Jefferson County Neighborhoods:
The Village atmosphere of downtown "Main Street" is now in the process of being "updated." After 40 years of abandoning the Heart of Evergreen, an eclectic mix of restaurants, retail shops, galleries and offices are moving back to the historic "town" in unincorporated Jefferson County.
The historic Evergreen Hotel has been rebuilt. A sophistocated restaurant/gallery at the traffic light, Soho and Evergreen Gallery, have introduced a new attitude. In 2002, the Evergreen Chamber of Commerce will move to Main Street, which provides central identity for 25,000 locals and attracts plenty of visitors.
Before the 1859 gold rush, Evergreen was part of a vast wilderness that belonged by treaty to the Ute and Arapahoe. The first White settlers were French fur traders and lumberjacks.
The prospect of harvesting gold, silver, copper, elk and timber brought settlers through Bear Creek Valley in the 1860s. The first residents "did not agonize over ethical conflicts about the use of land and its resources," wrote the Sternbergs in their wonderful book, Evergreen, Our Mountain Community. "Wild game was for meat. Timber was for cutting—to burn, to prop up mine shafts, to build houses and barns" minerals beneath the ground were for digging out and selling. Meadows were for pasturing cattle or for plowing up to raise crops" if resources ran out, it was time to move on."
The earliest Evergreen structure was a bunkhouse for lumberjacks built by a Frenchman named Mallett in 1860. Sawmills cut millions of board feet every few miles along Bear Creek. The expanded bunkhouse, now named St. Mark’s, is the oldest area building of continuous use.
The vicinity of “Evergreen” was named in 1875 by Dwight Wilmot who settled there after teaching Lookout Mountain / Genesee children at the first Rockland School in 1873. “The Post” was Evergreen’s first recorded general store and post office, established in 1877 by Thomas (Bergen Park) Bergen’s son-in-law, Amos Post. Zuni Sign Company and Evergreen Inn now stand at that location.
It took three days to fetch supplies: one to reach Golden, Morrison or Denver, another to purchase or trade goods, and a third day to return. According to historian Mary Helen Crain, author of Evergreen, Colorado, early settlers gathered on Saturday at the general store. "As many as a dozen teams might be drawn up to the store—even a horse or two patiently waiting for its rider to fill his saddle bag. Saturday was a swap as well as shop day. A dozen eggs could be exchanged for a pound of coffee, a couple of pounds of fresh churned butter for five pounds of sugar. Even a load of lumber could be traded."
While settlers struggled to make ends meet, some of Colorado’s wealthy and powerful visited to camp, hike, fish, picnic and paddle canoes. Colorado’s second Territorial Governor, John Evans, and Governor Sam Elbert established summer colonies along Upper Bear Creek in Clear Creek County as early as 1868. "Main Street" Evergreen was the closest "town."
Evergreen’s Historic District
The first settlement has been preserved as the "Evergreen Historic District" listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The first "Main Street" surrounds today’s Episcopal Church of Transfiguration, north and south of Hwy 74, at today’s Meadow Drive. The road followed Bear Creek around Sheep’s Head Hill, past today Highland Haven Inn. (The hairpin curve caused so many accidents that State Highway 74 was cut through the Hill at Meadow Drive in 1958.)
In 1873, Robert Stewart purchased and expanded the original 1860 bunkhouse by attaching cabins moved from other locations. He catered to summer tourists as early as 1874. Stewart’s Hotel competed with homesteader Jasper Babcock who rented rustic summer cabins as early as 1884 and operated the Babcock Hotel and Tavern on the west side of Bear Creek. In 1880, Evergreen was listed as a small settlement of 100 full-time residents. A reliable Bear Creek stage coach service from Morrison to Evergreen was established for summer tourists in 1890.
The village was nearly destroyed on July 24, 1896 by a flood that took out seven of nine bridges crossing Bear Creek from Evergreen to Morrison where tributaries gather to enter the plains. In 1897, the historic district began to support the Episcopal Summer Conference.
After camping along Bear Creek in the 1890s, wealthy Civil War widow, Mary Neosho Williams, and her physician daughter, Josepha “Dr. Jo,” acquired land with a log structure. They hired master carpenter Jock Spence to expand the structure for summer visits of extended family. After Dr. Jo married an Episcopal priest, Canon Charles Winfred Douglas in 1896, the homestead was expanded with more buildings and house tents for “Camp Neosho”(now preserved by JeffCo Open Space as The Hiwan Homestead).
Canon Douglas achieved worldwide acclaim for his religious musical transcriptions and compositions. Beginning in 1898, Episcopalians came to Evergreen from across the country to enjoy a summer retreat and liturgical music seminars. The Evergreen Church Music Conference thrived every summer until 1996 when it was moved to Winter Park.
In 1897, the Babcock Hotel & Tavern became St. Raphael’s Retreat. Stewart’s Hotel became St. Mark’s Mission Church of the Transfiguration in 1899. The hotel sheltered Conference participants and the dining room became a chapel on Sundays.
The 23 historic buildings on seven-acres became “Evergreen Conference Historic District” when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The buildings on the "lower campus" (south and west of Bear Creek) surrounding the Episcopal Church of Transfiguration (built in 1964) continue to be utilized by the diocese.
St. Mark’s has been a bunkhouse, hotel, dormitory, church and vicarage, the Evergreen Players’ “Little Log Theater,” and offices for the Colorado Philharmonic Orchestra, University of the Wilderness and today’s Church. The Historic Preservation Board of the Church of Transfiguration applied for and received grants totaling $350,000 since 1993 to restore and preserve St. Mark’s. The Bell Tower was built by Jock Spence in 1911 and was restored by Army Corps of Engineer volunteers in 1979.
Dr. Frederick Bancroft purchased 2400 acres of land from Evergreen to Kittredge for a summer home and ranch in 1871. The summer home, guest house and outbuildings were donated to the Conference in 1923. The buildings housed the Episcopal Bishop, instructors and attendees. The Bancroft House now shelters the Evergreen Christian Outreach for area church volunteers to provide short-term assistance for people in difficult circumstances.
Miss Julia Brewster Douglas, sister of Canon Douglas, retired in Evergreen after a lengthy Newark teaching career. She rented a Main Street store front to establish Evergreen’s first "public" library in 1917. Jock Spence constructed a stone building for her library above St. Mark’s in 1921. By 1923, Miss Julia had gathered 4,000 books. By 1935, there were 12,000 volumes in her library.
After Miss Julia died at the age of 81 in 1936, the Sisters of St. Mary (who lived at St. Raphael’s house), continued to operate the library until 1943 when Olive King cared for it at her home. JeffCo built Evergreen’s first government-funded public library at the junction of Buffalo Park Road and Highway 73 in 1952. It was replaced by a much larger facility in 1992. The 1952 building is now utilized by JeffCo, including Sheriff Deputies.
The Historic District Upper Campus continues to serve the community. The Hart House, built north and above Bear Creek in 1920, became the Evergreen Conference Center when the Attachment Center purchased it in 1993. The Conference Center is utilized today for community events, retreats, seminars, family reunions, wedding receptions and organizational meetings. Rooms at the historic Williams Lodge dormitory, have been elegantly renovated for overnight guests.
In 1989, the Evergreen Chorale purchased the historic Meeting House, designed for conference worship, pageants and classes. It is today’s "Center Stage" for performances of the Evergreen Chorale, Evergreen Players, Children’s Chorale and visiting performing groups.
Evergreen Lake becomes Denver’s “Crown Jewel”
It was inevitable for an area as enchanting as Bear Creek Canyon to become irresistible once discovered. In 1901, the Denver Republican reported Fourth of July fireworks for five to six miles along Lower and Upper Bear Creek.
The summer colonies of Denver’s elite helped convince city voters to approve a tax to create a Mountain Park System in 1912. Denver businessmen explored JeffCo’s foothills in 1910 and 1911 and turned their recommendations over to the son of Frederick Law Olmsted (see: Historical Perspective) in 1912. The Evergreen area was featured often by Denver newspapers and the Municipal Facts magazine. A Rocky Mountain News headline reported "Bear Creek Fast Becoming One of Denver’s Great Show Places." Resorts were "springing up" and "handsome homes" were being built.
Roads built by Denver to the park system in Jefferson County from 1914-1920 attracted so many visitors that the original beauty of the area seemed threatened. The non-profit Mountain Parks Protective Association was formed in 1925 to manage Evergreen’s fluctuating population, from 500 year-round to 5,000 during the summer. The MPPA was funded by homeowner and business "members" (until the JeffCo Sheriff established a satellite headquarters in Evergreen in 1974).
Harry Sidles, a wealthy auto dealer from Nebraska, built a summer home along Bear Creek for his family in 1914. He purchased a 500-cabin plat in 1916 and built the glamorous Troutdale-in-the-Pines resort in 1920. Sidles built a golf course on 17 acres and clubhouse (designed by J.J. Benedict, serving today as Keys on the Green restaurant) in 1924. Sidles encouraged Denver to purchase the Dedisse Ranch for its Mountain Park system for Evergreen Lake and Dedisse Park.
Olmsted’s 1914 mountain parks master plan did not include the Evergreen Dam and Lake. It was proposed by Denver’s manager of improvements, Charles Vail, who worked with the municipal water staff to plan a dam and lake for recreation—fishing, boating, ice skating and golf. The intent was to make Bear Creek Canyon "one of the outstanding tourist resorts in the Front Range" within a mile of the Troutdale Hotel."
Evergreen Lake covers some of the land homesteaded by Julius and Mary Ann Dedisse who migrated from Nancy, France in the early 1860s. The lush meadow of wild flowers and native grasses produced 150 tons of hay each season. Evergreeners competed with teams from Golden, Idaho Springs and the Troutdale staff on a baseball field in the meadow.
Denver acquired most of the 420-acre Jerome (son of Julius) Dedisse Ranch by condemnation in 1919. After the dam was constructed to form the lake in 1928, Sidles deeded the golf course to Denver with the contingency that it always remain a golf course. The Dedisse family retained a two-acre site that became Lakepoint Center.
The original sod-roofed log Lakehouse was constructed in 1932-33 by the Civil Conservation Corps. The first Evergreen Ice Carnival was organized in 1939.
Electricity from the dam (and later water treatment for residential taps) was managed by Colorado Central Power until 1962 when Public Service Company acquired the facilities. A long and complex series of negotiations ended with acquisition of water treatment facilities by Evergreen Metropolitan District. The dam was strengthened in 1980. From 1986 to 1990, 640,000 cubic feet of sediment was dredged from the lake to provide 880-acre feet of water storage.
Denver leased the property to Evergreen Metro District who leased it to Evergreen Parks and Recreation in 1982. Jefferson County Open Space funded nearly half of the $1 million planning and construction costs for the new Lakehouse in 1992 for EPRD to own and manage on land leased from Denver. EPRD has developed a wonderful trail around the lake. Today’s state/county plan for Hwy 73/74 improvements (at the light) includes extending the trail under the intersection bridge for pedestrians to enter "Main Street."
Evergreen Lake is the “Crown Jewel” of Denver’s Mountain Park system and the most appreciated land use by locals. As drivers descend Evergreen Parkway toward Main Street, the lake sublimely introduces the "Heart of Evergreen."
Eddie Ott’s by the Lake
Today’s Lakepoint Shopping Center replaced a glamorous restaurant built by Eddie Ott in 1938. The popular night spot with a view of Evergreen Lake attracted locals and visitors to dance to big bands, including Tommy Dorsey and Lawrence Welk. There was a weekly Cowboy Night, monthly Western hoe-downs, annual parades and other events that flourished until Eddie enlisted to serve the military in World War II.
According to historian Betty Moynihan, Eddie Ott’s fit Arthur Chapman’s description of the Real West: "Where there is more of singing and less of sighing. Where there is more of giving and less of buying, And a man makes friends without half trying." When Eddie returned after the war, he became the manager of Mount Vernon Country Club.
Some of the restaurants that filled Eddie Ott’s space after 1944 were: Big Bear, James Gang, Waterworks, Lakeshore Inn, Evergreen-by-the-Lake and Million Dollar Cactus Rose. The medical Lakepoint Center was built at this site in 1977. It was upgraded and expanded in 1986 for retail stores and offices. Many psychotherapists continue to office on the upper levels.