A state capital, perhaps

ADRIAN O’CONNOR

Some state capitals offer little mystery as to their origin of their names. For example, Austin, Texas, is named for founding father Stephen F. Austin. And Madison, Wis., lends itself to even less cogitating — that is, if you know your presidents. Yes, the Badger State’s seat of government is named for fourth president James Madison, Father of the Constitution.

But what about Atlanta, which once was Marthasville, so called for a governor’s daughter. But in 1845, the chief engineer of the Georgia Railroad, J. Edgar Thompson, suggested that the name be changed to “Atlantica-Pacifica.” The name stuck, but only in its shortened version — Atlanta.

And what’s the deal with Tallahassee? The name of Florida’s capital is an Apalachee Indian word meaning “old town” or “abandoned fields.” Needless to say, those fields are “abandoned” no more.

By now, you’re most likely thinking — and with much justification — what all this information about state capital name origins has to do with Winchester’s 275th anniversary. Well, our city can boast, as one of its earlier residents, a man for whom a state capital is named. What’s more, he’s the only such honoree to actually visit the city carrying his name after it became a state capital. Want a hint, but a very flimsy one? Our subject was born in 1817 and died in 1892, and the city bearing his name is more than halfway across the country from the town of his birth.

These clues may be sufficient enough to provoke thought, but as this page has limited space, maybe it’s best to reveal the man’s name and get it over with. So, without further ado, the man of whom we speak is James William “Jim” Denver, born in or near Winchester on Oct. 23, 1817.

The funny thing about Denver is that he spent only his formative years — his family left for Ohio in 1830 — in Winchester and even less time in Denver, Colo. Ohio seemed to be his state of true choice. His remains, for instance, rest there at Sugar Grove Cemetery in Wilmington.

But between Winchester and Wilmington, Denver certainly got around as a politician, soldier, and attorney. And he never seemed to let grass grow under his feet for too long. Merely as a politician, he was a state senator, secretary of state, and U.S. representative . . . just from California, to where he migrated following the Mexican War.

His connection to Colorado? In 1857, President James Buchanan appointed Denver secretary of the Kansas Territory. Five months later came an appointment as territorial governor. It was during his time in this post that a land speculator, William Larimer Jr., planted a “Denver City” along the South Platte River in the western Kansas Territory (now Colorado). But what actually became present-day Denver, it seems, was the settlement of St. Charles, where Larimer and William McGaa persuaded residents to change their home’s in the hope that Denver would offer his assistance in making the town the seat of Arapaho County.

Denver served with some distinction in, first, the Mexican War, for which he organized a volunteer unit, and then the Civil War, where his troops performed admirably, so said no less an officer than Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant, at the Siege of Corinth. But shortly into the decisive Vicksburg campaign. Denver resigned as commander of the 1st Division, XVI Corps.

He returned to the practice of law, in Washington D.C. as well as Wilmington. A delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1876, 1880, and 1884, Denver’s name was floated as a presidential nominee in ‘76 and ‘84, but his name was never formally sent to the convention floor.

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