Justina Ford was Colorado’s first African American woman physician. The Justina Ford House served for forty years as her home and office. The house was built in 1890 at 2335 Arapahoe Street in Denver. In 1984 the house was moved to save it from demolition. After renovations, it opened at 3091 California Street as the new home of the Black American West Museum. In 1998 a statue of Justina Ford was erected to honor her contributions to the community.
Justina Ford’s House
The Justina Ford House was built in 1890 on Arapahoe Street in the Curtis Park neighborhood of Denver. The house was a modest two-story rectangular box of red brick with an Italianate façade on a stone foundation. When the house was built, Germans, Irish, Jews, and other European immigrant groups lived the neighborhood.
The Ford House’s first owner was a Jewish Denverite named Isaac Kohn. Samuel E. Kohn, his son, also lived in the house. In 1898, Samuel founded the American Furniture Company, now known as American Furniture Warehouse. Isaac Kohn sold the house around 1902.
Justina Ford was born in Illinois in 1871. She graduated from Hering Medical College in Chicago in 1899 and practiced in Alabama before moving to Denver in 1902. She received her Colorado medical license in October 1902. She became the state’s first African American woman doctor.
Ford settled in Curtis Park, which was changing to an African American neighborhood. The Curtis Park area is also called Five Points. At that time, African Americans were not allowed to live in some neighborhoods because of their race. Many Denver neighborhoods had “restrictive covenants” or rules that said that minorities could not buy property in certain places. Curtis Park and Five Points did not have restrictive covenants. As a result, the neighborhood became a thriving African American community.
Justina Ford lived in several places in the Five Points area during her early years in Denver. By 1912, she had established a successful medical practice. She bought the former Kohn house to use as a home and office. For the next forty years, she lived in the house and saw patients in a room on the first floor. By the time of her death in 1952, she had become a well-respected member of the Denver medical community. Dr. Ford’s specialty was delivering babies. It is estimated that she delivered more than 7,000 babies in her fifty years working in Colorado.
Rebirth as Black American West Museum
After Ford’s death, the area around her house declined. Restrictive housing based on race ended and middle-class African Americans moved out of Curtis Park and Five Points. The neighborhood became run down and poverty-stricken. Since the area was close to downtown Denver, people considered using the land for other purposes. In 1982 a private developer acquired the block where Dr. Ford’s house was located. He planned to tear down all houses in the area to make way for a parking lot and businesses.
Moses Valdez and other local residents wanted to preserve the house to honor Dr. Justina Ford and her contributions to the community. They lobbied to delay demolition to allow them time to save the Ford House. The developer agreed to donate the house if they could move it to a different location. Meanwhile, the Ford House was the only building left standing on its block.
After negotiations, a plan was developed. Historic Denver, an organization that strives to preserve historic buildings, paid for the Ford House to be moved to the east side of the Curtis Park neighborhood. The Black American West Museum was looking for a building to house its collection, so the house would be renovated and used as the museum’s new home.
In February 1984, beams were placed under the house. It was jacked up, placed on a wheeled platform, and towed about a mile to 3091 California Street. There, the house was renovated. Its original wood porch was reconstructed using historical photographs.
The Black American West Museum opened in the relocated Ford house in 1989. It had not had a permanent home since Paul Stewart founded it in 1971. The 1,500 artifacts in its collection were put on display. The Ford house still serves as the museum’s home. A statue commemorating Dr. Justina Ford was placed outside the house in 1998. The museum is across from the RTD’s Thirtieth and Downing station.