Published December 28, 2017 in the Weekly Register-Call
Lincoln Hills Then and Now – Part 3
The Great Migration of the 1910s-1920s is often seen as a movement of African Americans from the South to the North, however it also resulted in the growth of black communities in the West, including Colorado. By the 1920s, Denver had a strong and vibrant black community centered on the Five Points neighborhood, which had several thousand black residents. Most worked as porters, waiters, barbers, and domestic servants, however a growing business and professional class was emerging. As the community grew larger and more prosperous, the residents faced increasing hostility in the form of racially restrictive housing covenants and a resurgent Ku Klux Klan that recorded 50,000 members across Colorado, including prominent local and state officials.
This combination of prosperity and animosity spurred Denverites, E.C. Regnier and Roger Ewalt to seek to build a resort in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado for middle class African Americans. The only resort west of the Mississippi that would cater to African Americans. Only two other resorts in the United States existed, Idlewild in Michigan and Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Regnier and Ewalt’s goal was to give blacks in Denver and across the country a place where they could escape the daily burden of racism and build an alternative to the racially segregated resorts prevalent at the time.
Tradition maintains that Regnier and Ewalt were black, however records indicate that white men with those names lived in Colorado at the time. It is possible, even likely, that the men’s skin was light enough to allow them to move back and forth across the color line when necessary.
In 1922, Regnier and Ewalt purchased over 100 acres of land along Boulder Creek in Gilpin County and established the Lincoln Hills Development Company. They divided the land into roughly 1,700 narrow lots. Measuring 25 feet by 100 feet that were sold for $50-$100 each. Lots were advertised across the country to blacks interested in building summer cottages. By 1928, about 470 lots were sold, half to Coloradoans and half to prospective vacationers or speculators from other parts of the country.
Lincoln Hill witnessed several periods of growth. The first began in 1925 when Obrey
Wendell “Winks” Hamlet and his wife, Naomi, began construction of Winks Lodge, also known as Winks Panorama. Completed in 1928, the Lodge consisted of three-stories and six bedrooms. Over time, additional facilities were added to include Winks Tavern, a honeymoon cabin, the orange cabin, tin house and a three-plex cabin. Winks Lodge drew many of America’s African American performers including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, and Billy Eckstine.
In 1927, the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the YMCA established a girl’s camp, Camp Nizhoni. Thanks to the generosity and vision of the Lincoln Hills Development Corporation, the YMCA was able to permanently establish Camp Nizhoni. Fifty or more girls attended camp each summer, hiking, swimming, and learning biology, astronomy, and outdoor skills. Camp Nizhoni provided a vital, nurturing and ultimately uplifting experience to hundreds of African American women and girls over the approximately 20 years that it was in existence.
The Great Depression of 1929 and 1930 put a sudden end to many Lincoln Hills dreams. Some families could no longer keep up with their monthly payments, and those who could, or already owned their property, did not have the money to build a summer cabin. As a result, only a few dozen private cabins were ever constructed. Although many lost their lots or never built cabins, Lincoln Hills managed to thrive for several decades. Fortunately, the campgrounds were easily accessible by automobile as well as by train. The Denver & Salt Lake Railway (Later the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad) stopped twice a day near Lincoln Hills, making it possible to get there in less than an hour from Denver or stop for a few days in the middle of a cross-country trip.
Mining also held prominent importance to Lincoln Hills. Beginning in 1888, a company known as Deadwood Diggings conducted placer mining on the property, commencing work in 1895. Mining then remained idle for several years until 1901 when hydraulic mining by use of Manchester Lakes took place until 1922. From 1938 to 1947 Lincoln Hills was dredged and primarily mined for gold.
Lincoln Hills and Winks Lodge continued to enjoy a strong existence and role in the lives of many African American families throughout the Great Depression, post-World War II, and up until the mid-1960s, when the death of Obrey “Winks” Hamlet and the successful passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964 brought about a time of great change. With Winks Lodge closed and other resorts now open to all, Lincoln Hills was primarily visited by property owners whose families built cabins on their lots in the 1920s.
In 1980, Winks Lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places at the state level of significance. In 2006, it was purchased by the Beckwourth Mountain Club and restored to be used as a heritage center and center for the club’s outdoor activities for black youth. In late 2014, the National Register of Historic Places listed Winks Lodge, elevating it to the national level of significance for its role in African American History and enlarged to include more of the Lincoln Hills Community. Early in 2017, Winks Lodge was purchased from Beckwourth Outdoors by Lincoln Hills Cares, insuring a strong and impressive future for the building and its surrounding land.
In 2008, Denver businessman, Matthew Burkett, bought property along in Lincoln Hills along South Boulder Creek to establish the Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club, a private angling club built on the site of the former ice house. The ice house stood from 1942 to 1947 where they made and stored ice by burying it in straw in order to keep it frozen throughout the summer months. The ice was then transported to the Denver Ice House.
Together with celebrated businessman, Robert Smith, Matthew Burkett then founded a charitable organization called Lincoln Hills Cares, which aims to preserve and publicize the history of the area by offering a variety of outdoor programs for veterans, children, and teens. LHC offers fly fishing experiences to our veterans, horseback riding, hiking, camping and various other activities to children and teens. It has been some time since skaters cut the ice at Lincoln Hills Ice House, but now thanks to Lincoln Hills Cares, ice skating will continue to be a sought after winter activity at Lincoln Hills.
Quoting from the Lincoln Hills website, “Lincoln Hills Cares is truly blessed to carry the torch of Lincoln Hills and we plan to continue to protect and preserve this amazing property and all that it encompasses. The history, culture and people of Lincoln Hills are as dynamic and interesting as the water that runs through the property and we hope that the legacy that is Lincoln Hills will continue to transcend from generation to generation.”