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Identifier: WH25


The papers in this collection range from 1877 to 1981, with the bulk from 1877 to 1886. The order and arrangement of the papers, completed in 1976, has been retained. The papers were originally processed at item level and physically labeled with item numbers in the right hand corner of each document. Since these item numbers are referenced in other collections, the original processing plan is reflected in the updated version of the finding aid. Materials in the collection focus on Barnum's Colorado business and real estate ventures in Greeley, Huerfano County and Villa Park (Denver). Collection also available on microfilm: Mflm 102.


The correspondence series (1877-1886) is divided into three subseries: sent by P.T. Barnum, sent to P.T. Barnum and general correspondence related to P.T. Barnum's business affairs. These letters highlight Barnum's business and real estate ventures in Greeley, Huerfano County and Villa Park (Denver).


Materials in this series (1877-1981) are directly related to the topics discussed in the correspondence series. Many were attachments to letters separated by the original processor in 1976, and include: warranty deeds, maps, quit claim deeds, copies of bills of sale, memos, contracts and promissary notes. The bulk of the material dates from 1877 to 1886. Items from 1886 to 1981 have been added to the collection since 1976 and deal with the Barnum cattle brand.


The final series contains the original finding aid for the collection. The original finding aid includes background information about the individuals involved in Barnum's business affairs that maybe valuable to researchers.

SERIES 4 MICROFILM 1877-1981 MFLM 102 RL 1

Microfilm copy of collection.


  • 1877-1981


The collection is open for research.


Records are the physical property of the Denver Public Library.


All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from material in the collection should be discussed with the appropriate librarian or archivist. Permission for publication may be given on behalf of the Denver Public Library as the owner of the physical item. It is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained by the customer. The Library does not assume any responsibility for infringement of copyright or publication rights of the manuscript held by the writer, heirs, donors, or executors. Reproduction restrictions are decided on a case-by-case basis.


Phineas Taylor Barnum, self-proclaimed "Prince of Humbugs" was an American showman, entertainer, politician and businessman. Barnum became one of the most well known entertainers of the nineteenth century and the founder of what became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Barnum was born July 5, 1810 in Bethel, Connecticut to Philo and Irene Taylor. In his twenties, Barnum owned several businesses, including a general store and a statewide lottery network. He was active in local politics and in 1829 founded the weekly paper, The Herald of Freedom. On November 8, 1829, Barnum married Charity Hallet. They had four daughters: Caroline Cornelia (1833-1911), Helen Maria (1840-1915), Frances Irena (1842-1844) and Pauline Taylor (1846-1877). Following Charity’s death in November 1873, Barnum married Nancy Fish, a woman 40 years his junior, on February 14, 1874 in London, England.

Barnum moved to New York City in 1834 to seek his fame in entertainment. His earliest ventures included a variety troupe called "Barnum's Grand Scientific and Musical Theater." His first success came in 1842 when he purchased the Scudder's American Museum, soon renamed the Barnum's American Museum. From 1842 to 1865, his museum was New York’s most popular attraction promoting 850,000 exhibits dedicated to the bizarre and unusual, including Feejee the mermaid and little person Charles Sherwood Stratton aka General Tom Thumb. After bad investments bankrupted Barnum in the 1850s, he turned his energies to politics, lecturing and touring England and Europe with General Tom Thumb. Barnum served two terms in the Connecticut legislature (1865-1867) and was the mayor of Bridgeport in 1875. In 1867, he was nominated by the Republican Party for the United States Congress but was defeated. He also toured the country giving temperance lectures.

In 1871, Barnum returned to his life as a showman when he established, P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Circus in Brooklyn. The circus found a permanent home in 1874 at the New York Hippodrome, later Madison Square Garden. In 1880, Barnum developed a partnership with James Bailey, who managed The Great London Show. Together the Barnum and London Circus, from 1887 known as the Barnum and Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, traveled the United States and Europe with 28 rail cars and more than 1,000 employees. After Barnum’s death in 1891 and Bailey’s death in 1906, their one-time rival, the Ringling Brothers, bought the famous circus. The shows were merged as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows, The Greatest Show on Earth.

Barnum combined philanthropy and business throughout much of his later life. He made several donations to Tuft University and was appointed to the Board of Trustee’s prior to the university’s founding. Barnum also had investments throughout the country, including several in Colorado. Barnum’s interest in Colorado began in 1870 when he gave temperance speeches in Denver and Greeley (Union Colony), and soon he began to invest in local property. He owned land and rental property in Greeley, managed by the law firm Haynes, Dunning and Gipson. He also held shares in the Huerfano Cattle Company in Huerfano County and owed land, cattle and horses. Finally Barnum owned several acres of land in Denver called Villa Park, and now known as the Barnum, Barnum West, Villa Park and Valverde neighborhoods. Most of Barnum’s investments were disappointments. His Greeley tenants were constantly late with rent. One of his cattle company partners, David W. Sherwood, was a persistent debtor, always on the edge of bankruptcy. And Barnum’s Villa Park property needed repairs to the house, a fence and water to make it viable.

Many myths and legends exist about Barnum’s interest in Denver. He did not buy Villa Park property to house his animals during the winter. He never intended on living in Denver. He visited Colorado in 1870, 1872, 1877 and 1890 to tend to his investments and see his daughter, Helen, who had created a huge family scandal when she left her husband, Samuel Henry Hurd, and three children for Dr. William Harmon Buchtel. Helen and William married on March 2, 1871 in Indiana but as William had tuberculosis, they headed to Denver to seek a cure. While Barnum never truly embraced Buchtel, he continued to support Helen with his Colorado investments. The Buchtels lived on the Greeley property, ran a tuberculosis house called Prospect Villa Park, and assisted Barnum with Villa Park. The property was renamed the P.T. Barnum Subdivision of Denver in 1881, and Barnum transferred his holdings to Helen in 1884. Today’s Barnum and Barnum West neighborhoods began to take shape in 1887, when incorporation papers were filed. Barnum died on April 7, 1891 at his home in Bridgeport, Connecticut.


1 box(es) ; .75 linear feet

1 microfilm reel(s) (35mm) (Mflm102)

Language of Materials



The bulk of the collection was purchased from Fred Rosenstock in 1975. J.W. Johnson made a donation in 1989. Funding for processing provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant.


The Western History/Genealogy Department has additional collections with material related to P.T. Barnum including:

Ida Libert Uchill Papers: WH507

Howdy, Sucker! What P.T. Barnum Did in Colorado by Ida Libert Uchill:C978.883 U17ho

If You Stick with Barnum by Robert Autobee C978.883 A939if 1993

Biography Clipping File: P.T. Barnum (Phineas Taylor) and Family 1810-1891


Microfilm reels (copy 2) also contains: Margaret Tobin Brown papers (WH53; Mflm175, RL1), David F. Berry papers (WH1621; Mflm176, RL1), Governor John Evans papers (WH1724; Mflm177, RL1).


Number of Boxes: 1 box (.75 linear feet)

Microfilm: 1 reel (Mflm102)




Gina Woods

April 1976


Jamie Seemiller, Sally McDonald

January 2010


Jamie Seemiller

Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy Repository

10 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy
Denver CO 80204 United States