GILPIN COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– Colorado’s amazing outdoors have always been a draw for families looking for rest and relaxation or recreation. But not all families have always been welcome.
Lincoln Hills was built to be a bright light during a very dark time, a place for Black people to escape from the misery of life back home in the 1920s.READ MORE: CBS4 Special Section Elevating Black Voices
It was a time when the Ku Klux Klan dominated politics in Denver and carried out its agenda of racial hatred. Enter Lincoln Hills, where developers bought the land in Gilpin County.
Recently, retired Denver County Court Judge Gary Jackson called the location off Coal Creek Canyon “sacred ground.”
“They wanted to create a recreational area for Black people,” he said.
His story begins with his great grandfather William Pitts, who built a cabin on the property and would go on to send flyers across the country.
“Letting them know he was a cabin builder. If they wanted to build a cabin in Lincoln Hills, he was the person to do it,” Jackson said, pointing to one of the flyers during an interview with CBS4.
Back then it was called the Lincoln Hills Country Club Development, and it was the only African American resort owned and operated by Black people west of the Mississippi.
Jackson’s cabin is called the Zephyr View, named for the train that would bring people there. He still has the original stove and a not-so-welcome relic from back then, a sign marking a restroom for Black people.
“This particular sign is to remind us and learn of the type of discrimination Black folks went through,” he told CBS4’s Rick Sallinger.READ MORE: Lodge In Foothills Has Important Place In History
Among the visitors was a cousin of Jackson’s from the famed Tuskegee Airmen. Another was the famous singer Lena Horne. She would stay in what’s known as the Honeymoon Cabin. It’s right next to Winks Lodge, built by Wink Hamlet who also had a tavern and served as a deputized sheriff for Gilpin County.
The Colorado Historical Foundation sees this as significant and they are working for preservation.
Cindy Nasky explained, “It’s so important for people to come to a sight and reconnect and hear the stories behind it.”
And now more stories. It’s been nearly 100 years and in that time Lincoln Hills has come full circle.
Jackson referred to a gated area across the road saying, “Probably 10-12 years ago the richest Black man in America, Robert Smith, bought property up here and built a home here.”
Another story moving forward is Lincoln Hills Cares. Smith and Matthew Burkett were the catalysts to get it started. Its mission is to develop the next generation of young leaders through outdoor education, recreation and cultural history. It’s meant for all races who don’t have the opportunities due to economic, social or family circumstances.
The program started in 2008. JR Lapierre was hired in 2016 as managing director. He says they average 1,100-1,200 young people coming to Lincoln Hills per year. They partner with organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCA, totaling some 45 organizations.
The youths that come to Lincoln Hills on day trips learn about biology, how to fly fish, outdoor survival, archery and more.
Considered an oasis back in the 1920s, Lincoln Hills is an important piece of American history now.
LINK: Lincoln Hills Cares