Located near Pinecliffe, about ten miles due west of Eldorado Springs and an hour from Denver by car, Winks Lodge was the main hotel and social hub at Lincoln Hills, a historic black resort community in Gilpin County. Opened in 1928 by Denver businessman Obrey Wendell Hamlet, who went by the nickname “Winks,” the lodge was a popular destination among black vacationers until the 1960s. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and is now owned by Willow Educational Services, which oversees programming for the nonprofit Lincoln Hills Cares.
A Black Mountain Resort
Winks Hamlet’s lodge was in Lincoln Hills, a black resort community that took shape in the 1920s along South Boulder Creek between Pinecliffe and Rollinsville. At the time, Lincoln Hills was one of only a few black resorts in the United States and the only one located in the mountains. It was easily accessible by car and train, and its developers sold several hundred lots by the end of the decade.
In 1925 Hamlet acquired property at Lincoln Hills with the plan of building a destination lodge. After working on the wood and stone building for three summers, the lodge opened for business in 1928 as the first full-service resort in the area. Built on a hillside above the creek, the three-story lodge had six guest rooms and a bathroom on its upper floor. The main floor included a lobby, lounge, dining area, and kitchen, while the lower floor had space for storage and a workshop. The lodge operated in the summer and fall, then was boarded up for the winter.
Winks Lodge proved popular among the African American community in Denver and nationwide. Hamlet advertised in Jet and Ebony. In 1952, according to an ad in Ebony, visitors could get meals and lodging and go fishing, hiking, and horseback riding for only three dollars per day. Famous black musicians who played in Denver, such as Lena Horne, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, often traveled to the mountains and stayed at Winks Lodge before or after their performances in the city. In addition, Hamlet arranged for black writers such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston to give readings at the lodge when they passed through on cross-country trips.
Over the years, Hamlet added outlying cabins and a tavern to the property, which served as the social center of Lincoln Hills. Hamlet’s wife, Naomi, served home-cooked meals at the lodge until her death in the 1940s. After 1952, cooking duties passed to his second wife, Melba, whose barbecue was considered the best for hundreds of miles around.
End of an Era
Hamlet ran Winks Lodge until his death in 1965, which marked a turning point in the history of Lincoln Hills. His death and the subsequent closure of Winks Lodge coincided with the fundamental transformation of American society that made all-black resort communities like Lincoln Hills no longer necessary. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, it became possible for blacks to travel freely to resorts like Estes Park. With Winks Lodge closed and other resorts now open to all, Lincoln Hills was visited primarily by property owners whose families had constructed cabins on their lots in the 1920s.
In 1971 Melba Hamlet sold Winks Lodge to Eileen and Guy Dart. In the late 1970s, black historian Bertha Calloway and her husband acquired the lodge. Calloway had attended nearby Camp Nizhoni as a child and wanted to restore the lodge and preserve the area’s history. In 1980 she succeeded in getting the lodge listed on the National Register of Historic Places at the state level of significance.
In 1985 Calloway and her husband sold Winks Lodge to Rob and Martha Tomerlin. For two decades, the Tomerlins maintained the lodge, preserved its history, and used it as a retreat for family, friends, and youth groups.
In 2006 Winks Lodge was acquired by the Beckwourth Mountain Club (also known as Beckwourth Outdoors), a nonprofit focused on providing outdoor recreation opportunities for black and urban youth.
In 2008 Denver businessman Matthew Burkett bought property at Lincoln Hills, established the Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club, and co-founded a charitable organization called Lincoln Hills Cares, which provides outdoor experiences and education to veterans and youth. Winks Lodge is now under the care of Willow Educational Services, which oversees programming for Lincoln Hills Cares and hopes to restore the lodge and open it to the public in the future.
In late 2014, the National Register of Historic Places listing for Winks Lodge was elevated to the national level of significance for its role in African American history and enlarged to include more of the original Lincoln Hills resort community.