“These traditions grew and word spread, and it seemed everyone wanted to experience Evergreen summer.”
Maybe it was the year I studied abroad and made a fancy East Coast friend whose family spent the summers at their house in the east Hamptons. Maybe it was watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and those episodes laughing at Tony Shalhoub in the woods and trying not to imagine Monk freaking out about bugs. Maybe it’s just a general desire to be on-the-go to chase some summertime nostalgia… or yes, to escape the swarm of summer tourists building their paddleboard bridge across Evergreen Lake.
Whenever, however, it began, I am obsessed with the idea of “summering” somewhere.
I don’t mean the week and a half vacation you planned because the kids are off school, or reminiscing about some lake house you went to once where you really felt like one of the locals. Those things are great, but different. I’m talking black-and-white movie, all-white dresses and parasols, lawn games and lemonade, make friends with strangers, spending a full summer somewhere because it’s “the season, darling” and that’s what you do.
As it turns out, Evergreen is rich in its own version of this somewhat lost tradition. “In general, the wealthy who built the nice summer homes [in Evergreen] would come up for the whole summer,” Andrea Keppers told me. She’s the education specialist and curator of Hiwan Museum, and she told me of several homes in Evergreen built specially for this purpose. “Denver was hot and dusty and smelly, so anyone who could left the city,” she added, noting that the trip up the hill was so arduous at that time, if you made it, you were going to stick around and make it worth your while.
It was also typical for women and children to make the journey first. Evan Jeffries, a member of the Evans family, says that his mother used to spend the summer with his great-grandmother on the Evans Ranch. “Once school was out, the women and children would go up to the mountains to get cool, and the men would stay behind a month working, then join them later.” A privilege to be sure, but these women were not swoony creatures casually escaping some city heat. “In my family, the men die young and the women live forever. They would spend the summers up in the mountains on their own. They were tough,” Jeffries said.
Keppers explained, “Anne Evans, daughter of Governor John Evans, would leave her home in Denver (now the Byers-Evans House museum next to the DAM) on May 1 and stay [at Evans Ranch] until October 1. She rode the train from Denver to Morrison, took the Evergreen Stage—which was basically a jitney—from Morrison to Evergreen. Then a driver would pick her up and take her to her cottage. It took most of a day.”
These stagecoaches and drivers would have been a common sight on an early 1900s summer day, especially in the Upper Bear Creek Valley, trailing through properties like Greystone Ranch, Evans Ranch and Davis Ranch. Jeffries told me that Upper Bear Creek Road used to be nicknamed “Cadillac Canyon” because “the horse buggies would take 20 people at a time, all the way up to Upper Bear Creek Valley.”
Okay, so it was a haul, which crushes any first notions of glamour, but then again, anyone who has ever taken the Hampton Jitney knows there is just no pretty way to make the soul-crushing journey from the city to the shore. The same is true traveling into the Colorado mountain wilderness. Being fancy is what you make of it, and this is something Dr. Josepha Williams knew a thing or two about.
“She and her mother, Mary, came to summer in Evergreen starting in the early 1890s and ‘camped’ at what is now Hiwan Heritage Park,” said Keppers. “They called it Camp Neosho—and it was more like glamping in canvas tents with wooden floors and frames, iron stoves, beds, chairs [and other furniture] and lots of hired help to run it.” Sounds like Dr. Williams and I would have hit it off. Now if only I can get someone to help me set up my beautiful Wes Anderson-inspired campsite on a dispersed site that isn’t under fire ban, we’ll be in business.
It was a lot of work, this summering in Evergreen thing, and these women were clearly committed. So they put in the effort to make it to their mountain homes in an age without internet, motor vehicles and suitcases made from space-age materials—they were staying awhile. So what did they do from May until October?
“It was predominately about horses,” said Jeffries, but it also turns out that it was some of my “summering in Evergreen” dreams come true. “They got creative. There was a pasture everyone called Home Pasture, and they would throw almost weekly parties there. People would ride to Home Pasture and have bonfires and socialize—lawn games and the whole nine yards.” Keppers also told me that Anne Evans organized poetry and literature readings and hosted amateur theatrical days for families on the ranches and surrounding properties.
Dr. Williams held similar soirees at Camp Neosho, a tradition that her son, Eric, and his wife carried on in their own fashion. “They would have ‘Cow Camp’ parties here with their young friends,” said Keppers. “They dressed-up in cowboy gear, cooking huge barbecue meals, riding horses, singing by the fire, generally playing at being cowboys!”
These traditions grew and word spread, and it seemed everyone wanted to experience Evergreen summer. Jeffries mentioned that several presidents were even guests of Greystone Ranch at different points, and according to Shad Phillips’s blog, The Evergreen Experience, even celebrities like Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Ethel Merman, Groucho Marx, and Harpo came for a summertime visit.
While the area’s burgeoning tourism did dilute the history of summer homes in town, it also made Evergreen’s summer more accessible. “Soon there were multiple hotels and infrastructure related to summertime activities all the way from Evergreen Lake to the headwaters of Upper Bear Creek,” said Jeffries. “But there were also cabin leases on some of the ranches. Brookville Ranch had 12 little cabins with just a stove and an outhouse, and people could rent them out,” he said. And Evans Ranch still has many rental properties now managed by the Division of Wildlife, leftover from an era of long summer mountain escapes.
Sometimes, as the daytrippers pour in and the cyclists take up the narrow lanes of my road, I can feel a little trapped in my own home. Then I wonder, where am I trying to get to? I’m already where everybody wants to be. In a summer when we’re all grappling to get back out there or return to a busier life, I wonder if there isn’t a bigger lesson in summering in Evergreen than just some romantic whim: to look at our summer lives in this beautiful place as more than just an everyday home where stuff needs to be done and checklists need to be ticked off; and as more than a home with a lot of “staycation” highlights.
It makes me want to set up cornhole on our long stretch of deck, take a bocce ball or croquet set down to the flatter part of our lot. I want to make a pitcher of lemonade that stays cold in the fridge in case my neighbors down the way decide to stop by for a literature reading—I’m not kidding; I will read to you! Appreciating the summer life is a more storied endeavor than just one season lost to COVID. We’re a community established on the idea of escaping to the sweet, the simple, and the slow.