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Daniels Park land donor to be remembered in ceremony

Florence Martin came from Australia and became heir to fortune


Have readers ever wondered about how the beautiful Daniels Park in Douglas County came to be? They can thank Florence Martin, who will be celebrated by members of the Sedalia Museum from 1 to 3 p.m. on April 28 at the Sedalia Fire Station, next to the museum (take Highway 85, Santa Fe Drive, to Jarre Canyon Road, Sedalia, and turn west to the nearby fire station). The program is called “Who Was Florence Martin and Why is There a Daniels Park?” The public is invited.

Shaun Boyd, curator of archives at History Colorado, following 20 years at the Castle Rock Library, will talk about Florence Martin around 1:30, after visitors have had time to explore a collection of Martin’s possessions inherited by her friend, Phyllida Porter of Littleton. Boyd said she found many references to Martin in the archives of the Douglas County News-Press, the Castle Rock newspaper, including her work in founding the Denver Civic Theatre with Helen Bonfils. She also located biographical information in a teacher’s memoirs from the period and through internet research in Australia. During one year, public school was held at Martin’s house. (There were 40 one-room schools in Douglas County.)

Porter, who says she house-sat for Martin during her frequent travels, is convinced that there should be some recognition of Martin’s gift of Daniels Park — perhaps near the entrance? She and museum members have organized this program in Martin’s honor as a starting point. (Cookies from Martin’s recipe will be served.)

Florence Martin (1897-1957) was from New South Wales, Australia (where Bega is located, for Littleton history buffs). Daughter of a wealthy mother and the chief justice of New South Wales, one of their many children, she sought intellectual fare and started training in the arts, then as a physicist, at the University of Sydney, where she pursued research (unpaid) under professor Sir Richard Threfall.

She met William Cooke Daniels, a young American explorer, and shared her home with his fiancée, Cicely Banner, during Daniel’s 16-month absence on a trip to New Guinea. The couple married the next year and Martin went to live with them, chiefly on English and French estates, according to the “Australian Dictionary of Biography.” They traveled the world until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

Daniels, heir to the Daniels and Fisher Department Store in Denver, died unexpectedly in 1918 and his widow succumbed to the worldwide influenza epidemic shortly afterward. Martin found herself heir to a large income for life from the Daniels estate in Denver and settled there, becoming prominent in Denver society.

Included was a mountain estate outside to the south of Denver, where Martin and her sister spent their summers. She first gave 38 acres of her land to the city of Denver in 1920, then expanded it to 1,000 acres in 1937. The area is bisected by Riley Hill, which runs north-south to reach Wildcat Point (6020 feet elevation). According to the Colorado Encyclopedia, the area was well-known to travelers as a rendezvous point and travel route … In the late 1850s and early 1860s, the ridge was already one of Colorado’s first territorial roads.

By 1922, the City of Denver had built campfire sites and a stone shelter designed by Denver architect Jules Jacque Benoist Benedict, who also designed his own home in Littleton (now the Carmelite Monastery) as well as Town Hall Arts Center and the Carnegie Library (now the Melting Pot) and Littleton’s First Presbyterian Church.

In 1923, the Territorial Daughters added a memorial in the park, marking Kit Carson’s last campfire.

In the early 1920s, Martin built a house and other ranch buildings, with a fine view of the Front Range. Included: a dairy barn, chicken coop, bunk house, horse barn and two-story workshop, as well as a picnic area. Her house burned in 1937, but other buildings remain, used by staff.

Today, Daniels Park is part of a 12,000-acre open space, bounded by Castle Pines on the east, Highlands Ranch on the north and Highway 85 on the west and south. The open space includes Highlands Ranch Backcountry Wilderness and Cherokee Ranch. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, and since 1977, it includes the Tall Bull Memorial Grounds, controlled by a consortium of Native Americans who hold a powwow on Labor Day weekend, open to the public, as well as using it for private ceremonies. A herd of bison was started with overflow from the Genesee Park herd and can be seen grazing on many acres. (View from a distance.)

Work on a long-term master plan is nearly completed, which should make driving and hiking easier and improve sightlines toward the Front Range.


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