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Denver Walking Tour: Downtown History and Architecture
Item 15 of 19

This building was purchased by Barney L Ford, a businessman, civic leader, politician, and influential figure in Denver's African American community. Ford became active in the abolitionist movement after he escaped from a South Carolina Plantation at the age of seventeen when he traveled the Underground Railroad to Chicago. Ford traveled to Colorado in search of gold but faced discrimination in the goldfields which led him to Denver where he built a significant business empire serving the needs of the black community. The building is currently home to a sushi restaurant on the first level.


  • Barney Ford Building circa 1950's
  • Current Day Photo with Hapa Sushi Restaurant
  • Barney Ford was born to a white plantation owner and a woman his father enslaved

Barney L Ford was born in Virginia in 1822 and spent much of his youth as a slave on a South Carolina plantation. At the age of seventeen, Ford escaped from the plantation and traveled the Underground Railroad to Chicago. While in Chicago, he became an active abolitionist upon meeting Henry O. Wagoner, a supporter of the Underground Railroad. Ford soon began to help enslaved people escape as well and then began his own family after marrying Julia Wagoner, the sister of Henry Wagner.

They new couple enjoyed a short stay in Nicaragua, where they owned a successful hotel. The couple moved to Colorado in search of gold which Ford discovered in Breckenridge. However, black men were not tolerated by local mining interests and law enforcement chased him and his party away and destroyed their property. Ford moved to Denver and was able to purchase a barbershop and the Inter-Ocean Hotel. In 1863, his barbershop burned down in a fire but he once again pivoted and to other business ventures.

After the fire, Barney Ford purchased this building at 15th & Blake Street. The building housed the People’s Restaurant at street level, a barbershop and hair salon operated in the basement, and a bar on the second level. Over the course of his life, ford amassed great wealth and was once listed as the 14th wealthiest person in Colorado.

Outside of his business, Barney Ford was also a political influencer. He was part of a group of black pioneers who spoke out against Colorado’s bid for statehood in 1864 because the amendment excluded black men from voting. In 1865, he supported the Territorial Legislature and lobbied the Federal government for black voting rights in Colorado.

Aboard the Underground Railroad - Barney L Ford Building, National Park Service. Accessed July 16th 2020. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/underground/co1.htm.

Barney L. Ford Building, History of Colorado . Accessed July 5th 2020. https://www.historycolorado.org/location/barney-l-ford-building.

Barney L Ford, History of Colorado . Accessed July 16th 2020. https://www.historycolorado.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/2017/barney_l_ford.pdf.

Fernando, Kalyani. Barney Ford: African American Pioneer, History of Colorado. February 8th 2017. Accessed July 5th 2020. https://www.historycolorado.org/story/collections-library/2017/02/08/barney-ford-african-american-pioneer.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

History of Colorado Archives

Public Domain

Public Domain