Colorado - History and Heritage

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smithsonian.com

A visit to Colorado affords an opportunity to step back in time, reliving the history of its early Ancient Pueblo people and the explorers, pioneers and prospectors who’ve left an indelible imprint on the state’s past. Landmark neighborhoods, museums, restored homes and historic byways tell a fascinating story of Colorado’s well-preserved history and rich cultural traditions.

Denver’s Historic Five Points Neighborhood, founded in the 1860s, was one of the Mile High City’s first residential suburbs. Located along the railroad, it was a convenient stop for African American jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton en route to the West Coast in the 1930s and 40s. They regularly stopped to perform in Five Points clubs and music halls. Today, Five Points is home to the Stiles African American Heritage Center, the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, the Roundtree Art Center and the nationally acclaimed Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble studios.

Also in Denver, the Molly Brown House Museum celebrates the life of the "Unsinkable" survivor of the Titanic while the Four Mile Historic Park, a 12-acre living history museum, features the city’s oldest log home (once a stagecoach stopover), outbuildings and barn.

Just west of Denver, visitors can step into the past within the Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District, a living testament to Colorado’s abundant silver deposits. Beautifully preserved, the towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume feature Victorian-era homes and some 200+ restored buildings. Sights include Hamill House, the 1867 Country Gothic Revival home of silver speculator William Hamill; the Hotel de Paris, a former French provincial inn turned historic museum; and Energy Museum, which traces the history of hydropower in the state. The Lebanon Silver Mine takes hardhat-wearing visitors 500 feet deep into one of Colorado’s legendary mines.

A visit to the Colorado Chautauqua House is a journey into the state’s living history. Located at the foot of the Flatirons in Boulder, the historic landmark recalls the turn-of-the-century movement to further educate and enlighten working-class citizens by creating gathering places dedicated to learning. Known as Chautauquas, the public spaces offered a place for traveling lecturers, politicians, writers and entertainers to deliver their message to large crowds.

In continuous operation since July 4, 1898, the Colorado Chautauqua is one of only three remaining Chautauquas in the country. Today, it is home to concerts, cultural events, educational programs, recreation and historic preservation.

Colorado’s oldest military post, Fort Garland, was established in 1858, and today, is a living museum featuring a replica of the Commandant’s Quarters, the room used by frontiersman and Commander Kit Carson.

In the busy college town of Fort Collins, the Avery House celebrates the life of Franklin Avery, a local banker and agricultural visionary whose imprint can be found throughout the area.  Built in 1879, the Victorian home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The artifact-filled Fort Collins Museum features one of the oldest pioneer buildings in Colorado. Nearby, the 45-mile Cache la Poudre runs through a landscape celebrated in James Michener’s novel, Centennial. A nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, it is the lifeblood of historic Fort Collins and the nearby Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area. Informational signs detail the pivotal role in establishing the "right of first appropriation," a water share agreement that became the basis for all of western water law.

More so than in any other town, Colorado’s mining heritage—and the life of flamboyant resident and early multimillionaire Horace Tabor—comes to life in Leadville. The seven-block Leadville National Historic Landmark District features many well-preserved homes and buildings of mining magnates, including the opulent Tabor Opera House, the result of Tabor’s quest to bring culture to a fun-loving mining town; Healy House, a striking Greek Revival clapboard house that was originally built for August R. Meyer, a successful smelter, and Dexter Cabin, a deceptively simple 1879 log cabin filled with the art collection of Leadville banker and mining investor James Dexter. Tabor’s Matchless Mine, which at one time produced $2,000 worth of silver ore a day, is open for tours throughout the summer.

Visitors seeking a glimpse into Colorado’s authentic Old West need only stop in Silverton, where the San Juan County Historical Society Museum (housed in a 1902 county jail) displays countless artifacts of the town’s exuberant heyday. The Old Hundred Gold Mine features a subterranean guided tour and opportunity to play prospector, panning for gold, while the Mayflower Mill allows visitors to see the high-tech workings of a 20th century mining operation. The pink sandstone Silverton Town Hall, which burned in 1992, was painstakingly rebuilt, winning the San Juan County Historical Society the National Honor Award for Historic Preservation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Colorado’s ranching heritage comes to life in the town of Meeker, a rustic community where cattle and sheep ranchers can be seen driving their livestock through town to pasture. Among the town’s historic buildings is the Meeker Hotel, where President Teddy Roosevelt once stayed.

On the 114-mile Trail of the Ancients Scenic and Historic Byway, the Anasazi Heritage Center is a 40,000-square-foot museum chronicling the life of the Ancestral Puebloan civilization with hands-on exhibits, audio-visual displays, a nature hike to Escalante Pueblo and special traveling exhibits.

Nearby, Dolores was a major railroad town along the Rio Grande Southern route between Durango and Ridgway. Today, visitors can tour the Rio Grande Southern Railroad Museum, an exact replica of the original train depot, and see the restored Galloping Goose, a quirky narrow-gauge railcar made out of circa 1926 Buick and Pierce Arrow automobiles.

Called the "Cultural Crossroads on the Arkansas," the El Pueblo History Museum captures Pueblo's history and the various cultural and ethnic groups in the city and region. The site features an 1840s-style adobe trading post and plaza and the archaeological excavation for the original 1842 El Pueblo trading post.

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