The historical story of the Lincoln Hills resort is truly remarkable. It combines the very best American ideals of vision, equity, justice and community. What began as the hallmark of American entrepreneurship, the ability to see and to seize economic opportunity, quickly became something much larger – a pristine, joy-filled cultural oasis, a stone’s throw from an environment often times consumed by unease, unrest and palpable injustice.
The history of Lincoln Hills began in 1922 when the Lincoln Hills Development Company (LHDC) was formed by Denverites E.C. Regnier and Robert Ewalt, local entrepreneurs who sought to build a resort in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado for middle class African-Americans. At the time of its founding, Lincoln Hills was the only vacation resort west of the Mississippi River catering to African-Americans. Only two other resorts in the United States, Idlewild in MI and Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, MA, also catered to African-Americans at that time.
The Lincoln Hills resort area saw several distinctive periods of growth and use. The first began in 1925 when Obrey Wendall “Winks” Hamlet and his wife Naomi Hamlet began their construction of Winks Lodge, also known as Winks Panorama, which would become the first full service resort in the growing area. Completed in 1928, Winks Lodge consisted of three-stories and (6) bedrooms. Over time additional facilities were added to include, Winks Tavern, a honeymoon cabin, the orange cabin, tin house and a three-plex cabin.
As it was one of only a small handful of resort hotels that catered to African-Americans, Winks Lodge drew many of America’s most noted African-American creative luminaries including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Billy Eckstine who would visit Winks Lodge before/after their performances in the Five Points jazz venues within Denver. Extending beyond music, Winks and Naomi Hamlet would host readings, similar to the literary salons of the Harlem Renaissance, which featured such national treasures as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Thurston and Countee Cullen.
Obrey “Winks” Hamlet’s second wife, Melba was a noted cook and guests traveled far and wide to sample the “best barbeque offered outside of Kansas City”. When one couples this level of cultural interaction with the stunning natural beauty, fresh air and a level of societal freedom rarely found, at this time, it is no surprise that Winks Lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Lincoln Hills saw another exciting period of its development beginning in 1927 with the establishment of a YMCA girl’s camp, “Camp Nizhoni”, whose name was derived from the Navajo word for “beautiful”. Camp Nizhoni was established by the Phillis Wheatley branch of the YMCA. Due to segregation, African-American women and girls were prohibited from attending the YMCA girl’s camp at Lookout Mountain in Colorado. Thanks to the generosity and vision of the Lincoln Hills Development Corporation, the YMCA was able to permanently establish Camp Nizhoni at Lincoln Hills. As many as (50) girls attended the camp each summer hiking, swimming and learning about biology, astronomy and outdoor skills. Camp Nizhoni provided a vital, nurturing and ultimately, uplifting experience to hundreds of African-American women and girls over the, approximately, 20 years that it was in existence. The integration of the YMCA’s Camp Lookout in 1945 closed the formal chapter on the history of Camp Nizhoni but its impact remains to this day.
The Lincoln Hills resort and Winks Lodge community continued to enjoy a strong existence and role in the lives of many African-American families throughout the Great Depression, post-World War II and up until the mid-1960s, when the death of Obrey “Winks” Hamlet and the successful passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 served as harbingers that the time for change had arrived yet again. As time has moved forward, and African-Americans have gained unfettered access to the most stunning resorts in the United States and beyond, it is fair to say that none, regardless of how many “stars” they possess, offers the “soul” that Lincoln Hills provided to so many for so long. Lincoln Hills, an oasis in the Rocky Mountains, high above the moral desert was the place where vision, pride and community came together and molded the hearts and minds of generations.
Mining has also been a prominent and important part of Lincoln Hills. Beginning in 1888 a company known as Deadwood Diggings conducted placer mining on the property, commencing work in 1895. Mining then remained idle for several years until 1901 when hydraulic mining by use of Manchester Lakes took place until 1922. Then from 1938-1947 Lincoln Hills was dredged and primarily mined for gold.
Where the Lincoln Hills club house stands today used to mark the presence of the ice house and the adjacent lake for ice skating. The ice house stood from 1942 to 1947 and employed twelve people until the invention of the refrigerator. The house made and stored ice by burying the ice in straw in order to keep it frozen throughout the summer months. The ice was then transported to Denver at an establishment known as The Ice House which still operates today. It has been some time now since skaters cut the ice at Lincoln Hills but now thanks to Lincoln Hills Cares, ice skating will continue to be a sought after winter activity at Lincoln Hills.
Today we strive to carry on the rich culture and history associated with Lincoln Hills. Through our Educational Fridays, Lincoln Hills Legends and Concert Series and associated youth and teen programs we are able to continually reconnect with the community originally associated with Lincoln Hills and Five Points. The culture, music and passion of Lincoln Hills are still as much alive today as it was in the early 1920s.
Lincoln Hills cares is truly blessed to carry on the torch of Lincoln Hills and we plan to continue to protect and preserve this amazing property and all that it encompasses. The history, culture and people of Lincoln Hills are as dynamic and interesting as the water that runs through the property and we hope that the legacy that is Lincoln Hills will continue to transcend from generation to generation.