FrontRangeLiving.com -> Architecture -> Hiwan Homestead Museum
HOMESTEAD MUSEUM: Filled with history but looking remarkably contemporary
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
Amid the swirl of ideas in the West, mountain residents like Dr. Josepha Williams characterize those who found the cultural and
natural history of the West to be worth a lifetime of study.
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
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.
One of the first female doctors in Colorado in 1889, Dr. Jo operated her own
sanitarium in Denver for tubercular and lung ailment patients. The mountain
getaway was intended to be a respite.
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
"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
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, ww2.co.jefferson.co.us/ext/dpt/comm_res/openspac/hiwan.htm.
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.