History & Heritage
Colorado's History and Heritage
It's true that Colorado has some of the grandest landscapes in the United States but Colorado also has a rich and historic culture.
No trip to Colorado would be complete without experiencing its ancient and historic past. Formed by native peoples, westward exploration and expansion, industry and numerous influential citizens, Colorado’s rich heritage and artifacts are waiting to be discovered.
Visitors can experience the state’s earliest historic sites including Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison, Dinosaur Monument in Northwest Colorado and Picketwire Canyon in Southeast Colorado as well as the earliest residents, the Ancestral Puebloans, at Mesa Verde National Park, Hovenweep National Monument and the Anasazi Heritage Center all located in the Southwest. The state’s rich American Indian heritage can be experienced at galleries and festivals across the state in addition to museums and sites such as the UteIndian Museum, KoshareIndian Museum and along the Trail of the Ancients Scenic and Historic Byway.
The exploration of the West and life on the frontier can be seen at numerous historic forts including Bent’s Old Fort, FortGarland and FortUncompahgre. Along the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway, travelers can experience living on the new frontier and the views that rewarded the settlers as they arrived at the base of the mountains.
The mining boom drew many people to Colorado with a hope of striking it rich. Travelers can experience a mining train trip 3000 feet/914.4 meters into the Bachelor Syracuse Mine in Southwest Colorado or see the prosperous main streets of mining towns such as Breckenridge, Leadville and Central City.
From cliff dwellings to historic railroads, ghost towns to scenic byways, museums and more – you’ll find many ways to experience Colorado’s distinctive character.
If you want to see how Colorado has developed over the years, look no further than its architecture. The entrepreneurial spirit of its residents, combined with a quick and diverse rise in population, has created an eclectic mix of buildings with overlapping architectural time periods. The majority of the state’s structures were built beginning in the mid-1800s.. However, there are architectural styles that are outside this time period. Newcomers to the state had an opportunity to build homes, in addition to commercial and civic buildings in styles that reflected their communities. This has led to very eclectic styles that can be seen all across the state.
Rustic-style log cabins, such as the Hiwan Homestead Museum on Colorado’s Front Range or the wood slat frontier stagecoach stops along the Cherokee Trail, are great examples of early structures as well as the Italianate facades of commercial districts from Silverton to Burlington.
Today, notable 20th and 21st century architecture can be seen in the buildings on the rim of Denver Civic Center Park including Gio Ponti’s Brutlist-style Denver Art Museum, the new Daniel Liebskind designed wing of the Denver Art Museum and Michael Graves’ addition to Burnham Hoyt Denver Public Library, as well as the addition to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center designed by Colorado native, David Owen Tryba.
Consider these ideas for a historical tour of the state.
- Ride on a historic narrow-gauge train in Durango, Antonito, Georgetown, Leadville or Cripple Creek.
- Walk through the oldest city in Colorado, San Luis (founded in 1851).
- Find the footprints of dinosaurs at DinosaurNational Monument (near the town of Dinosaur) — home to the first Brontosauruses fossils found in the world.
- Drive the scenic and historic byway to Climax, where the largest molybdenum mine in the world was once located.
- Visit a farmers market to buy Olathe sweet corn, Pueblo chile peppers, Cedaredge apples, Palisade peaches, Rocky Ford melons or Paonia cherries.
- Look at rock art in PictureCanyon (Springfield) or Canyon Pintado (Rangely).
- Investigate ghost towns such as Independence or Ashcroft near Aspen.
Ten of Colorado best Heritage Experiences
- Mesa Verde National Park: Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings were built by and were home to the Ancestral Puebloans in the 12th and 13th centuries. Mesa Verde National Park occupies over 81 square miles in the Southwest. The Cliff Palace is the largest and best known site and includes 150 rooms and 23 kivas (ceremonial rooms).
- Town of Leadville: Leadville was one of the largest mining camps in Colorado with over 50,000 residents, some of whom were the state's wealthiest silver barons. The town includes the National Miners Hall of Fame and Museum, the Tabor Opera House, historic Downtown and the Matchless Mine.
- Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site: This reconstructed fort is located along the Santa Fe Trail and was the epicentre of trading beginning in the 1830's. The two-story, adobe structure brought together the tribes of the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche and Ute with traders, hunters and freighters. It linked the US and northern Mexico and was the cultural crossroads of the West.
- Kit Carson County Carousel: The 1905 wooden carousel was originally manufactured for Denver's Elitch Gardens and operated every summer until 1928 when it was sold to Kit Carson County. The carousel features 46 hand-carved wooden animals and is the only carousel in the country with the original paint on the animals and scenery.
- The Silverton Heritage Pass: The Heritage Pass provides entrance into three of Silverton's great mining attractions and tells the story of mining in the San Juan Mountains. The Mayflower Gold Mill and the Old 100 Mine tours showcase one of the best preserved mills in the United States and illustrate the process of turning ore into gold. The Silverton Museum's Mining Heritage Center interprets the complete history of mining in the San Juan Mountains beginning in the 1870's and looks at the mining of gold, silver, lead, zinc and copper.
- Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art: The Kirkland Museum houses a nationally significant collection of 20th Century decorative arts as well as the historic studio of Colorado modernist painter, Vance Kirkland. The 1911 building was built as an art school, and since the 1930's has been the Kirkland School of Art with classes accredited by the University of Colorado. The building is the second oldest commercial art building in the state.
- Lariat Loop Scenic & Historic Byway: The Lariat Loop Trail was completed in 1914 and the initial seven mile trail allowed people to drive to the top of Mount Evans. The remaining 30 plus miles of the byway weave through Denver's Mountain Parks system, a visionary idea that permanently set aside places of natural beauty for city residents to enjoy. In addition, the trail passes Buffalo Bill's Grave and Museum, the early rustic-style Hiwan Homestead Museum, the Colorado Railroad Museum and the most famous of Denver' s Mountain Parks: Red Rocks.
- The Museum of Northwest Colorado: The armoury building in downtown Craig is home to the Museum of Northwest Colorado. The museum has one of the best Cowboy collections in the country featuring guns, spurs, saddles and tools. It provides a unique view into the daily life of a cowboy.
- The Barney Ford Museum: The museum honours Barney Ford, an escaped slave who prospered and became a prominent entrepreneur and black civil rights pioneer in Colorado. Ford was active in Colorado politics and owned businesses in Denver and Breckenridge. He campaigned for voting rights and helped start an adult education programme for African Americans in Denver. The museum is located in downtown Breckenridge and is one of the stops on the town's historic walking tour.
- Steeleworks Museum of Industry and Culture: The museum is housed in the headquarters of the Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) building in Pueblo. CF&I played a major part in the industrialization of the West and the museum tells the story of the advancement of workers' rights and includes exhibitions interpreting the history of the company, the steel, coal mining and railroad industries in the west, and the diverse people who worked in these industries.