Bemis family, at their home, 1904. (Ella, Elizabeth, Luther, Edwin, Fred)
Judge Fred Arnold Bemis was one of the best-informed men on the early history of Littleton. He passed his love of the local scene on to his son, Edwin Arnold, and because of what they have handed to us, we enjoy a community whose roots we know.
Fred was born in 1862 in Spencer, Massachusetts, one of eleven children. He grew up on a farm and knew little else than small scale farming and big scale dairying. He married Elizabeth Granger in 1883, and they came to Littleton, attracted by reports from her foster father, Luther Hill. It was natural that Fred began to engage in the dairy business here. They lived in a frame house on Main Street. The dairy was at the back of the home and down the slope that led to the river. They grew alfalfa on ground at the corner of Main and Prince Streets. A year later, in 1884, Judge Bemis brought the first carload of registered Jersey cattle to Colorado.
The three Bemis children, Luther, Edwin, and Ella were born in the Main Street house. In 1889 Judge Bemis built the first home east of the railroad tracks on "Nob Hill." This farm house was later moved to the "1890s farm" at the Littleton Museum.
Fred and Elizabeth Bemis, c.1926.
At his new and larger farm, Fred operated stockyards, dealt in cattle and horses, and became well-known for his judgment of livestock. He helped found the National Western Stock Show, still held in Denver each January. It was his love of horses that led him to operate the Blue Ribbon Livery Stables on Main Street with Ed Burden.
Fred Bemis was elected to the Town Board five times, and was an important member of the Hose Company, Littleton's volunteer firefighters. In 1932 he became Littleton's Justice of the Peace, hence the title, "Judge." During the fifteen years he served, he married some 5,400 couples, most of them in his living room across the street from the courthouse. Elizabeth was a charter member of the Woman's Club and was a talented writer. She died in 1931; then daughter Ella Kerruish came to live with her father. Judge Fred Bemis died in July 1947.
Fred and Elizabeth's son, Edwin, dipped briefly into the dairy business when he worked at the old Littleton Creamery on Malinda (now Alamo) Street with J. D. Hill. But he began to hang around Joe Hamer's Littleton Independent newspaper and became an apprentice printer in 1898, when he was eleven. After completing Littleton High School in its first graduating class, he quickly moved into community affairs. He became town treasurer, probably the youngest one in Colorado, organized the Arapahoe County Fair Association, was chief of the fire department, and deputy sheriff. He and his sister opened the town's first camera and book shop. Photography became one of his hobbies, and in the years to come he collected Littleton history through the eye of his camera. He donated his collection (and his Kodak) to the Littleton Historical Society, which he founded in 1956.
In 1911 he married Katherine Prescott in Littleton. They had two children, Edwin A., Jr. (who died on July 15, 2005), and Elizabeth Louise "Betty Lou." In January 1919 the owner of the Independent asked Ed to run the paper while he took a six-week trip. Ed took the job and bought major ownership when the publisher returned. He brought Houstoun Waring to the paper in 1926. Two years later they became partners, and Ed began to educate Waring in Littleton history.
Fred Bemis House, now located at the Littleton Museum.
Ed Bemis became president and managing editor of the Colorado Press Association in 1922 and devoted much of his time to it for the next twenty-nine years until he retired in 1951. He transformed the community newspapers of the state "from organs dependent on a political party to independent journals supported by advertisers and subscribers." In the meantime he founded the National Association of State Press Field Managers, Colorado Society of Trade Association Directors, and Rocky Mountain Advertising Managers Association. He headed the Department of Research and Extension in Journalism at the University of Colorado and was co-founder and first sheriff (president) of the Denver Westerners, an organization devoted to writing historical articles and researching the American West. He helped create the first Littleton Planning Commission and was its first chairman.
Even after he retired, Ed Bemis loved to stroll Main Street, stopping for long, enthusiastic chats with citizens interested in the town's improvement. He was usually on the front row at Council meetings with his eager support. All this time he was collecting records and artifacts for his dreamed-of Littleton Historical Museum and storing them in the basement of the county welfare building. The Museum became a reality in 1970. Ed's other great legacy in Littleton is the Edwin A. Bemis Public Library, opened in 1965 and named to honor his life-long dedication to the community he loved.
Katherine died in 1974 and Ed in 1978. They and Ed's parents are buried in the Littleton Cemetery. Ed Bemis never ran out of ideas or lost his puckish sense of humor. He left a message that was read at his services. He was anticipating one last organizing project when he found himself removed to that green hill with its view of the mountains: he planned to organize the residents of the cemetery. After all, many of them were old friends and he thought they should have a meeting place. And it might be wise to be organized in case there were any complaints to the cemetery board.
The Bemis families and their efforts have paved the way for many of the things that Littleton enjoys today.
Ed Bemis' 1956 autobiography, So I Took an Apple, is available for download, courtesy Bemis Public Library.
Bemis, Edwin Arnold. So I Took an Apple. Autobiography. Littleton, Colo.: Edwin Arnold Bemis, 1965.
Edwin A. Bemis Public Library. Littleton File: "Bemis Family."
Littleton Independent. Littleton, Colo.; The Littleton Independent Publishers, 1888- .
Littleton Museum. Biographical File: "Bemis."
Littleton Museum. Photograph Collection: "Bio: A-F."
Photographs courtesy of the Littleton Museum unless otherwise noted. To order copies, contact the museum at 303-795-3950.
Compiled by Doris Farmer Hulse
Updated March 2021 by Phyllis Larison