Chinese laborers working on various railroads that traversed the Great Plains made Denver's Chinatown their favorite haunt. In February 1870 the Colorado Territorial Legislature passed a resolution encouraging Chinese to immigrate to the area as a means of meeting its chronic shortage of laborers, especially in the agricultural sector. With the decline of gold mining on the West Coast and the completion of the transcontinental railroad, many Chinese went to Colorado seeking better economic opportunities.
By the fall of 1870 there was a small settlement of forty-two Chinese men and women formed along Wazee (a term that probably meant "Chinese") Street in Denver. This constituted the center of Denver's small Chinese community. (Denver's Chinatown was also known as "Hop Alley," a derogatory term that referred to the presence of opium dens that were entered from the alleyways.) During the 1870s Denver, along with its Chinese community, experienced an economic boom and an increase in population when gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains. On the eve of the anti-Chinese riot (October 31, 1880), there were 238 Chinese in Denver (approximately 39 percent of all the Chinese in Colorado). In 1890 the Denver Chinese community reached its apex with 980 residents.
As was the case with Chinatowns throughout the country, Denver's Chinese community was a "bachelor society," consisting of predominantly young men. Because of the small number of women, the Chinese community was unable to have a traditional family life and to reproduce itself. Racism prevented the Chinese from entering most occupations and forced 80 percent of them to work washing laundry by hand. The rest found other occupations, mainly within the Chinese community. As a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the introduction of steam laundries, the Chinese community began to decline. By 1940 there were only 110 Chinese left, and they were forced to disperse when the city razed the few buildings remaining in Denver Chinatown as part of its urban renewal program.
See also CITIES AND TOWNS: Denver, Colorado.
William Wei University of Colorado at Boulder
Ourada, Patricia K. "The Chinese in Colorado." Colorado Magazine 29 (1952): 273–84.
Wei, William. "The Anti- Chinese Movement in Colorado: Interethnic Competition and Conflict on the Eve of Exclusion." Chinese America: History and Perspectives 9 (1995): 179–97.