He who contributes to the commercial prosperity of a place; who, by his judgment and foresight, assists in the development of its resources; in whose hands large financial trusts are placed and safely, faithfully guarded; such an one may justly be called a public benefactor. To this class belongs Mr. David H. Moffat, president of the First National Bank of Denver, and long one of Denver’s most progressive and distinguished citizens. It would be impossible to write an accurate history of Denver and omit mention of his connection with the city, which has been his home since 1860, and the scene of his financial successes. The supremacy acquired by Denver over other towns of the mountain states is due in no small measure to his business acumen and sagacity, for he used his influence to bring railroads to the city and to introduce manufacturing enterprises and business projects that would be of permanent value to the place.
The success attained by Mr. Moffat is especially deserving of mention when the fact is considered that he left home at the age of twelve years, with little money, to begin the battle of life for himself. He went from Orange County, N. Y., where he was born July 22, 1839, to the city of New York, and there, by a strange providence, he found employment in the line of business for which he was best fitted by nature. He was given a place in the New York Exchange Bank as messenger boy, and this apparent chance determined the occupation of his life. He was quick to learn, and his increasing knowledge of the banking business was recognized by the president, Selah Van Duser, who promoted him to a clerkship in the bank.
In 1855, having received an offer of employment in Des Moines, Iowa, he went to that city and there for a time was teller in the banking house of A. J. Stevens & Co. While connected with that bank he made the acquaintance of B. F. Allen, of Des Moines, who, recognizing his financial talents, offered him a more lucrative position in Omaha. Going to that city, he took charge of the Bank of Nebraska, as cashier. At the end of four years he closed the bank, paid its indebtedness in full, and divided the surplus among the stockholders. He then left at once for Denver, making the trip in a wagon drawn by mules and loaded with a full supply of provisions. When he reached his destination, he found on the banks of the Platte River a settlement of a few thousand people, the most of whom were prospectors. In partnership with C. C. Woolworth, he opened a book and stationery store, which was carried on for six years. In those days gold dust was the medium of exchange. Interest rates were very high, and there was a profit in the purchase of bullion and its shipment east.
When Mr. Moffat came to Denver he was a slender youth, weighing only one hundred pounds, and bearing the appearance of one in delicate health. However, he was much stronger than his appearance indicated, and as he became older he increased in weight, being now a man of splendid physique and robust health, two years after he came to Denver he established a home of his own, being united in marriage with Miss Fannie A. Buckhout, of Saratoga, N. Y., by whom he has a daughter, the wife of J. A. McClurg.
April 17, 1865, the comptroller of treasury authorized the organization of the First National Bank of Denver, and it was opened for business May . The original stockholders and directors were: Austin M. and Milton K Clark, Bela S. Boell, Jerome B. Chaffee, Henry J. Rogers, George T. Clark; Charles A. Cook and Eben Smith; the officers being: J. B. Chaffee, president; H. J. Rogers, vice-president; and George T. Clark, cashier. The private banking business of Clark & Co. was merged into the new institution, which was located on Blake street, then the business center of the city. No especial success rewarded the investments of the stockholders until 1867, when Mr. Moffat was elected cashier, but after that there was an immediate improvement and from that year the bank enjoyed a steady and increasing prosperity. It now has a capital of $500,000, with a surplus larger than that, and deposits amounting to $13,000,000. During the panics that engulfed so many banks throughout the country it retained its credit unimpaired, meeting every demand on time.
Besides being connected with Mr. Chaffee in the bank, Mr. Moffat was, with him, interested in real-estate and mining operations. They owned the Caribou mine, near Boulder, the Breece iron mine, in Leadville, and the Henrietta, also in Leadville. They also purchased Senator Tabor’s stock in the Little Pittsburg Consolidated Mining Company, of which Mr. Moffat became vice-president and from which he derived a large income. In addition, they together owned nearly a hundred mines in different parts of the state.
In projects for building railroads Mr. Moffat has always borne an active part. In 1869 he cooperated with Governor Evans in building the Denver Pacific Railroad from Denver to Cheyenne, thus securing a connection with the Union Pacific. After silver was discovered at Leadville he took part in organizing a syndicate that built the Denver & South Park Railroad, one hundred and fifty miles long, and which at one time yielded larger profits then any railroad of its length in world. Upon the construction of the Boulder Valley Railroad he was chosen treasurer of the company and himself built the extension from Boulder to the Marshall coal banks, in Boulder County. For years he held the responsible position of president of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Company, of whose stock he was a heavy owner, but in 1891 he resigned the position. He was largely interested in the building of the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad, connecting Cripple Creek with Florence, and one of the most profitable lines in the state.
During the administration of Governor Evans, Mr. Moffat held the office of adjutant-general. For four years he was territorial treasurer. In the organization of the Denver City Water Company he took an active part and was for years its treasurer. Other local enterprises have received his warm support and active assistance. Perhaps no trait of his character is more worthy of admiration then his generosity. In great financial crises he has helped many men to brave the storm and retain their financial credit, who, without his aid, would have succumbed to the tempest. The amount of his gifts no one knows, unless it be himself; but they must amount to thousands annually. Fitz-Mac, in an admirable character sketch of Mr. Moffat, says: “His friendship takes not so much the smiling as the helping turn. I speak not of what he gives away in charity, but in a straight business way he has helped more men then any other man in the state. That would be little to say of him now because he is the richest man in the state, but it could have been truly said of him long before he became the richest man; and actually was widely said.” Great riches bring great responsibilities, but, did all our men of wealth possess the helpful, practical sympathy that has made Mr. Moffat a man among men, there would be less of the socialistic spirit prevalent in our country, and anarchism would be relegated to the dark ages, or to unenlightened countries, where it might hope to find followers.
Source: Portrait and biographical record of Denver and vicinity, Colorado : containing portraits and biographies of many well known citizens of the past and present : together with biographies and portraits of all the presidents of the United States.. Chicago: Chapman Pub. Co., 1898.