Lincoln Hills Then and Now – Part 1 of 3
By Maggie Magoffin
“Zephyr Point” cabin sits high above Denver in Lincoln Hills. The cabin is owned by the family of Judge Gary Jackson and was built in 1926 by his great grandfather, William Pitts. Judge Jackson kindly shared with me the memoires of his mother, Nan Scott-Jackson. At 93 years young, Nan is a modern woman who compiled a beautifully detailed account of her life in “A Chronicle of Precious Memories.” Through Nan’s memoires we are privileged to catch a glimpse into the times and lives of the people who made Lincoln Hills the extraordinary vacation resort it became.
Nan writes, “My father, Paris Monroe Scott, was born in Eolia, Pike County, Missouri on February 26, 1894. My mother, Elizabeth Geraldine Pitts was born in McBaine, Boone County, on April 4, 1894. They met while attending Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri. Lincoln institute was an elementary, high school and college. After the Civil War, many black families stressed the importance of getting an education. Prior to the Civil War in southern states it was against the law for black people to know how to read. They had to secretly teach themselves to read.”
June 12, 1917, Elizabeth graduated from Lincoln Institute with a major in English. Her parents had moved to Denver, Colorado and a friend who also lived in the city encouraged her to come for a visit. Unaware Denver Public Schools had a segregated hiring policy and did not hire Negroes, she moved to Denver. She then accepted a teaching position in Oklahoma where she taught on a Cherokee Indian reservation. Three years later, she moved to Columbia, Missouri to teach black children in segregated public schools.
Meanwhile, Paris was drafted into the Army, being honorably discharged following the end of WWI. Soon thereafter, he began dating Elizabeth and they were married on June 7, 1921. As Chicago offered excellent employment opportunities for Negroes, the couple made their home there in a greystone apartment building on Chicago’s Southside. At that time, Chicago was a “thriving mecca of economic and political power, the promised land of socioeconomic opportunity and prosperity for the emancipated African-American.” Paris found work with a candy factory. However, Elizabeth was an unemployed schoolteacher.
Nan writes, “On a warm, beautiful fall day in Chicago, Illinois on October 27, 1924, I was born Nancelia Elizabeth Scott with pretty dark brown hair and brown eyes. I was the second child, first girl of Paris Monroe Scott and Elizabeth Geraldine Pitts-Scott at St. Luke’s Hospital.”
When Nan was born, her grandmother, Lucy Pitts, went to Chicago to lend a hand with Nan and her older brother, Johnny. She stayed with them for over a year. On May 25, 1926, Grandpa Pitts sent a letter to Grandma and asked her to return to Denver. In this same letter he wrote that if his daughters and their families would move to Denver he would build them each their own home. At that time, he was building a home he planned to sell at 563 Harrison Street. After he sold that property, he would have the money to build on other properties he had purchased. In 1926, that property sold for $1,500. Recently, that same property sold for $252,000.
In 1926, the Five Points District in the area of Twenty-Sixth Street, Washington Street and Welton Street was Denver’s black community. Black businesses included flower shops, a hotel, restaurants, a café and coffee shops, movie theaters, shoe shine parlors, grocery stores, clothing and shoe stores, a YMCA operated by blacks, funeral and taxi services. Denver’s black churches were also located in this area. Many black families socialized on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and attended church services on Sundays. Due to segregation, they were unable to do so anywhere outside of the Five Points District. However, there was one other area in metro Denver open to blacks to build homes.
Nan writes, “Grandpa Pitts moved on Garfield Street almost six miles southeast of the ‘Five Points District’ and bought six lots to build houses in March 1922. One year later he finished building his two-bedroom family home at 360 Garfield Street in Denver’s Cherry Creek. The City and County of Denver had set aside ‘Cherry Creek’ as a section of the city for families who were interested in owning property on the outskirts of town. Besides the ‘Five Points District’ this was another section of the city that blacks were able to buy property. Most of the Cherry Creek area was vacant prairie land with scattered homes. A few black families lived in this area in the late eighteen hundreds on the outer limits of the city and near the city’s waste disposal site. In the early nineteen hundreds, the city population growth was moving in another direction.”
“Grandpa started work before dawn and worked until sundown. He wore farmer overalls, wool shirts, a big hat, and high-top shoes. He smoked a pipe, he worked for a while, stop take a drink of gin from the pint bottle in his back pocket, take a red polka dot handkerchief out of his vest pocket and wipe his brow. He and his crew worked until noon. They would take a lunch break then work to dusk. We moved into our new house at 354 Garfield Street in June 1928, one year before 1929’s Wall Street crash and before the 1930’s Depression. Grandpa Pitts was a self-supporting man. He made enough money to provide for his family and sent my mother to college. He owned property in two states, Missouri and Colorado. My mother said that Grandpa Pitts made twenty thousand dollars a year from building barns and houses. At that time, the average income was fifteen hundred dollars.”
In addition to building in the metro Denver area, Grandpa Pitts also built homes and out-buildings in the mountains for wealthy white people. Early in the 1920’s, two black Denver entrepreneurs had turned a mining claim that straddled Boulder Creek in Gilpin County into a vacation community they named Lincoln Hills. Plots were sold at affordable prices to working class blacks, and Grandpa Pitts purchased four of those plots.
Nan writes, “July 10, 1926, Grandpa Pitts built for himself a mountain cottage in Lincoln Hills surrounded by pine trees and the Colorado State Columbine flowers. It overlooked a beautiful stream where the rapid running water glistened and was licked by sunrays that created an air of serenity and peace. You could go fly-fishing in the stream and catch rainbow trout with the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop. From that location there was an incredible view of the California Zephyr passenger and freight trains that passed every day in front of the cabin.”
“Grandpa Pitts built three mountain cottages in this sub-division. He bought properties before Winks bought their property for Winks Lodge and before Phyllis Wheatley YWCA association established in the area a mountain campsite for black girls. Grandpa Pitts knew Denver and Missouri residents who would buy summer mountain properties. They could visit the beautiful mountain resort either by automobile or by train. The train would drop off its passengers at Lincoln Hill’s railroad crossing. We called the train ‘Dinky’ because it only had a steam engine, a coal car and a passenger car. It would take people up to the Moffat Tunnel west of Rollinsville and then turn around.”
“During the summer months, Mom would send Billie and me to the YWCA camp in Lincoln Hills for two weeks. Johnny would go to Camp Chief Hooray and work as a camp teen counselor. He enjoyed being in the mountains and working with kids. He loved the fresh air and smell of the pine trees early in the morning.”
“A ride through the mountains to get to the cabin was always very frightening to Grandma. She cried when we got above eight thousand feet. The mountain roads were narrow and dusty.”
On February 1, 1928, Nan’s grandfather, William, wrote the following letter to Lincoln Hills, Inc.:
Most of my life I have been a carpenter and builder and since I came to Colorado I have been employed as such in many of the mountain resorts built and populated by white people.
An opportunity was offered me to purchase lots in Lincoln Hills, but before doing so I made a thorough examination of the property, looking into the character of the men behind the proposition and assuring myself that the title to the property was clear and that they gave a Warranty Deed.
The price asked for the lots seemed so ridiculously low that I feared the site must be inferior to others, but to my great surprise I found it to be the most beautiful mountain sub-division that I have ever visited. I bought two lots and built my cottage and since that time I have purchased two more lots upon which I will build a cottage to rent. It has been my recommendation that many of my relatives and friends have purchased lots.
We have found by actual experience that your company are our friends and are constantly striving and working for our benefit.
Please inform those who wish to build that I am in a position to furnish estimates and take contracts for building these summer homes for our people.
Nan writes, “In 1931, Grandpa Pitts, still depressed from the loss of his wife, Lucy, decided to sell his home and other properties and moved back to Columbia, Missouri. My parents paid off the back taxes on the Lincoln Hills mountain cottage to assume the ownership of Grandpa’s mountain property.”
Later Nan writes, “Grandpa Pitts was eighty years young and he was still very active traveling between Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri. Grandpa Pitts came from Columbia on April 2, 1944 for a spring visit and stayed all summer. Mom had him stay longer because she planned for him to build an addition to our house. Dad and Uncle Jim worked on his crew to complete the work. They built an enclosed back porch with wrap-around windows that provided lots of natural light. Grandpa was at the age in his life where he supervised the work being done. During that summer, Mom had him build an addition to the cabin. It was also an enclosed porch with lots of windows. The additions offered more space at both places. A wood-burning stove provided heat for the cabin. We stayed overnight. We kids wouldn’t get out of bed until Dad had started a fire in the stove and the cabin was warm. The girls slept in a bed and the boys slept in a bed together on the floor. Mom made our sleeping accommodation comfortable. Mom also cooked the tastiest breakfast on the stove. For dinner, if we were lucky, we had rainbow trout caught in the mountain stream in front of the cabin.”
“Still sitting in the cabin is a stuffed cat animal over seventy-five years old, and inside the cabin on a tall shelf is a cowbell. Mom used to ring the cowbell to call the kids out of the mountains for dinner. The kerosene lamps are still there, but the cabin has been modernized. There is electricity, a telephone, and entertainment center with music and direct satellite television, running hot and cold water, bathroom and shower. The potbellied stove sits in the corner with the iron and pots from the olden days.”
“During the summer months, we went to the cabin every weekend. When spending a weekend at the cabin for recreation we either walked over the mountain or walked the railroad tracks to the nearby town of Pinecliffe. We walked the railroad tracks on the way back to the cabin. The boys would jump on a slow-moving freight train and jumped off at the railroad crossing by the cabin. They would have gotten in trouble if Dad knew they hopped a freight train to get back to the cabin. We kept it a secret from our parents.”
“We have come a long way since the cabin was built in 1926. Since we could see the California Zephyr train passing in front of the cabin every day, Johnny named the cabin “Zephyr View” and it will always be our favorite resort. All the family and their friends enjoy the celebrations at the cabin. As children and now as adults with our children and grandchildren, we still have happy times at the cabin. The road to the cabin is named after Grandpa Pitts, Pitts Place.”