Hiwan Heritage Park and Museum in Evergreen comprises a four-acre outdoor space and a twenty-five-room log cabin. Josepha Williams, one of the first female doctors in Colorado, acquired the property in 1893 as a place for friends and family to stay. Guests first stayed in lodging tents and, later, a private summer cottage, which is now one of the oldest-surviving log buildings in the area. For the next forty-five years, the property served as a mountain retreat for Josepha, her husband, Charles Winfred Douglas—an Episcopal clergyman who led the Evergreen Conference for church music—and their son Frederic Douglas, who became the Denver Art Museum’s first curator of Indigenous arts.
In 1938 the Douglas family sold the property to the Buchanan family, who renamed it Hiwan Ranch and raised prizewinning Hiwan Hereford cattle there. In 1974 the ranch was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and Jefferson County Open Space bought it for use as a museum to highlight Evergreen’s history as a mountain retreat, the Douglas family’s influential interests in church music and Indigenous art, and the Buchanan family’s cattle business.
Starting in the 1880s, upper-class Denver residents Mary Neosho Williams and her daughter, Josepha, regularly visited Evergreen for outdoor recreation and camping. In 1889 Josepha graduated from Gross Medical School in Denver, becoming one of the first female doctors in Colorado. In 1893 the Williamses bought more than 100 acres of land in the area and named their property Camp Neosho. Initially, the Williamses and their guests stayed in tents equipped with stoves, wooden floors, and double canvas walls. Soon they wanted indoor space and hired John “Jock” Spence, a local Scottish carpenter, to expand the property’s existing barn into a summer cottage. The barn became the large cottage’s living room, with an attached two-story octagonal tower completed around 1898.
In 1896 Josepha Williams married Charles Winfred Douglas, an Episcopal clergyman and musician. The couple often stayed at their Evergreen property throughout the rest of their lives, working with Spence to expand and update the cabin. In the 1910s, Spence added an octagonal chapel for Charles. During these years, Charles founded the Evergreen Conference, a summer retreat focused on church music. With their son, Frederic, the Douglases also cultivated an interest in Indigenous art, which was reflected in the cabin’s décor. Frederic later became the Denver Art Museum’s first curator of Native arts.
After Josepha’s death in 1938, a Tulsa oilman named Darst Buchanan bought the property, including the cabin and some 1,100 acres. Buchanan’s wife, Ruth, soon renamed it Hiwan, an Anglo-Saxon term for members of a household. The family used the property to raise cows, known as Hiwan Hereford cattle, which won numerous stock show prizes. The ranch remained in the Buchanan family for the next three decades.
Park and Museum
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Buchanan and his family members began selling off parcels of the property to developers; many Evergreen neighborhoods now have “Hiwan” in their name as a result. Joan Buchanan, the last occupant of the ranch, eventually decided to sell the remainder of the property to a condominium developer in 1973. Fearing the loss of Hiwan, local community members organized the Jefferson County Historical Society (now the Evergreen Mountain Area Historical Society, EMAHS) and convinced Jefferson County Open Space to purchase the ranch for use as a public history site.
Since 1974 Jefferson County and the EMAHS have jointly owned and operated the site, which opened to the public in 1975. The EMAHS also bought an adjacent property when news broke about a developer’s plan to remove the site’s trees. This area, now known as Heritage Grove, was preserved and eventually donated to the county in the late 2000s. The grove and the cabin now form a single property, allowing visitors to enjoy an outdoor space as well as a historical one.
Collaboration with the community has remained a constant theme at Hiwan, allowing the museum to expand both in terms of size and programming throughout its decades in operation.
Educational programs have been critical to the museum’s development since it opened. Although the site was originally a private residence and then a ranch headquarters, Hiwan Heritage Park has expanded its scope to explore a broader range of historical themes. In the beginning, the museum’s educational programs catered to fourth-grade Colorado history classes. Emphasizing hands-on learning, school tours have included mock classes in an 1890s schoolhouse, baking journey cakes (an adaptation of Johnnycakes), scavenger hunts in the general store, and yarn spinning for garments. Looking to fill a niche neglected by the public-school curriculum, the museum has also highlighted its Indigenous collections, which reflect the Douglas family’s interest in Indigenous art, to introduce children to another aspect of Colorado’s past.
Over time, the museum has expanded beyond its fourth-grade programming, adding programs for younger students, home-schooled students, and adults. The museum has also created community programs to commemorate significant anniversaries, such as the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. In one program, the museum featured local World War II veterans who showcased personal memorabilia such as weapons, uniforms, and photographs. The museum’s success can be largely attributed to this sort of hands-on education, as well as its strong relationship with local schools.
As with many public history sites, visitor demand has fluctuated over the years, and Hiwan’s staffing has fluctuated along with it. The museum has never had a full-time director. In the 1990s, Hiwan had a professional curator—a luxury not afforded to many similar small museums—thanks to financial support from the local community. The expansion of Jefferson County Open Space, however, has resulted in less funding for hiring at Hiwan in recent years. As of 2020, Hiwan’s full-time staff consisted of only an education coordinator and two education specialists. Despite its small staff, the museum continues to reap the benefits from former professional staff members who helped the museum expand its program and exhibits in the 1990s and early 2000s. A robust crew of more than fifty long-term volunteers has also been instrumental to Hiwan’s success.
Hiwan Heritage Park serves as an example of how museums can become pillars of their communities. The site offers a variety of experiences for a diverse set of visitors, but childhood education remains a priority. Today, programming has expanded from local history to topics such as outdoor safety, conservation, and ecology. On-site wildlife offers children the opportunity to observe animals, while Hiwan’s abundant trees and flora serve to augment students’ knowledge of ecology.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced Hiwan, like other museums, to close its indoor facilities and turn to virtual programming. Outdoor spaces, including Heritage Grove, remained open to the public.