. Edward), had moved to Salmon, Idaho.

Daniel F. Carmichael, Denver pioneer, renowned bridge builder, and founding “Father of Brighton,” died at Los Angeles, California, at eight o’clock p.m. on February 23, 1911. His family, pioneer friends, and Brighton citizens all attended a service held at Fairmont Cemetery in Denver, with an escort by the Knights Templar. In respect to his memory, every Brighton business closed during the funeral hour.

Another Story of Brighton’s Name

Many writings credit Carmichael’s wife, Alice (Evans) Carmichael with naming the town after her hometown of Brighton Beach, New York (or some say Brighton, Massachusetts). However, improved access to census,  genealogy records, and other historical documents  indicate her birthplace was neither city, and instead list it as Lancaster, Pennsylvania. So, did Alice actually name Brighton?

To date, no specific documentation as to why the D.F. Carmichael gave the name "Brighton" to the first official plat filing on  Feb. 6, 1881, the same year  the railroad station was changed from Hughes Station to Brighton. The railway station was originally named “Hughes Station” (when grading for Denver Pacific Railway began) on about June 5, 1868. It was named for its president, Bela M. Hughes, as was the practice of the company. The name Brighton was actually already in use two years earlier than the plat filing and railway-station name change, when the post office changed its name from Hughes to Brighton on Aug. 4, 1879. The Fulton Ditch Company minutes also record the use of the new name Brighton for the first time on Sept. 20, 1879.

Contemporary historians have discovered research to suggest several different possible scenarios as to Brighton's name origin. For example, although the reference to a Massachusetts birthplace for Alice has been disproven, one can recognize how the “old timer” sources, in the writings of Maude Linstrom Frandsen and Carl Dorr, may have confused Daniel's wife "Alice" with another “Alice” from Massachusetts naming the town, specifically Daniel’s sister, Alice (Carmichael) Skeel (also known as “Allie” or “Almira,”) who was born in Canton, Massachusetts (near Brighton). The sister’s information was earlier misinterpreted as being that of Daniel’s wife, as Mrs. D.F. Carmichael and Alice Skeel were incorrectly reported to be the same person.

Conversely, recent  historical surveys, contracted by the Brighton Historical Preservation Commission (BHPC), have suggested the Brighton name was selected independently of a birthplace and was selected for its association to a popular resort area (a common practice for cities at one time), Brighton Beach, New York. Daniel and the Skeels once lived near this location, making it likely they were familiar with the town and may have visited the resort.  This scenario also compliments Carmichael's vision and a 1902 Colorado Prospector article, describing Brighton as "a retreat to escape from the turmoil of the city and enjoy pure air uncontaminated by smoke and dust” and to discover the other “health-giving advantages Brighton can offer.”

Still, another account has been suggested by historian, Dr. Gene E. Hamaker, that infers Alice Carmichael may have chosen the town name, based on fond memories of a trip to Brighton Beach, NY, near the time of  naming. Hamaker wrote of the naming in a draft, unpublished Colorado History manuscript, dated 1984 (that he described as "very close to final." In manuscript, he generally references a report stating "the name was chosen by Mrs. Carmichael when the question of a name was raised just after she returned from a to New York, during which she spent  some time at Brighton Beach,  just outside of New York City."

Or, perhaps the town name, Brighton, was simply selected on the sole basis of its popularity as a city name. There are 26 cities in the U.S. named Brighton and 43 worldwide, including the seaside resort town of Brighton, England.

<Continue reading or return to Carmichael Leads Brighton to Prosperity, >

©2019-2023 Robin Kring, including excerpts from A Stroll through Elmwood and A Postcard History of Brighton

Discover More About the Artist and the Detective

Learn more about the Artist, Hans Joseph Geist, behind the Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural, in the Brighton History Detective® dossier: The Case of the New Mural and its Artist (Hans Joseph Geist). See more of Hans art at: Art by Hans Geist on Facebook.

Find more Investigative Case Reports, by Brighton History Detective®, each revealing the identity of one of the 20 intriguing Brighton characters and places, painted on the mural. Investigate the sleuthing and writing stories of yesteryear, mystery, and intrigue on the Clear Creek Publishing Authors Blog site, including: New Fiction, Victoriana, Event Planning Extraordinaire, Colorado History, and Cemetery Chats.

The Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural is located on the southwest corner of Main St. and Bridge St., in Brighton, Colorado. The mural is a project of the Brighton Cultural Arts Commission, whose mission is to increase arts and culture awareness and promote cultural and scientific opportunities in our community. It has been made possible with funding from the SCFD and Brighton Lodging Tax Grants.

®Brighton History Detective is a registered trademark of Clear Creek Publishing.

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