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fast-running ditch with loose rock bank on one side and high native rock bank on the other - Castle Rock in background
"The Old Mill Ditch" (not Church Ditch) - Golden History Museum Collection


114 Years Ago
The May 16, 1912 Colorado Transcript described a frightening accident involving two young boys and the Church ditch. Nine-year-old Arthur Palmer had been running along the ditch at the west end of 8th Street at a point where the bank was fifteen feet higher than the water.

...it suddenly gave way, precipitating him to the bottom with a great heap of dirt on top of him, just at the water's edge. His brother, instead of running for home like most boys of his age would, bravely jumped down and began frantically digging the dirt away. The water was within a few inches of Arthur's face when his brave little brother succeeded in getting him free. The lad suffered a broken left arm and numerous bruises.

Ditch accidents were quite common through Golden's history, and many of them didn't end as happily as Arthur Palmer's. Here's one example:

99 Years Ago
The June 25th, 1925 Colorado Transcript reported that three year old Billy Fish had drowned in an irrigation ditch. He had been playing with his brothers and sisters in the yard, and when his mother returned after an absence of a few minutes, the child was missing. The Sheriff happened to be driving by, so she flagged him down. He searched the premises and then had the ditch superintendent turn off the water. A number of men searched the ditch, and the child was found about two miles downstream. The Fish family lived on “the Middle Road” (32nd Street).

Church Ditch still runs through Golden’s north side

Ditch drownings have not been uncommon through Golden’s history. The agricultural ditches ran right past people’s homes and through their farms. The water is often running during the very hottest days, and ditch water looks deceptively calm and safe. Golden has had multiple ditches running through it, including the Church Ditch (north side of the Creek) and what we often call the “Welch Ditch” (south side of the Creek). What child could resist such a fascinating diversion on a hot day?

Excerpt from the 1873 Birdseye View Map of Golden – note the mill race running through the 8th and 9th Street neighborhood, past the paper and flour mills

In addition to the agricultural ditches, Golden had mill races–ditches that diverted water out of Clear Creek to power the paper mill, Rock Flour Mill, and Golden Mill. One ran right through Parfet Park, and several children drowned in it.

A quick search of old Transcripts found the following ditch drownings, and I’m quite sure I missed some:

July 1879 – Oscar Alhstrom, 21 months
March 1894 – Fred Haines, age 3
August 1889 – Ernest Anderson (16) and John Rogers (13)
August 1906 – Mrs. Mary Anne Begley
August 1907 – George Diedl, age 53
April 1911 – Joseph Erickson
June 1911 – John Jamnick (7) and Anna Ferris (15 months)
June 1913 – the Crompton boy
June 1918 – Ruth Carper
August 1924 – Helen Waters, infant
September 1924 – Mr. and Mrs. A.E. Rice
August 1925 – Marvin Fish, age 25
October 1934 – Bobby Bettingter, age 2-1/2
August 1936 – Robert Goudge, age 7
June 1942 Edward McMullen, age 4
October 1948 – Dave Kerr, 19 months
August 1951 Dianna Page, 1 year
May 1959, Sherri Pearce, age 2
May 1973, William Matson, age 84

The last one–84 year old William Matson–drowned at a spot adjacent to his yard, where the ditch was 10-12 feet wide and was running 6-8 feet deep.

In 1952, the City decided to purchase the water rights and right of way for the mill race that powered the Golden Mill. They paid the Peery family $12,500 for the water rights and filled in the ditch, thus making Parfet Park a safer place.


The Golden Transcript (originally called the Colorado Transcript) has been publishing since 1866. The Golden History Museum has been working on digitizing the historic issues. You’ll find old Transcripts online at coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.

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