Lincoln Hills, Colorado

For a number of years we lived at the edge of Gilpin and Boulder counties, high up in the Colorado Front Range.  Down the road from us was a small community of houses that we later found had a really interesting history.  The Lincoln Hills Country Club, located along South Boulder Creek, was a vacation development for African Americans established in the 1920s and continuing through the post-war years.  Now a collection of rather dilapidated buildings, the area has a remarkable past.

two buildings along the south bank of South Boulder Creek in Lincoln Hills or Pactolus, Colorado

Created by and for African Americans, the resort included some 100 acres laid out in hundreds of lots, at a time when African Americans were not welcome in public parks or lodgings in Colorado.  The center of the community was Winks Lodge (more in a later post) and Camp Nishoni, a summer camp for girls, run by the YWCA.  That building, partially demolished when we lived nearby, had initially attracted our attention.  According to a couple of online histories, the resort and camp hit hard times in the Depression and never really recoved, failing into disrepair and eventually sold.

Around 2004 much of the land on the north bank of South Boulder Creek was purchased by a Nederland contractor and developer with the notion of creating a flyfishing facility.  This section of South Boulder Creek had been channelized by miners and the railroad and much of the gravel was dumped in huge mounds on the north bank.  The developer’s plans to move much of this gravel offsite was energetically opposed by many local property owners because of the associated dust, noise and heavy equipment activity that it proposed.  Most confrontational was the aggressive “No Fishing” signs that suddenly popped up along a creek long used by locals.  I attended a couple of the public meetings held by Gilpin County and the stark, marked contrast between the culture of the developer and that of the largely individualistic property owners was a clear lesson on a kind of rural regentrification not often recognized by the press and public.  The unfettered use of private property is a religion in Gilpin County, but when it came to what was perceived as a public amenity, a clash was inevitable.

the new Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club sign and lodge

Flash forward a few years and on a recent visit I was shocked and a bit dismayed by the current state of things up there.  The original cabins and store of Lincoln Hills have succumbed even more to the ravages of weather and time.  Most disturbing however was the complete demolition of the last remnants of the large YWCA building, located on the edge of the developer’s property.  In its place is a new, somewhat generic “lodge” building and sign announcing the existence of the ‘historic’ Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club.  Ironically enough, the logo on the sign for the new lodge is the last image left of the demolished YWCA building.  The building was in truly horribly and possibly too-far-gone condition but its use in the image of a private club must pain the memories of the original Lincoln Hills residents.

To their credit, the developers have done a lot of work reviving the stream and making a significantly better fish habitat.  The price for this however has been to limit fishing along this section of the creek to members only, cutting off the historic access of locals.  I believe the current ownership is different than the original developer and seems to be taking a much softer and more congenial approach to integration with historic community.  And, to be fair, there seems to be very little of the community left for whatever reason.

And, in complete disclosure, I am an avid angler myself and often fished that section of Boulder Creek.  This private closure of the stream is particularly unfortunate as the County also closed what was an excellent winter fishery at the base of Gross Reservoir dam, also along South Boulder Creek.  Let’s hope the club can or already has, figured out some way to allow fishing access to locals, however limited.

For more on the history of Lincoln Hills, see including an image of one of the original resort’s advertising bills.  The Denver Public Library has a collection of papers and photographs of Lincoln Hills in their Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library.  The Denver-based non-profit, Beckwourth Outdoors, has long association with Winks Lodge and the history of Lincoln Hills:

A future post will highlight Winks Lodge, part of the Lincoln Hills development, with a long and rich past, and deserving of its own post.

(This area is also known as Pactolus.  I assume this is gold-mining-era name as the Pactolus River in Turkey is the original source of placer gold used to strike ancient coins, home of  King Croesus, as in “rich as Croesus”)


17 thoughts on “Lincoln Hills, Colorado

  1. Just a few clarifications from a long time local…
    1. The demolition of the YWCA building is incorrect.
    – The Current owners of the Pactolus Lake Property knocked
    down the Ice House and associated home to build the Fishing
    2. The elusive Developer from Nederland was Dirk Larson
    3. No attempt has been made to provide ajoining property owners
    any access to the water in South Boulder Creek.

    1. Thanks for the update.
      I’m not sure where I got the notion that the large concrete block building near Pactolus Lake was the YWCA. It is definitely gone whatever it was. I deleted reference to Dirk Larson as I was unaware of when his involvement with the property started and stopped. And, I am sorry to hear that nothing regarding fishing access has every been accomplished. It certainly seemed like that could have gone a long way to easing tensions, at least how I knew them to be back in 2003 or so.

  2. More clarification from one of the founders of the Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club…

    We worked hard with the county to determine the historic value of the dilapidated structures we purchased with our fly fishing property. After careful evaluation by the county’s historical experts it was determined that the “historically significant” ice house was too far gone to save and we were required to tear the building down after it was condemned by the county. With the ice house no longer standing it was and is the position of the county that the remaining cinder block house and warming hut had no historical value. The dilapidated state of those two remaining buildings then made way for our new, as you put it “generic,” clubhouse. The reason we use the name historic Lincoln Hills and the picture of the original warming house is because we value the history of the valley. We share this history with all of our members and guests even as we add a little history of our own.
    We sponsored the new Historic Lincoln Hills circa 1922 sign at the beginning of Pactolus Lake Road with a rendering of the Winks Lodge, the one structure in the valley that is actually on the National Register of Historic Places. It is too bad you did not include that structure in your article. We have also sponsored two neighborhood clean ups where we partnered with the James P. Beckwourth Mountain Club to remove decades of debris from the valley and restore a historic 1920’s cabin on South Beaver Creek Road. We have saved remnants of the historic ice house and other historically significant places and things in the valley and when we are complete there will be a walking history tour of the valley which will be open the the public.
    Contrary to your statement about “paining the memories of the original Lincoln Hills residents,” we have engaged many of those who are still living, many more of their descendants and those who did not own but often visited Lincoln Hills during its heyday. By enlarge they are in support of our club and our attempt and effort restore value and dignity to a truly historic valley. You do not need to take my word for it. Simply take a look at the minutes from the public meeting that was held in front of the Gilpin County Commission and read the letters and testimony of former and current Lincoln Hills residents that supported and continue to support our project. You may also be interested in joining us during the summer when we host inner city kids for fishing adventures and past and current residents for a walk down memory lane.

    Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing club employs the services of The Flyfisher Guide Service to provide fishing access to the “locals” and the public in general. Anyone is welcome to arrange a guided fishing trip on the club property during the fishing season.

    I invite you to be my personal guest at the club so that you have an opportunity to explore our concept and our club in person. Then, hopefully, future posts will be written with facts and not speculation.

    It should be pointed out that we did offer all adjoining property owners except Mr. Biddle the opportunity to join our fishing club at a very reduced rate when we first began offer membership in 2007. Not a single neighboring property owner took us up on the offer. Our reasons for not including Mr. Biddle in our membership offer will remain private, suffice it to say that we are an equal opportunity invitation only club.

  3. I believe that one of the other large buildings was for ice harvesting pre-refrigerator days. Sadly, all of the historical buildings on the north side of the creek are now gone.

  4. The large building on Pactolus lake was the Ice House.
    The Farrel family harvested ice from the lake and stored it in the
    ice house. Saw dust was used for insulation. The ice business
    failed due to the invention of refrigeration. The building pictured
    on the Lincoln Hills fly fishing sign is the warming house.
    The Pactolus Ice Skating business was also a Farrel business.

  5. Having just read all of the above, I’m feeling nostalgically sad and disappointed to realize it will not be possible to introduce grandkids to the remembered winter fun of iceskating at Pactolus Lake, with the hospitallity of the Winks in the warming house/ice – house. It was a yearly event for me and their moms in the 60’s and 70’s, after braving the “hair-pin” turn drive over Wonderview, from Boulder, Golden area.(I’ve not lived in Colo. for a long time, so wasn’t aware of the new developments) An evening at Pactolus always seemed like being in a Christmas card: First seeing the little fire-house framed in Christmas lights on the approach. Then ,skating , surrounded by the scent of the snow covered pines, a gentle breeze,and mooonlight. Sometimes having the chance to wave at the engineers of the train passing by (pro
    bably the ski train to Winter Park, or maybe the Calif. Zepher??Train engineers nowadays don’t seem to be aware of that tradional responsibility!) If it was too cold for little ones to skate outside for long, there was also the inside rink, where the ice blocks had probably been stored in years past. You had to skate around the building posts, but that could be fun, too. And the hot cocoa upstairs, was a yummy end to the outing!

    1. I too have the very most wonderful memories of ice skating there in the 60s.
      The ice was really hard, the surroundings beautiful , and the most important factor to a pre-teenage girl: the cozy warming hut had a very cute guy behind the counter!
      I remember some pretty good figure skaters practicing there. They got the ice house when they needed it, but it was open to others when they weren’t practicing.
      It is sad to see the historical value being destroyed and ignored. It was an important place to many.

    1. Hi,
      The lodge was purchased by by the “Fishing Club” year before last from the Beckworth Foundation. However, a significant amount of the property,including part of the building itself, is on National forest, it’s not
      a “done deal” yet. I live on Wink’s Way which is the common driveway to
      the Lodge. They’ve also bought the property at the top of the north hillside
      of the valley, the “potato farm”, !! acres on both sides of the creek,
      that’s located across from the fire station and county road 97(hwy. 72 to
      Magnolia road), property on South Boulder creek north of Rollinsville,
      and who knows what else. Are you bored yet?
      MITIN: i.e. more information than I need!!
      ray steele

  6. I live in Lincoln Hills and I have never heard of anykind of invitation to visit or join the fishing club. Living across the street I had been able to fish there many times. Now we can’t even approach the river without being chased off by someone. It is sad to see that they don’t have a day or two to allow the locals to visit. Since we are the ones that are putting up with the loud music from the parties, the increased traffic and dust caused from the club.

  7. My family have been coming to this area since 1990 to enjoy the peace and solitude of the mountains and the river. After my son was born in 2002 and the arrival of my niece and nephew a few years later, we would often hike the 5 minute trek down to the river and search for rocks and or frollick in the shallows. My father used to fish with neighbors in the lake. One time after an excruciating mountain bike ride with my brother and another family friend we flopped around in the river in order to cool our selves and our numerous wounds. There are in fact many long term locals in this area and their families who would very much like to enjoy the banks of this river (which have been torn apart and dug out in a very un-natural way). However to do so would result in a call to the police department from the Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club management. To suggest that locals are welcome in any form is a complete joke. In fact the members have been known to yell at locals in a very disrespectful if not violent manner. If the locals are so welcome how does Mr. Burkett explain the behavior of both management and members much less the NO TRESPASSING and VIDEO SURVEILANCE signs every twenty feet. Perhaps those signs are intended to keep out the numerous big city crack dealers that lurk along the banks of the river. I think Mr. Burkett’s concept of engaging the locals is somewhat different than what he has suggested above.

    In short the Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club has torn up the natural beauty of the South Beaver Creek (they call it landscaping), alienated and intimidated the locals, and seems to feel that throwing money around makes it all okay. Do you honestly believe that the locals should be greatful? The FACT is that you came in and told families that have enjoyed the river for dacades that they must now PAY to do so and that your clubs management will call the police if “locals” cross the quagmire of fencing with which you have scarred the entire river.
    By the way is there a building permit for the shooting platform? Were “locals” involved in that process? We “locals” know perfectly well why Mr. Biddle was not invited to join your club.

    Paul Gregory

    1. The controversy and disruption of the creation of the fishing club is disturbing as I have written about in the past. It sounded like there was a time when things were improving, but as I don’t live up there any more, I am not really up to date on all the goings on.
      As I wrote ages ago, the start of the fishing, with the proposed trucking off of thousands of cubic yards of gravel from the property, instigated the largest public meeting that I ever attended in Gilpin County. That effort was blocked thankfully but the posting and aggressive enforcement of trespassing sounds like it has only gotten worse. That all of this has to happen at such an important historic site is all the more aggravating as the locals clearly feel locked out of access to South Boulder creek in what was considered a community asset.

  8. The runoff this year seemed to reverse many of the stream improvements put in place. A neighbor of ours once commented that you’ll be lucky to stay even with winter, but you won’t get ahead. I don’t know how the high water affected the fishing as the water was high in the creek until mid-July, and then not very productive in other parts of the creek. I’m still not used to catching the occasional 5 pound fish that obviously didn’t grow that large in the creek. I remain a fan of the smaller natives that need some fishing skill to catch. The new lodge/house being constructed is magnificent, but the weather has taken a toll on the uncovered structure. I wonder if it will every get finished. I miss not being able to walk the property, but maybe the owner will tolerate some visitors if he gets lonely in the future. It never seemed to me that Pinecliffe would be a center of flyfishing in the US, but creative minds have done wonders with a marginal property. Have to hand it to them, the place is certainly far less trashed than when Dirk owned it. Sorry for Jay Biddle and his family……

  9. If anyone is interested, I’m the great granddaughter of the Farrell’s that lived at Pactolus Lake. My mother and especially her brother, know a decent amount of the history. I vaguely remember ice skating on the lake as a very small child. It was a wonderful place with wonderful people. I’d be happy to put anyone interested in touch with either my mom or uncle….

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