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Meet the Former Slave Turned Real Estate Investor Who Owned Several Laundromats

Clara Brown

Clara Brown was a pioneer, a community leader, a philanthropist, and the first African American woman to live in Denver, Colorado. At the age of 56-years old, she became a real estate investor who established a successful laundromat chain during the Colorado Gold Rush in the 1800s.
She was born as a slave in Virginia in 1800, but in 1856 she obtained her freedom because her master died and his will stipulated her freedom. Her family had been split up and sold off one by one to different owners, so Clara decided to search for them - especially her 4 children. She headed west, moving from state to state while working as a cook and laundress.

After not being able to successfully find her family, Clara decided to settle in Colorado in a town outside of Denver called Central City. There, she opened a laundry business for gold miners. In addition, she collected whatever gold dust came out of the miners’ pockets and made extra money by cooking and cleaning for them as well.

Clara was known for her generosity in the community; She denied herself any luxuries, and chose instead to help fund non-profit causes such as the construction of a local church.

Over time, Clara expanded her laundry business to several locations, and invested her earnings into real estate and mines. When she died, she owned quite a bit throughout the state of Colorado - building lots in Denver, houses in Central City, and mines in Boulder, Georgetown and Idaho Springs.