Back to the ranch
Discover Colorado's pioneer heritage along the Front Range
It’s a hot afternoon on the farm, and Tamara Fewell-Flowers is showing a rapt audience ― four 6-year-olds and their parents ― how to milk a cow. Fewell-Flowers, a historic site interpreter in character as an 1890s farm girl, deftly demonstrates the hand motions of proper milking technique with the help of a brown Jersey cow named Leeza. Ping, ping, ping ― the milk sings into the tin pail.
A visit to the 14-acre Littleton Historical Museum 10 miles south of Denver is a glimpse of Colorado’s agricultural past, with two replica farms, barnyard animals, and a working blacksmith shop. Wander a bit and you’ll get a good look at how hard those early pioneers worked, as shown by staff and volunteers in period dress.
In the simple 1860s farm cabin, they’re spinning yarn by kerosene lantern or cooking over a hearth fire. Walk into the kitchen of the 1890s farmhouse and time shifts forward: it’s outfitted with the comforts enjoyed 30 years later, such as a coal heater, an icebox, and a clothes wringer. In the paddocks, volunteers and staff are tending livestock rarely seen on today’s farms, from massive Belgian draft horses to shaggy churro sheep. And over in Littleton’s first one-room schoolhouse, built in 1864 for $65, you might see the schoolmarm, Miss Ann, unfurling a period-style American flag ― hand-stitched with 36 stars.
Back in the barn, Fewell-Flowers steps away from her milking stool and lets a visitor try her hand at the udder. After some fumbling, a thin stream of milk finally drizzles into the pail. “An 1890s farmer could milk six cows in about an hour,” notes Fewell-Flowers. “Between the work and Colorado’s weather, they couldn’t be wimps.”
At the Littleton Historical Museum ― and at three other such living preserves along the Front Range ― visitors gain tangible insights into the lives of Colorado’s early farmers and ranchers. Kids have fun just watching the cows, chickens, and sheep and learning what life on Colorado’s frontier was like. It all comes alive when you ride in a wagon, walk the prairie, visit a period farmhouse, or peek in on the barnyard critters. And if you’ve got a sure grip and a strong back, you might even try your hand at milking.
Littleton Historical Museum
The museum building features three changing exhibition galleries: two with displays detailing the history of Littleton and one with propaganda posters from World War II.
8-5 Tue-Fri, 10-5 Sat, 1-5 Sun; free. 6028 S. Gallup St.; www.littletongov.org/museum or (303) 795-3950.
Centennial Village Museum
Picture a snapshot of a Weld County village settlement at any time from 1860 to 1930. Now step into it: that’s what Centennial Village is like. The 5 1/2-acre museum contains 32 original and reproduction structures reflecting the county’s cultural and architectural diversity.
At the entrance, stop at the 1870s cottage housing Selma’s Store to pick up a souvenir guide ($1.50) and map (free). Then wander: you’ll see log cabins, adobe houses, farm buildings, Cheyenne tepees ― even a 1921 fire station, complete with a fire truck.
Time your visit to coincide with the High Plains History Fest May 7-9, and you’ll catch costumed historians demonstrating blacksmithing, quilting, and pioneer cooking. Try a sample of crispy-topped chuckwagon cornbread or gingersnaps baked in a woodstove.
10-4 Tue-Sat; $5, $3 ages 6-11 (free one Saturday each month). 1475 A St.; www.greeleymuseums.com or (970) 350-9220.
Rock Ledge Ranch
Backed by soaring red rock formations in the Garden of the Gods Park, this historic ranch is a 270-acre preserve of American Indian and pioneer life in the Pikes Peak region. The complex will open June 4, and its living history programs and lively walking tours with docents and staff in period costume make a summer visit worth planning.
Rock Ledge Ranch has the region’s only American Indian Living History Interpretive Area, where American Indians re-create the daily lives of Ute ancestors. Dressed in traditional clothing, they share stories of tribal origins and demonstrate food preparation, intricate beadwork, and shelter-making techniques; you might even get to try shinney, a Ute game similar to stickball.
There’s also the elegant Orchard House, an estate built in 1907 with Arts and Crafts-style furnishings and ahead-of-its-time amenities such as steam heat and electricity. On this working ranch, June is sheep-shearing season, and the work is still done by hand; on June 7, you can help volunteers with felting, spinning, and weaving. Stop in at the Heritage Shop to purchase old-fashioned toys and other goods (719/578-6891).
Ranch open Jun 4-Labor Day, 10-5 Wed-Sun; $5. N. 30th St. at Gateway Rd. in Garden of the Gods Park; www.springsgov.com or (719) 578-6777.
Plains Conservation Center
“This really is an amazing wild place so close to the city,” says Jim Havens, a naturalist at the Plains Conservation Center. Located at the east edge of Aurora, the 1,100-acre complex is both an educational center and a natural preserve for native wildlife and grasslands. “Just imagine,” Havens continues, “in the 1800s, these plains stretched [undeveloped] all the way to the mountains, which are 20 miles to the west.”
The heart of the center is a village with two replicas of an 1880s sod house, complete with cow chip-burning stoves and rope beds. Kids can sit in the one-room school and compare modern schoolwork with pioneer lessons such as orthography (spelling) and arithmetic―all chalked onto slates. In a shop nearby, a blacksmith hammers out horseshoes, branding irons, nails, and other necessities.
In May, wildlife watchers can visit to scan the breeze-swept, grassy terrain for American pronghorns, coyotes, and migratory birds from orioles to swallows. You might even see a great horned owl.
Memorial Day-Labor Day, Sat 8-4:30, or by reservation Mon-Fri year-round; $5. 21901 E. Hampden Ave.; www.plainsconservationcenter.org or (303) 693-3621.