A number of months ago I wrote a post about the historic Lincoln Hills neighborhood in rural Gilpin County, Colorado, about 20 miles southwest of Boulder. In the 1920’s when many of Colorado’s mayors and governors were KKK members, this African-American resort community thrived as the only one of its kind west of the Mississippi. At the heart of Lincoln Hills was The Phyllis Wheatley YWCA camp for girls, Camp Nizhoni, and Winks Lodge.
Built in 1925 by Naomi and Obrey “Winks” Hamlet, the lodge consisted of 6 bedrooms, some common rooms and a large wrap around porch. The list of visiting luminaries is impressive by anyone’s standard: Billy Eckstein, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston. Although much of Lincoln Hills has disappeared, the lodge remains and is on the National Register of Historic Places. With a grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund, the Beckwourth Outdoors Club purchased the lodge and has begun a partial renovation.
The lodge is not a remarkable piece of architecture, but its historical significance is immense. In a state not known for its racial diversity, preservation and encouragement of this community and this building is rare and welcome. Although the lodge is not open to the public, I would encourage folks to go up to Lincoln Hills and take a look at what remains of this once vibrant, thriving community, an artistic and intellectual salon that has faded with the years. Like Chicago’s Bronzeville, Lincoln Hills owed some of its existence to institutionalized and legalized racism. Around that kind of malevolent exterior pressure grew some amazingly fertile and rich intellectual and artistic communities, with the Harlem Renaissance as maybe the shining example. The loss of these places is a good sign – they existed because of repression and lack of opportunity. But it is a bittersweet loss nevertheless.