Search all you want, but in the entire History Colorado Center you will find only one timeline. Micro-tiles high on a wall in the center’s vast atrium project the lonely line, animated with photos and captions about various events in Colorado history. It is the museum’s token nod to the way history was taught once upon a time, in the past.
People and their stories
“History is about people and their stories, and what those stories mean to us today,” insists JJ Rutherford, Director of Education at the History Colorado Center. Storytelling is the medium that the museum uses to connect visitors with Colorado’s past.
Although the History Colorado Center does have tales to tell, lots of them, it has a way of telling the story that brings a families into the experience, along side the folks who experienced history the first time around.
From the windswept eastern prairies, where the town of Keota once stood, to the mineral rich high peaks of the San Juan Mountains, to the breezy heights of a Steamboat Springs ski jump, the History Colorado Center offers kids the chance to experience Colorado’s stories in a very physical way.
Ghost town comes alive
Keota may be a ghost town now, but it lives on in the History Colorado Center. Former residents of the area have contributed their pictures, their memorabilia, their time and their stories to recreate Keota of the 1920s within the walls of the museum. Here visitors can meet virtual guides who show them about the place, and tell tales of life on the plains. A general store provides a place where kids can buy and sell period items and use an authentic cash register of the day.
In a typical farmhouse, families can piece together patches for a quilt and listen to women discussing the illnesses that threaten their children and take the lives of neighborhood babies.
The barn has eggs to find, a cow to milk, and a smell center with cans to sniff. Expect a wrinkled nose or two.
One feature that was surely not in the barns of Keota’s past is a spiral slide from the hayloft to the barn floor. It is an excellent place for the preschool crowd to break loose and just play, while their parents can read and learn more from the nearby displays.
The History Colorado Center targets families with young kids and third and fourth grade school groups. With this audience in mind, the designers of the Keota exhibit made sure to include an outhouse complete with multiple holes and a few rather indiscreet noises. Who said the study of history isn’t fun?
Just a phase
The launching of the museum marks the beginning of a four-year-long opening process. The first phase includes the basics of a café and gift shop, in addition to a six-minute film that plays at the top of each hour called Colorado! The People, The Place, The Promise.
“The Great Map of Colorado” covers the spacious atrium floor with a terrazzo masterpiece. Gliding time machines sweep around the map on the floor and draw kids in with even more wonderful Colorado tales. Because the machines are too heavy for just one kid to move easily, learning about history becomes a social experience, as children join together to decide what they want to learn about.
Phase one also includes “Colorado Stories” a series of exhibits the help families understand the variety of people and the breadth of events in Colorado’s past. Visitors can learn about life in “Mountain Haven”, a resort for African Americans in the hills above Boulder. “Top of the World” an experience of mining near Silverton, and “Jumping for Joy” a place where kids can feel a bit of what it is like to slide down a world-class ski jump. Eight stories in all fill this hall on the second floor, giving visitors a hands-on feel for these important pieces of Colorado history.
This first phase is only 30% of what the History Colorado Center will hold when it is complete. Yet what is here now is more than enough keep families learning and having fun for an entire day.
It is also more than enough to whet our appetites for more stories about the places, people, and events that made Colorado the great state that it is today.
When you go:
Phone Number: 303-HISTORY (303-447-8697)
Website Link: History Colorado Center
Address: 1200 Broadway, Denver
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: Members free, Adults $10, Seniors (65+) $8, Students with ID $8, Children (6-12) $6, Children (5 and under) free