GILPIN COUNTY, Colo. — This year marks 100 years since Lincoln Hills, a Black-owned mountain resort in Gilpin County, opened its doors.
“Lincoln Hills is an area of Colorado, which is about 45 miles west of Denver. It is a historic place because it was the only Black-owned resort area west of the Mississippi from 1922 to 1965,” said retired Judge Gary Jackson, who has vacationed at Lincoln Hills for the past 76 years.
“I have the privilege of owning a cabin," he continued. "It's a family cabin that my great-grandfather built, starting in 1926. It took him until about 1929 to complete it. But it's a family cabin that has been in our family since 1926 and we are still using it today."
During a time when “Whites Only” signs hung in storefront windows and at the entrances to parks, Lincoln Hills welcomed Black vacationers.
“At that point in time in our history, Estes Park was not available to Blacks because of Jim Crow laws. Glenwood Springs was not available to Black Americans because of Jim Crow policies. Even hotels such as the Brown Palace were not open to Black travelers,” Jackson said. “So for Black travelers that were like civil rights leader Whitney Young on their way to Aspen, you could stop off in Lincoln Hills. A person like Lena Horne, who may have been on her way to Los Angeles or San Francisco to entertain — she would stop off in Lincoln Hills.”
But Jackson said Lincoln Hills served a higher, more important purpose.
“More importantly than just being a recreational area, it was an area where Black people could buy property and own property,” Jackson said.
These days, Jackson and others are working to preserve Lincoln Hill’s legacy and the memories of those who spent time there.
“Gilpin County declared our cabin a historic building. So, it's now 96 years of age and we are restoring the foundation and doing some beautifying of the cabin,” Jackson said. “Probably 40 or 50 acres of Lincoln Hills is now owned by Robert Smith, the Black billionaire. So he too has a mountain home in Lincoln Hills. He's done a lot of restoration in terms of the mountain side, the waterways.”
Jackson said Lincoln Hills serves another special purpose.
“There is a nonprofit called Lincoln Hills Cares," he explained. "That is an entity that is directing its attention to young people, bringing young people up to the Colorado mountains, as well as those with disabilities, disabled military people that may have suffered some type of injury in the military service. Through Lincoln Hills Cares, they are brought up to Lincoln Hills to enjoy the fly fishing, horseback riding, walking the mountain trails, snowshoeing. So those are the types of activities that are made available.”
Jackson said reflecting on the times he spent at Lincoln Hills and watching another generation discover the mountain escape brings him joy.