Jesselina Cordova

Advocacy Coordinator

Clara Brown: The name and legacy behind the Habitat homes and community in Northeast Denver

This year, Habitat Metro Denver completed construction on 17 affordable townhomes in northeast Denver that are part of the Clara Brown Commons community, an entire city block of housing and community gathering spaces for low- to moderate- income families.  

The namesake for this community was visionary Colorado philanthropist, entrepreneur and leader Clara Brown. She started businesses and churches in Denver and various Colorado communities, and then leveraged her earnings and influence to help others. In her honor, Clara Brown Commons is focused on her legacy of compassion, generosity and neighborly care. It is a place where neighbors can build relationships. Where people can gather and thrive. And where homes are affordable and accessible. 

Read more about Clara Brown’s legacy, and how she paved a powerful example of community-building in Denver.  

A landowner and community-builder 

Clara Brown was a formerly-enslaved, freed Black woman who traveled West during the Colorado Gold Rush in 1859. Originally from Virginia and Kentucky, she moved to Colorado at age 56 after she was freed by her third owner and required by law to leave the state. She made her way by wagon train to Denver as a cook and laundress.   

When she arrived in the state, she established herself in Gilpin County and opened the first laundromat as well as Colorado’s first Protestant church. She began to start a new life and hoped to save enough money to find the family members she had been separated from when she was a slave. 

Over many years, Clara Brown worked hard investing in mines and land in Colorado. She owned a total of 16 lots in Denver, 7 houses in Central City, and property and mines in Boulder, Georgetown, and Idaho Springs. These land holdings all allowed her to accumulate about $10,000 which is equivalent to $1M today. With those funds, she traveled back to Kentucky and reconnected with sixteen formerly enslaved relatives, who she helped to relocate to Colorado.  

She dedicated the rest of her life to giving back – making charitable contributions, helping those in need, and bringing people together. She was affectionately known as “Aunt” Clara Brown because of her warmth and closeness to so many people in her community.  

In March of 1882, after years of searching and letter-writing, Brown located the only living daughter she had and was able to travel to see her at 82 years old. Brown returned to Denver with her granddaughter. A few years later, on October 23,1885, she died in Denver and was buried in Denver’s Riverside Cemetery, just minutes away from the housing community that was named in her honor. 

In 2003, Central City Opera House dedicated a permanent memorial chair to “Aunt” Clara Brown for her service and contributions to Colorado. Brown was inducted in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989 and in 2022 was inducted in the Colorado Business Hall of Fame. A stained-glass window of her can be found in the rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol.  

Her legacy 

Our partners at Mile High Ministries – who envisioned and brought the Clara Brown Commons community to life – describe Clara Brown as a Colorado community-builder, “who understood that we are all connected to one another like branches on a vine: what happens to any one of us matters to all of us.”  

She spent her own fortune to help formerly enslaved people attend college or start new lives in Colorado. She spent her time and resources to care for the sick and hurting, setting an example of compassion, generosity, and neighborly love. 

Clara Brown was and remains a prominent pioneer in Colorado’s history. Here at Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, we are honored to build homes and community in her honor. 

Buy a home at Clara Brown Commons 

The Clara Brown Commons community includes 17 affordable, for-sale homes built by Habitat Metro Denver and 60 affordable rental units supported by Mile Hi Ministries. 

Several for-sale homes are still available and looking for buyers! These homes include two-, three- and four-bedroom options with designated parking spaces and large front porches on all homes. 

If you are interested in buying an affordable home with Habitat, click here to learn about the properties and the Habitat home-buying process. 

You can also attend an information session about homeownership with Habitat, or an open house to tour the homes at Clara Brown Commons. Learn more on our events page.