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Tales from the Tread: A visit to History Colorado

Candice Bannister
Tread of Pioneers Museum
At History Colorado Center in Denver, visitors of all ages will love to ride in the real T Model car where an audio/visual experience takes you on a bumpy road through time.
Courtesy photo

As a museum director, visiting and learning from other museums and historic sites in other cities and communities is a passion as well as an important avenue for professional development. On a recent trip to History Colorado Center in Denver, I was awed by the 17 exhibits within the four-story, full city block museum and cultural center at 1200 North Broadway. I spent three hours enthralled in the exhibits and experiences, and could have easily spent three days immersed in this incredible heritage center.

At History Colorado, artifacts, story-telling, multi-media and immersive experiences artfully fuse to tell the stories, people, experiences and events of Colorado and the American West. The museum is an exciting and engaging space for all ages to learn and experience Colorado heritage and perspectives.

As the Tread of Pioneers Museum plans for our future and potential expansion of exhibits and facilities, we will keep our eyes on the incredible exhibits, methods and interpretive approaches of the famed History Colorado Center and its world-class cache of professionals. Here are highlights from my favorite experiences and exhibits.



Living West

This exhibit focuses on the interplay of human lifestyles and Colorado’s environment, land and history, and transports the visitor into three eras: life at Mesa Verde 800 years ago, the 1930s Dust Bowl on the southeastern plains and today’s Rocky Mountains.

My favorite experience of the entire museum, and perhaps any museum I have ever toured, was the epic “Black Sunday” of the 1930s in an immersive Dust Bowl theater. Visitors enter a small frame house, modestly furnished and set to the era.



After the doors close, you hear the voices and music of the residents living through the drought before the impending dust storm takes over the land, and everything in its path, including the house where you sit. Words cannot describe the eight-minute sensory experience inside the house, and the sights, narration and other sounds that were developed so you can feel the fear and realities of Black Sunday. It was so amazing, we did it twice!

For those like me particularly interested in Native American culture, the Mesa Verde exhibit showcases History Colorado’s renowned collections of ceramics, basketry, and other archaeological material.

Destination Colorado

While touring the the High Plains community of Keota, Colorado, residents greet you at the depot on life-sized media screens and show you their town, sharing their triumphs and challenges.

Favorite experiences were inside a one-room school and getting your yearbook picture taken; shopping from a Montgomery Ward catalog and buying goods from a general store; and taking a virtual ride down a bumpy country road in a real Model T. Kids will love to milk the model cow, collect eggs in the barn and climb into the hayloft to slide back down.

Ute Voices, Ute History

History Colorado leads the way in working with the Ute people, so visitors can learn about the story of Colorado’s longest continuous residents. Museum staff collaborated with members of the Ute tribe to create this comprehensive exhibit that showcases a world-class collection of traditional arts and crafts, stunning photography, and contemporary videos sharing the Ute experiences and perspectives over the centuries and today. Included are poignant portrayals of the tragic loss of Ute homelands and efforts to keep Ute traditional culture and language alive today.

Colorado Stories

This exhibit was vetted by historians and History Colorado staff to create a highlight of iconic communities and stories throughout the state. Steamboat Springs was selected as one of the exhibit features for many reasons including our rich history and heritage related to arts, skiing, ski jumping, Olympians and more. The exhibit standout is the ski jump simulation experience at Howelsen Hill.

Other featured communities include Lincoln Hills (1925–1965), a special place where African Americans, barred from many recreational opportunities and locations, could hike, fish, and camp — and leave discrimination behind. In Bent’s Fort (1833–1849), visitors explore this outpost of trade on Colorado’s Plains through a touch table and archaeological artifacts. Inside the Amache-Granada Relocation Center (1942–1945) you can walk inside a replica Japanese internment camp where you learn that half of the imprisoned were children; two-thirds were American citizens.

I hope on your next trip to Denver you will consider a visit to History Colorado Center. As you learn more about the history and culture of our great state, you’re sure to gain new perspectives and insights that will benefit you and your community. By the end of my visit, I had filled my smartphone’s memory with photos and videos of exhibits and ideas for the Tread, and I was grateful that these larger museums can provide such a wealth of inspiration for both museum professionals and visitors alike.

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