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Hiwan Heritage Park

In Evergreen, Hiwan Heritage Park encompasses a four-acre outdoor area and a twenty-five-room log cabin. Dr. Josefa Williams, a pioneer female doctor in Colorado, acquired the property in 1893 as a place to stay for friends and family.

At first, guests stayed in tents, and later in a private summer cottage, which is now one of the oldest surviving log buildings in the area. Josepha Douglas used the property as a mountain retreat for over forty years, along with her husband Charles Winfred Douglas, an Episcopal clergyman who led the Evergreen Conference for church music, and their son Frederic Douglas, who held the position of curator of Indigenous arts at the Denver Art Museum.

After selling the property to the Buchanan family in 1938, the property was renamed Hiwan Ranch, where prizewinning Hiwan Hereford cattle were raised. After the ranch became a National Register of Historic Places in 1974, Jefferson County Open Space bought it to use as a museum to show Evergreen’s history as a mountain retreat, the Douglas family’s interests in church music, and Indigenous art, and the Buchanan family’s cattle business. Since its inception, Hiwan Heritage Park in Evergreen has always been a place of collaboration with the community, which has allowed the museum to expand both in size and in programming. Additionally, educational programs have been a critical component of the museum’s growth since it opened. Although Hiwan Heritage Park was originally a ranch headquarters and a private residence, it now explores a wide range of historical topics. At first, the museum’s educational programs were geared toward fourth-grade Colorado history classes. Emphasizing hands-on learning, school tours have included mock classes in an 1890s schoolhouse, baking journey cakes which is an adaptation of Johnnycakes, scavenger hunts in the general store, and yarn spinning for garments.

It has also emphasized its Indigenous collections, which highlight the Douglas family’s interest in Indigenous art, to introduce children to another aspect of Colorado’s past that has been neglected by the public-school curriculum. Through the years, the museum has expanded its programs beyond its fourth-grade offerings, adding programs for younger students, home-schooled students, and adults.

Additionally, the museum creates community programs to celebrate significant anniversaries, such as the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  In one program, the museum featured local World War II veterans who showcased personal memorabilia such as weapons, uniforms, and photographs. Its success can be largely attributed to this kind of education, along with the close ties that the museum has with local schools. As is the case with many public history sites, visitor demand fluctuates over time, and Hiwan’s staffing has also changed over time. There has never been a full-time director at the museum. Because of financial support from the local community, Hiwan in the 1990s was able to employ a professional curator, a luxury that was not available to many similar small museums. However, the expansion of Jefferson County Open Space has resulted in lower funding for Hiwan in recent years.

As of 2020, Hiwan’s full-time staff consisted of only an education coordinator and two education specialists. Despite its small staff, the museum still enjoys the benefits of former professional staff members, who helped increase its program and exhibits during the 1990s and early 2000s. A robust crew of more than fifty long-term volunteers has also been instrumental to Hiwan’s success. Hiwan Heritage Park serves as an example of how museums can become pillars of their communities. The site offers a variety of experiences for a diverse set of visitors, but childhood education remains a priority.  Today, programming has extended beyond local history to include matters such as outdoor safety, conservation, and ecology in Evergreen. On-site wildlife offers children the opportunity to observe animals, while Hiwan Heritage Park’s abundant trees and flora serve to augment students’ knowledge of ecology.

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