“Mom! Come quick!” my 10-year old shrieks as we round the bend toward the barn at the Littleton Historical Museum.
She has run ahead to see which animals are out this afternoon, and she hasn’t been disappointed. We are greeted by a group of tiny, fuzzy baby lambs, prancing and cavorting in the sun. We watch them play, then hear that the piglets are out, so we make tracks to their pen. The grounds of the museum are filled with children just like mine who can’t seem to get enough of all that they see.
Owned by the City of Littleton, the museum houses permanent and temporary exhibits that showcase the life and times of the area, along with lectures, events and, at the heart of the museum, a working farm, complete with livestock and costumed interpreters. Free admission means that everyone is able to enjoy the museum.
The site contains both circa-1860 and circa-1890 farms, with authentic homes, barns, working gardens and more, along with the city’s original log schoolhouse, a 1903 working blacksmith shop and an icehouse. Children and adults enjoy walking through the farmhouses, complete with cast-iron wood stoves and iceboxes.
My girls loved the 1890 little girl’s bedroom, with its cornhusk dolls. The schoolhouse also is a favorite, as kids can take a seat on the wooden benches and try their hand on chalkboards. The cavernous, shady icehouse is a relic of a bygone age;
children are astonished to hear about the “icemen” who used to travel the lake on boats, chopping blocks of ice to stack in the icehouse for storage before delivery to area residents.
Costumed interpreters do the work of the farm, and are always happy to chat with guests. One visit might find a woman working on the onions, tomatoes or zucchini in one of two expansive gardens, or the blacksmith in his shop, clanging out wrought iron for use around the farm. Peacocks bring a touch of whimsy as they stroll the grounds, unfurling their tail feathers and calling to one another.
During the spring and summer, the museum abounds with new life as resident chickens, sheep and pigs give birth. A stroller-friendly path meanders through the site, promising something new around every corner. On a recent visit, kids took a turn at a corn-cob shucker, a machine that fed corn through a metal device, spitting the freshly-shucked corn out the other end. Nearby, a group of boys watched (from a safe distance) as the smithy worked the bellows in his shop. Elsewhere on the grounds, draft horses may be at work plowing fields for planting, in preparation for the October Harvest Festival and pumpkin patch that draws visitors in droves. The museum is adjacent to Ketring Park and lake, offering an idyllic backdrop to the setting. A gondola overlooking the lake is a shady respite from the summer sun.
Staffers make the day-to-day events in 1800s Colorado come alive for visitors. “The members of our interpretive division, both staff and volunteers, bring a unique set of talents to the museum,” says Tim Nimz, the museum’s director. “Along with knowledge of history, many of them also have training in the theater.”
After a multi-million dollar renovation in 2004, visitor numbers have risen from around 100,000 annually to more than 130,000 — that’s three times the increase typically seen after a renovation, according to Nimz.
The museum is a popular field trip destination for area schools.
“For the future, we’re looking at a constant evolution in programs and exhibits, particularly in our school-age programs,” Nimz says. “We are always looking for new ways to meet curriculum requirements.”
The new 32,000-square-foot main museum facility, with galleries, a lecture hall and classrooms, hosts permanent and traveling exhibits that showcase the history, art and culture of Littleton, as well as other, more broad-reaching exhibits. The museum recently received the prestigious distinction of joining the Smithsonian Affiliates Program, the first collecting museum in Colorado to receive this honor from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The program allows the Littleton History Museum to receive traveling exhibits from the Smithsonian, as well as loan exhibits for display to the Smithsonian, extending the reach of both institutions.
Lectures and classes are also held at the facility, while summer brings free concerts on the museum grounds. The museum is a busy place for events year-round, from jazz, classical and other concerts to sheep-shearing and heirloom craft demonstrations, an annual craft fair, Victorian Halloween celebration, Harvest Festival and a Holiday Eve party. These events, along with the ever-changing life on the farm, are a magnet for locals and visitors alike.
If You Go
Kelly Smith is a freelance writer who lives in Denver.