The Lincoln Home in Pueblo was started by the city’s Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and became the only known black orphanage in Colorado. Established in 1906, the home moved in 1914 to two connected brick houses on North Grand Avenue, where it remained until the city’s segregated orphanage system ended in 1963. In 1997 the Lincoln Home building on North Grand Avenue was listed on the State Register of Historic Properties, and in the early 2000s the building housed the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center.
The Colored Orphanage
Pueblo’s black community traces its roots to the diverse residents of El Pueblo, the early trading post that was built near the present city in the 1840s. After the Colorado Gold Rush and the Civil War, new black residents arrived from border states such as Kentucky and Missouri. Between 1870 and 1880 Pueblo County’s black population grew from 27 to 141. The area’s black population continued to grow over the next two decades. By the early 1900s, Pueblo’s black community was developing its own institutions, including the city’s first black newspaper.
At the time black and white women’s social clubs across the country played a crucial role in promoting social and civic improvement in their local communities. Using money raised through bake sales, dances, and card parties, they tried to eliminate gambling and drinking and started a wide variety of social welfare institutions such as orphanages. In Pueblo, white women’s groups started two orphanages in the early 1900s, but those homes did not accept black children. As it became clear that neither the existing orphanages nor any city agencies would care for orphaned black children, the Pueblo Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs decided to open its own home for seniors and orphaned children.
The Pueblo Colored Orphanage and Old Folks Home—later known as the Lincoln Home—started in late 1906 at 306 East First Street. Its trustees came from among the most prominent members of the city’s black community. Initially the home was operated by the Pueblo Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, but within a year the federation incorporated the orphanage as a separate organization. By September 1907 the home was caring for eleven children and two seniors.
The Lincoln Home stayed on East First Street for more than seven years, but by 1914 its growing enrollment made a larger building necessary. That June the orphanage paid $3,300 for two adjacent brick houses at 2713 and 2715 North Grand Avenue. At the time, the property was still well north of the city limits. The house at 2713 was probably built in 1889–90. The one-and-a-half-story building was a rectangular Queen Anne with red brick walls on a rhyolite stone foundation. The similar house next door was built sometime before 1904.
When the Lincoln Home bought the houses in 1914, it connected the adjacent buildings to make one large facility that shared a kitchen, dining room, and parlor on the main floor. Boys and men lived on the upper floor of 2713; girls and women on the upper floor of 2715. At the time of the move, the Lincoln Home had nineteen children between ages six and sixteen plus five adults, which was about as many people as the new building could hold. In 1920 it had fifteen children—who came from Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and New Mexico—and six adults. The institution remained at roughly maximum capacity through at least the first half of the 1920s.
Because it was the only black orphanage in Colorado, the Lincoln Home received financial support from more than a dozen federations of black women’s clubs across the state. The Pueblo Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, for example, sold small American flags on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday to raise money for the home. In 1923 the home became part of the newly organized Pueblo Community Chest, a joint fundraising effort for twelve social welfare agencies in the city. The Community Chest made fundraising easier, but the Lincoln Home received only about a quarter as much money from the chest as the city’s two other orphanages. One reason for this disparity was that the Lincoln Home was a smaller facility, but racial discrimination almost certainly played a role as well.
The Lincoln Home began to decline during the Great Depression. By the late 1940s it housed only seven children and one adult. When the Pueblo Community Chest campaign failed to raise enough money in 1950, the home cut services and staff and deferred building maintenance. The home’s board decided to start offering day care and foster care as a way to generate extra revenue, and for the next decade it functioned primarily as a foster home.
In the 1960s orphanages were transformed by the growing role of government agencies in child welfare and by the civil rights movement, which made a segregated system of orphanages obsolete. The Lincoln Home closed in 1963.
Heritage Center and Museum
Over the next thirty years the Lincoln Home building gradually deteriorated. By the 1980s, however, historical interest in the old black orphanage was starting to revive as Ruth Steele of the Pueblo Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission led an effort to raise money to restore the building. In February 1992, more than seventy surviving black Pueblo residents who had lived at the Lincoln Home held a reunion. In 1994 the E. M. Christmas Foundation donated the former Lincoln Home building to the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission. The building was listed on the State Register of Historic Properties in 1997 and restored as a cultural center and museum of black history in southern Colorado, which opened in 1999.
In June 2014 the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center lost its nonprofit status and was evicted from the building. A separate Martin Luther King Jr. organization soon formed with the goal of buying the building and opening a heritage center and museum. In July 2016 the new organization opened the Martin Luther King Jr. Heritage Center and Museum, but it was in a downtown building rather than in the former Lincoln Home building. The future of the Lincoln Home building was unclear.