Step Back in Time: Loveland’s Sweetheart of a Museum

The tidy city of Loveland is known for its sculpture shows every August. But, make no mistake, this city serves up art year-round — on the streets, in the parks and at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in the heart of downtown.

To get a taste of this artful little town about 50 miles north of Denver you don’t have to be an artist. A visit to the Loveland Museum/Gallery reveals a mix of the area’s diverse flavors and local art rap. The museum remains the center of cultural activities where residents participate in art classes, poetry workshops, mask-making, outdoor concerts, cherry pie contests and, of course, first-rate art exhibitions.

Make this a Saturday destination because it’s a great place to dawdle away a few hours and even learn a thing or two. Just walk in the front door and ask directions to Main Street,a delightful walk through history. Stroll down the street to a turn-of-the-century doctor’s office and a general store complete with old-time candy and original canned goods.

Sweetheart City, USA is a permanent exhibit about Loveland’s Valentine Re-Mailing Program.

Walk inside the Loveland House Hotel lobby, where it feels like you’re standing on an old movie set. The lobby’s trompe l’oeil mural takes the viewer back to a day in the life of a busy day on Main Street (4th Street actually), in the early 1900s.

Exit the hotel lobby and pretend to shop in the millinery shop or the dress maker, and peek into the local jail cell; observe the insides of a print shop complete with a linotype machine, and the local blacksmith’s livery business.

School-age children especially enjoy the reconstructed cabin of Loveland’s first permanent settler. The logs are said to be from the original homestead Mariano Medina built in 1858 along the banks of the Big Thompson River. This is a rare glimpse into the early days of Colorado’s history.

Hard to believe, but you can step inside the completely rebuilt souvenir shop that attracted tourists for over 50 years on U.S. Route 34 to Estes Park. The reconstructed gift shop is three-quarters complete of the once-bustling wood structure (the original was the size of a children’s playhouse). Proctor’s Alabaster Gift Shop was popular for its decorative alabaster creations, specifically lighthouses.

Colorado alabaster is still quarried in Owl Canyon north of Fort Collins. Why a lighthouse in Northern Colorado? Well, the first Proctor was a true artist on a lathe and he created thousands of pink and tan alabaster lighthouse lamps (alabaster is soft enough to carve details with a lathe).

When these lamps were illuminated by light bulbs the dreamy translucent quality of alabaster reflected a beautiful soft glow. Proctor’s lighthouses traveled all over the world and were a popular tourist gift from Colorado — however odd that may seem.

You have to love the 1940s interactive Poetry Phone Booth, which invites visitors to listen to recordings of poetry by regional poets. And, your trip wouldn’t be complete without an inside look at the Loveland Valentine Re-Mailing Program, started in 1946 and still going strong.

Millions of valentines are sent to Loveland from all over the world. The valentines begin arriving in early February at the post office, where hundreds of volunteers work around the clock to stamp each envelope with the year’s “sweetheart” cache (written by a local writer). The card is then redirected to the intended recipient of love and good wishes.

With a dressmaker’s shop, a general store, the first town jail and more, the museum’s Life on Main Street exhibit offers visitors a glimpse of early Loveland.

The city also prints limited-edition Valentine cards with the year’s cache on the front. These cards are for sale at outlets around the city. Take a moment to read the collection of caches that drip with sweet words of love — always a bit sugary and over-rated, but hey, you’re standing smack-dab in the middle of the Sweetheart City.

Go upstairs to see one of the most popular items inside the 4,000-square-foot museum — The Big Thompson Topographical Relief Map. This 12-foot x 6-foot map is a replica of the engineering project begun in 1938 that continued into the 1950s. The colorful, three-dimensional relief map shows how water from the Western Slope was diverted from the reservoirs to the Eastern Slope. Dubbed an engineering marvel, this map shows how the project made it possible for a thriving irrigated agricultural industry and hydroelectric power along the Front Range.

Before valentines and before art, the “art-beet” of the area was sugar beets. Much of Loveland’s history can be traced to sugar beets and the immigrants who came to work the fields. The Great Western Sugar Factory room is a working educational exhibit. Along with real sugar beets, artifacts and early harvesting equipment, the interactive installation offers a conversation with a local farmer and a chemist, who explains how sugar was extracted from the beets.

And, don’t forget the museum is hailed nationally for its exceptional art gallery. Exhibits range from classical to Western, to contemporary to modern/abstract art.

The museum’s constantly changing art exhibitions and rotating permanent art collection from artists around the world are well worth a trip to this Northern Colorado destination.

Gene Hoffman’s “Wisenheimer Altered Piece” is part of the city’s permanent collection.

If You Go

Loveland Museum/Gallery
503 N. Lincoln Ave.
Loveland, Colorado