Just northeast of Denver in Colorado is a little town called Dearfield. A century ago, it was home to one of the country’s most prosperous Black agricultural communities.
Dearfield, Colorado, is northeast of Denver.
Dearfield was founded in 1910 by entrepreneur Oliver Toussaint (OT) Jackson, who was tired of seeing the lack of economic and social progress for his fellow Black community in Denver, according to Black Past.
“Dearfield was an idea that had been around in Colorado for years before Jackson actually established the townsite,” Robert Brunswig, an anthropology professor at the University of Northern Colorado, told Insider.
But Jackson and his entrepreneurial spirit made it happen. He envisioned an African-American farming community with more than 10,000 people, and his Dearfield dream extended past farming. He hoped to one day have a college and sanatorium, he explained in a letter pitching his idea for Dearfield. It was a sort of experiment at the time, Brunswig explained.
If you weren’t looking for it, you’d likely drive right past Dearfield, Colorado. A marble sign marks the site and only a handful of buildings stand today.
A marble plaque offers a bit of history into the former farming community.
It’s a small area, but Dearfield was once a prosperous community that offered Black middle-class people a path to self-sufficiency, anthropology professor Brunswig told Insider.
“Although we had other communities like Dearfield, Dearfield itself was probably the most persistent and concentrated effort to try to bring African Americans together so they could better their lives,” Brunswig said.
While Dearfield was a popular farming community, it was also regarded as a popular travel destination for people living in nearby Denver, according to 5280 Magazine. Dearfield offered hotel rooms, free camping, places to hunt, and beautiful scenery near the South Platte River.
“The reason that Dearfield ultimately fell apart was the same reason that the whole country fell apart,” Brunswig said. “We had an economic and environmental collapse.”
A closet in OT Jackson’s original home.
In the early 1930s, rainfall vanished, farmland dried up, and Dearfield became one of the dozens of towns eradicated in the aftermath of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.
“Dearfield couldn’t sustain itself,” Brunswig said. “It wasn’t a failure of the experiment, it was a failure of not being able to sustain the experiment because of conditions beyond people’s control.”
The residents left Dearfield for more prosperous destinations.