Craig Haggit portrays blacksmith William Graves at the 2023 Arvada Cemetery Tour at the Arvada Cemetery.
Craig Haggit portrays blacksmith William Graves at the 2023 Arvada Cemetery Tour at the Arvada Cemetery. Credit: Courtesy Arvada Historical Society

The Arvada Historical Society celebrated its flagship event’s 20th anniversary with this year’s edition of the Cemetery Tour.

This year’s event, held at the Arvada Cemetery on Sept. 23, highlighted the early founders of Arvada — some of whom arrived when the town was still called Ralston Crossing.

As is the case every year, the Cemetery Tour featured members of the Historical Society portraying historical figures in full costume. This year, Michael Thompson played Benjamin Wadsworth, Lynn Laidig played Matilda Reno, Karen Miller played Laura Minges and Craig Haggit played William Graves.

Over 100 people came out to the event, which is roughly the same attendance the society has drawn in preview years.

“Feedback that we received indicated that people really enjoyed being able to associate Arvada today with those founders,” Miller, the Historical Society’s president, said.

Michael Thompson portrays town founder Benjamin Wadsworth at the Cemetery Tour. Credit: Courtesy Arvada Historical Society

Benjamin Wadsworth

Born in western New York, Wadsworth and his wife Mary Ann, along with their two children, moved to Kansas Territory before settling in Empire, Colorado in 1861. Likely due to a fire on Silver Mountain, the family left Empire in 1869 and settled in Ralston Point shortly thereafter, according to History Colorado. 

Wadsworth began work to construct a townsite, helping to build schools, the Methodist Church, and the Post Office, which doubled as his him — making him Arvada’s first postmaster.

Mary Ann picked the name “Arvada” for the budding town, formerly known as Ralston Crossing. The city is named after her brother-in-law, Hiram Arvada Haskin.

Wadsworth was killed in a runaway horse accident in Denver in 1893 while taking a church window to be repaired. Center Boulevard was renamed in his honor following his death, begetting the Wadsworth Boulevard we know today.

Wadsworth, Mary Ann, their two children and Haskins are all buried together at the Arvada Cemetery.

Matilda Reno

Matilda Reno and her husband Louis moved to the Arvada area around 1863, where the family became one of the two founding families of Arvada, along with the Wadsworths.

The Renos continued to live in Arvada long after the town’s founding and are both buried at the Arvada Cemetery. The family is the namesake of the Reno Park Historic District.

Laura Minges

The daughter of town founder George Swadley, Minges is largely considered Arvada’s first historian. Minges’ diaries, preserved pictures and letters allowed future generations to learn about Arvada’s nascent days.

Her grandchildren worked with the Arvada Historical Society to archive her collections, and the society nominated Minges and Swadley for induction into the Jefferson County Historic Commission’s Hall of Fame.

William Graves

Born in Illinois, Graves moved to Arvada with his parents in 1860. In 1868, Graves opened Arvada’s first blacksmith shop. He also owned a threshing business that helped farmers harvest wheat.

Graves served as a District 1 Jefferson County Commissioner from 1892 to 1898. He also served as the president of the District 2 Arvada School Board from 1885 to 1906. Graves died in 1912.

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