Feb 18, 2024 - News

Barney L. Ford building is Denver's connection to the Underground Railroad

A photo of the three-story, brick Barney L. Ford Building in Denver next to a black and white photo of its namesake.

The Barney L. Ford Building in Denver and its namesake. Photo: Courtesy of National Park Service

The National Park Service lists more than 80 sites across the country connected to the Underground Railroad, including one in Denver.

Zoom in: The three-story Barney L. Ford Building, located at 1514 Blake St., is named after a Black abolitionist, entrepreneur, civic leader and politician born into slavery in 1822.

  • After escaping a South Carolina plantation through the Underground Railroad, Ford made his way to Denver, where he established a restaurant, bar, barber shop and hair salon.
  • By 1854, the pioneering entrepreneur had become one the highest earners in the state.

Why he matters: As a member of the Republican Party, Ford played a pivotal role in securing Colorado's statehood and establishing Black voting rights in Colorado. He also holds the honor of becoming the first African American nominated to the state's territorial legislature.

Of note: Although his namesake building is privately owned and closed to the public, it remains a sought-out destination for visitors amid a rise in Black heritage tourism.

The big picture: For years, many sites linked to crucial moments in Black history sat forgotten, abandoned or visited by just a few diehard history buffs, Axios' Steph Solis and Russell Contreras write.

  • But following the murder of George Floyd four years ago, advocates have helped transform them into places to pay homage to those who fought for social justice.
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