When segregation forced Colorado's African American community to build their own mountain resort

GILPIN COUNTY - There was a time when mountain resorts were reserved only for white Coloradans, and that time was not all that long ago. 

In a fascinating blog posted this week, the Denver Public Library takes us back to the 1920s and 1930s in Colorado. 

The mountains were already a popular getaway for folks to enjoy swimming, hiking, camping and more. However, even though it didn't have Jim Crow laws, it remained a segregated state.

African American Coloradans weren't allowed to enjoy the state's popular mountain getaway resorts.

In fact, the state was home to one of the nation's largest Klu Klux Klan chapters, which held a U.S. senator, governor, state legislator, Denver mayor and chief of police among its members, according to History Colorado.

In 1922, Edwin Regnier and Robert Ewalt turned this inequality into an opportunity of sorts, by creating a company to sell mountain property specifically to African Americans. The pair of men turned a mining claim into a vacation community. 

Lots ranged in price from $50 to $100. 

One in particular, a 1,100 acre purchase, was located along South Boulder Creek between Nederland and Rollinsville in Gilpin County.

It holds an important place in Colorado's history and culture - and is still worth reflecting on nearly 90 years later.

Built by and for the African American community in Colorado, Lincoln Hills became the Denver area's largest resort of its kind, situated 38 miles west of the city. It was the only African-American resort west of the Mississippi. 

Encompassing more than 100 acres along the Denver and Salt Lake railroads, Lincoln Hills soon became a destination for Coloradans of all backgrounds. 

It even enticed greats such as Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Langston Hughes to stay.

The Winks Lodge became the heart and soul of the Lincoln Hills resort, built by Five Points resident and businessman Winks Hamlet.

Camp Nizhoni, a YMCA camp for African American girls in the 1930s located in the area, is well captured in black-and-white photographs from the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection. 

Since the young girls were barred from Estes Park and other campgrounds, the Phyllis Wheatley branch of the YWCA (located in Five Points) purchased the land for $10.

The club was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, about two decades after it closed in 1966. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial discrimination, many black citizens began to join integrated clubs. 

While Lincoln Hills no longer serves as a summer camp for kids to hike, fish, swim, camp, and enjoy the mountain air, it serves as an important memory of history and cultural changes the state has seen over the past century. 

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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