Built in 1883, the Byers-Evans House at 1310 Bannock Street in Denver is a Victorian mansion notable for its association with two of the city’s most influential early families. William Byers, who built the house, had established the city’s first newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, and during his time in the house helped lead the Denver Tramway Company. In 1889 Byers sold the house to a fellow Tramway executive, William Gray Evans, who was the son of former territorial governor John Evans and the sister of Anne Evans, one of the city’s leading cultural patrons.
After William Evans died in 1924, his wife, sister, and daughters maintained the residence for more than fifty years as the surrounding neighborhood shifted from residential to commercial to cultural. In 1981 the Evans family donated the property to the Colorado Historical Society (now History Colorado), which continues to operate it as the Center for Colorado Women’s History at the Byers-Evans House Museum.
The Byers and Evans families were closely connected from Denver’s early years, and they both had ties to the land where the Byers-Evans House sits before the house itself was built. In 1866 John Evans first acquired an interest in eighty-one acres southeast of Broadway and Colfax Avenue. Two years later, after Evans platted and subdivided the land, Elizabeth Byers bought six lots at the corner of what is now West Thirteenth Avenue and Bannock Street.
The Byers land sat vacant for fifteen years before the family decided to build on it. In early 1883, Elizabeth and William Byers built a large brick house in a style variously described as Italianate or Victorian eclectic. Facing west toward the mountains, the house featured a front porch with a red tile floor and pressed-tin ceiling. Inside, the 3,600-square-foot residence was appointed with mahogany woodwork, water and sewer service (including a second-story bathroom, rare at the time), and gas lights. A two-story carriage house stood at the rear of the property. The Byers family moved in on June 3, 1883.
Five months after the Byers family moved into their new house, John Evans’s eldest son, William Gray Evans, married Cornelia Lunt Gray in the Evans Chapel across the street. By the end of the decade, the couple had two young children but were still living in the house of Samuel Elbert, William Evans’s brother-in-law. When William Byers, who had become Evans’s business partner at the Denver Tramway Company, decided to move to his South Denver estate in 1889, Evans jumped at the chance to buy the Byers house. The $30,000 purchase was completed on April 20. William and Cornelia Evans moved in with their children, John and Josephine, and welcomed a second daughter, Margaret, at the end of the year.
Soon after family patriarch John Evans died in 1897, his widow, Margaret, and their youngest daughter, Anne, moved in with William and Cornelia Evans. To give his mother and sister private spaces separate from his own growing family (a third daughter, Katharine, had been born in 1894), William significantly expanded his house in 1899–1900. The addition was essentially a whole new dwelling attached to the southeast corner of the original house. The two-story, 1,840-square-foot apartment had a kitchen, dining room, and library on the first floor and three bedrooms and a bath upstairs. The addition’s exterior blended seamlessly with that of the original house. Two years later, as the elder Margaret Evans’s mobility decreased, a bedroom and bath were added to the first floor so that she would not have to use stairs.
The Evans Women
Further additions to the Evans house followed in the first two decades of the 1900s, most notably a connection to the carriage house in 1911–12. The house experienced its greatest period of change, however, in the 1920s. William Gray Evans died in 1924, leaving the house in the hands of the Evans women who lived there: his widow, Cornelia, daughters Josephine and Katharine, and sister Anne.
At the same time, the area surrounding the house was in the midst of a transition from a wealthy residential neighborhood to a commercial district. Other private houses still dotted the nearby blocks, but they were giving way to businesses and to the Civic Center complex of parks, government buildings, and cultural institutions that was taking shape just north of the house. In 1925 the block where the house sits was zoned as commercial. By the end of the decade, the Evans women were neighbors to a Ford showroom.
Despite the changes around them, the Evans women were committed to maintaining their house as a home. Under Katharine’s leadership, they were also committed to preserving the house largely as it had appeared in the early 1900s, down to the furniture. That campaign proved largely successful, even as the house’s roster of Evans women shifted over time. Anne died in 1941, and Cornelia followed in 1955. After the death of her mother and her husband, Margaret Evans Davis moved back into the house to live with her two sisters.
The area around the Evans house changed again in the decades after World War II. Cultural institutions that Anne Evans had helped establish began to surround her former home as the Civic Center continued to develop. In the 1940s, the Denver Art Museum began to acquire land just north of the house for its first permanent home, which opened in 1949. A block east, the Denver Public Library opened a new central library in 1956. Then, in 1967, the entire block surrounding the Evans house was razed to make way for a new Denver Art Museum building. The intensive construction work threatened the structural integrity of the Evans house, so concrete pilings were driven into the ground around the house to protect it from damage. The new museum opened next door in 1971.
Meanwhile, even with the Evans sisters still in residence, the house was increasingly recognized for its historic value, in part because it seemed so clearly threatened by the large-scale development around it. In 1968 the house received Denver landmark designation, and in 1970 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1974 it became the only single-family house included in the Civic Center National Historic District.
As the Evans women who lived in the house passed away—Josephine in 1969, Katharine in 1977—the remaining family members made plans to give the house to the Colorado Historical Society upon the death of the house’s last resident, Margaret Evans Davis, which occurred in 1981. The historical society’s Byers-Evans House Museum opened to the public the next year. In 1989 Long Hoeft Architects restored the house to its 1910s appearance. For the next three decades, it functioned as a house museum displaying the Evans family furniture and containing exhibits on the Byers and Evans families.
With house museums declining in popularity, History Colorado decided in 2018 to establish the Center for Colorado Women’s History at the Byers-Evans House Museum. The center is a way of increasing interest in the museum while also honoring the legacy of the influential and active women who called the Byers-Evans House their home. The first space in the state dedicated to women’s history, the center hosts exhibits, talks, workshops, and book clubs focused on women’s history and offers fellowships for scholars in the field.