Located about 10 miles east of Boulder, Colorado, Lafayette was founded as a coal town in 1888 by Mary E. (Foote) Miller and named after her husband, DeLafayette “Lafe” Miller, who died in 1878. In Feb. 1888, Mary Miller filed a plat for the 37-acre Lafayette townsite encompassing 12 city blocks (144 lots), on the upper northwest corner of the northwest 1/4 section of Sec. 2, Township 1 South, Range 69 West. Streets included Geneseo, Simpson and Cleveland. Avenues included Gough, Iowa, Michigan, Finch and Foote.
In Jan. 1889, Mary Miller filed an amended plat for Lafayette townsite bringing total platted acreage to 89 with 353 lots total. The added streets included Harrison Avenue and Chester, Emma and Cannon streets and a railroad right-of-way on the south portion of townsite for serving the Spencer-Simpson coal mine. The town was incorporated in late 1889.
A strict Prohibitionist, Mary Miller added language to her numerous plats forbidding the sale or distribution of liquor. A property owner could possess and consume liquor, but he or she couldn’t sell it or give it way.
The Millers journeyed by wagon train from Iowa in 1863 and brought with them a pioneer tradition of founding communities. Lafe’s dad, Dr. John Miller, patented 160 acres of land in 1841 in Stark County, Illinois. Fifty acres of John Miller’s land was used to found the town of Toulon, where Lafe Miller was born, and a street in today’s town center is named after the Millers. The family moved to Buchanan County, Iowa, in 1852.
About 1864, Mary Miller’s uncle,** David Kerr, patented 320 acres of land east of and adjacent to the Lafayette area’s first permanent settler, Adolf Waneka. Kerr’s land was southwest of Lafayette and is now known as the Mayhoffer Farm. With the Colorado Central Railroad, later named the Colorado & Southern, having been completed in nearby Louisville by 1873, Kerr leased part of his land in 1877 to C.C. Welch for Louisville’s first production coal mine, the Welch Coal Mine. Kerr sold part of his farm to Louis Nawatny, who platted Louisville in 1878.
• • •
Lafe and Mary Miller and her brother, James B. Foote (and his wife Harriet), shared a home straddling the center section line of land on the south side of Baseline Road in what is now Lafayette. This was the early 1870s Foote-Miller Farm, later known as the Miller Farm and the Willow Glenn Farm. Most of the Footes lived on the east side of house and Millers, along with Mary’s dad, John B. Foote, lived on the west side. James B. Foote had applied for a Homestead Patent for his land, so Footes were required to live on their homestead land for five years in order to receive the government-issued patent. Because Lafayette and Mary Miller purchased the adjacent (northwest) acreage from Francis P. Heatley and Edward Chase, Millers owned their land outright and weren’t required to “homestead.” So the split Foote-Miller “condo” that straddled the 1/4 sections was probably an economic consideration for the Millers, rather than a requirement prescribed by the Homestead Act.
• • •
The prospect of striking it rich with a gold mining claim brought tens of thousands of settlers to Colorado Territory in the 1860s. Lafe and Mary Miller had gold fever, too.
Starting in 1867, Lafe Miller and brother-in-law and business partner James B. Foote had interests in several mining claims in Gold Hill, including the Nip & Tuck Lode, Monumental City Lode, National Debt Lode, Silver Bell Lode, Melbourne Lode, Little Minnie Lode and Truthful William Lode. During the 1860s and 1870s, it was not unusual for settlers to farm in the summer months, then spend the rest of the year working the silver or gold claims in the foothills above Boulder City.
Although there’s no evidence that Lafe Miller mined gold, we do know that the Millers made a good living by providing food and supplies for goldseekers. Lafe Miller and James B. Foote raised their own cattle at the Rock Creek House/Miller Tavern Ranch starting in 1866. Miller and Foote registered the “RC” brand with the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder in 1869. The two also ran two meat shops, one in Boulder, known as Miller & Co., and one in Erie that was built in 1871. James B. Foote operated the markets until 1883. Millers also grew and cut hay at Rock Creek, then hauled it about 40 miles to Black Hawk where it was sold to miners. Hay delivered to the mountains could fetch from $300 to $500 a ton. Millers also sold butter and eggs in Black Hawk and Central City.
For more information view the History of Lafayette (PDF).
** Updated 2021 resources, including newspaper articles on coloradohistoricnewspapers.org and family trees at Ancestry.com show that David Kerr was generically known as “Uncle David Kerr” and probably wasn’t related to Mary Miller.