It’s always a surprise to find 100-year-old log homes weathered and scarred, but upright, fit and useful. After all, Colorado’s mountains have been swept by fire and floods—hardly a benign environment to preserve rustic log architecture. Against the odds, Hiwan Homestead Museum, nestled in the Evergreen community, dates to the 1890s and remains a solid, comfortable building. Tightly constructed, this informal home is so lovingly maintained that even the floors don’t creak.
With its 17 rooms, Hiwan may be more elaborate than most cabins. Massive rock fireplaces and log construction echo the Rocky Mountain setting at the turn of the 20th century. “We call it rustic architecture,” says administrator John Stienle, “similar to what you might have seen in the Adirondacks at that time. It’s like a lodge and has the atmosphere of Western history. You get a feeling of what this area was like before development.”
Furnishings from the original residents have survived, revealing glimpses into the culture of the American West from 1890 to 1930.The homestead abounds with Pueblo pottery and Navajo blankets. By the 1920s, Coloradans began to appreciate and collect Native American art. At the same time, photography was making inroads as art and documentary. Nature was a muse—and a rich source for collections.
Archaeological digs at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico unearthed early native cultures, sparking a renaissance among the Pueblo, Zuni and Hopi tribes. Maria Martinez from the San Ildefonso Pueblo reconstructed a lustrous black pottery and made it her signature work. Photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan and William Henry Jackson documented gold and silver mines, landscape and railroads. Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt painted mountains and lakes. John Muir was nurturing the glimmerings of conservation societies. Within a couple of decades, the artists, personalities and decor associated with the West would continue to influence tastes and fashion.
It’s a style that now has been reprised and beloved by those who adore Western memorabilia or the American lodge style, wherever it may exist. Navajo blankets and Pueblo pottery line up on fireplace mantels. Apache baskets and arrowhead collections lean against a bookcase. Zuni, Hopi, Pueblo, Navajo and Apache—many of the Southwestern tribes are represented. Upstairs a remarkable fireplace in a bedroom is studded with Hopi Indian tiles and, instead of doors on the closets, blankets hang from rods.
Although expanded throughout a century, Hiwan Homestead was owned by only two families before Jefferson County bought the property in 1974. Today the strong personality in the labyrinth of rooms is that of Dr. Jo, as she is called.
The homestead originated as a hay barn, which wasn’t demolished, but refurbished. Dr. Jo hired a Scottish carpenter who scoured the mountainside for basic materials. The hand-hewn timbers and rough fireplace are sturdy, if not finished in appearance. Most of the interior wood was harvested from nearby. “Pine and fir, everything came directly from the surrounding local area,” John says, “There was no attempt to bring anything in except some rosewood windows in the upstairs chapel. The exterior had some rot that had to be repaired when it was purchased, but the interior is just the way Jock, the carpenter, built it.”
The simple cabin was a chance to get away from the grinding work of caring for patients during a hectic week. But the temporary nature of the small cabin changed when Dr. Jo married.
Her new husband, Charles Douglas, an Episcopalian priest, brought a love of music and art into the home. Their only child, Eric Douglas, embraced his father’s interests in Native American arts and eventually served as the first curator for the American Indian wing in the Denver Art Museum, considered one of the finest collections in the country. Eric’s interests reflected his father’s appreciation for all that was unique to the West, including the American Indian culture and spectacular natural history.
Like so many Victorians, the Hiwan owners gathered enthusiastically from the natural world around them–pelts from coyotes, twigs and branches that were fashioned into furniture, baskets, and rocks. With an emphasis on simplicity, earthiness and camp coziness, the kitchen is serviceable, with touches of turquoise and cream hues on the stove, heavy pottery dishes and rugged cutlery.
Rocks and antlers picked up during hikes reflect the curiosity of these original owners. The out-of-doors was to be both enjoyed and studied. In homage to nature, Dr. Jo asked the carpenter to build around the trees outside rather than cut them down. Giant stone benches circle what was once a fishpond, and the outdoor seating provided an opportunity to sit around a campfire and watch the stars.
“There are seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms in this house,” John says, “seven entrances and seven staircases.” Over the years the two families simply added a room here, a room there, for visitors. The long dining table flanked by twig chairs seats a crowd. Building a fire, even in the summer, must have been commonplace. A heating system was never installed. Instead, giant rock fireplaces dominate the larger rooms—the rocks obviously gathered from the premises.
Hiwan looks and feels much like a place for people to congregate, unwind and take long walks. The rustic cabin was expanded but always in modest proportions. Nothing appears outsized. Whimsy is the only consistent architectural flourish. Small eyebrow windows peer through a circular roofline. Verandas and porches accommodate bent or crooked tree limbs. A tiny chapel, which seats only a handful, is draped in clerical flags and served the needs of the resident priest. Around the main house are small cottages—one built for Eric, another for the carpenter. One by one, Hiwan’s cottages took on the appearance of a small compound.
In 1938, Dr. Jo died and Charles died a few years later. With the end of their generation, a period in the American West had vanished, too. So the new Buchanan family that moved in acquired additional land for a cattle ranching business that spread to 30,000 acres. By 1973, most of that land had been sold for housing. Fearful that Hiwan would be demolished, Jefferson County bought it with an eye toward making it into a museum.
Hiwan is not a museum for the extravagant or polished. Instead, it has become an extension of its original use: an informal gathering place for friends and family. Whether it’s school kids who arrive to bake cookies in an old-fashioned kitchen or a quilting group holding a weekly bee, the original intentions for Hiwan continue. “We have a historical library, photo collection, guided tours, educational programs and archives,” John says. Community has replaced family, but the tenor of Hiwan remains.
Hiwan Homestead Museum is at 4208 South Timbervale Drive (just off Meadow Drive) in Evergreen, 80439; 303-674-6262. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from September to May, noon to 5 p.m.; from June to August 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Other Rustic Historical Homes:
The Hiwan Homestead was saved from demolition by the local historical society. Now it’s a centerpiece for the residents, hosting events and educational programs. But other rustic gems have survived, too.
And, the Enos Mills cabin is a one-room spare structure built by Enos, himself. Maintained by his granddaughter, Elizabeth, the cabin sits on private property but is open to visitors curious about the man so dedicated to creating a National Park in his backyard.
Each building allows a glimpse into the patchwork of families that once made up Colorado mountain life in the late 19thcentury. A haven for a doctor during the tubercular epidemic, an inn for those caught up in the boom-and-bust gold and silver mine cycles of the 1880s, or a one man cabin in a a pristine wilderness–log construction has proven to be remarkably strong. And while the Enos Mills cabin is as stark as a monk’s cell, it served as a sort of burrow for one man who embraced the natural world with passion and fervor.
Gold Hill Inn is as charming as any middle-class home, with wide planks and a generous front porch. But the Hiwan Homestead offers one additional insight. Because many of the collections of the first residents remain, one hundred years later, walking through the house will cast a light on the cultural pursuits of Dr. Jo’s era.
Gold Hill Inn, 401 Main St., Gold Hill, 80302; 303-443-6461; www.goldhillinn.com
Enos Mills Cabin Museum and Gallery, 6760 Highway 7, Estes Park, 80517; 970-586-4706