Winks Lodge

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.


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”)