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Attendance drop forces Humphrey Museum to take hiatus

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By Vicky Gits

The board of directors of the Humphrey Memorial Park and Museum has decided not to host the Gloaminfest in October and is closing the vintage home for the season early this year, instead of staying open for the Christmas season as it has in the past.

The Gloaminfest will be at St. Laurence Episcopal Church in Conifer instead.

The museum will close Oct. 1 and reopen April 1 to save money and perhaps find a new partner and regroup. The board has decided to sell an attached 14-acre property for an undisclosed amount, which could help replenish the coffers.

Full-time director Peggy Shaw said she will be reducing herhours of employment but will continue on staff through the winter.

Typically, there are few tourists in the winter months. Visitation is by appointment only. There were about 1,200 total visits in 2007.

“We plan to open with a bang in the spring,” said Lois Lange, president of the board of directors.

The cottage is small but is packed with a collection of valuable art objects and knick-knacks, virtually untouched for decades. The building is a classic example of mountain-rustic architecture and is the centerpiece of a homestead founded in 1878.

Recently enhanced with its own tent, the park has a lot to offer as a wedding venue, although the lack of public restrooms, other than two portable toilets, is a drawback.

The Evergreen area’s other major historical museum, the Hiwan Homestead Museum, gets Jeffco Open Space money. The Humphrey Museum has been privately funded since its inception by a nonprofit foundation, which was started after the owner of the estate died in 1995.

The museum receives about $3,000 to $5,000 a year from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, of which Jefferson County is a part. Operating expenses come from a $500,000 endowment. Lange would not say how much of the endowment remained.

Hiwan Homestead, which is owned by Jefferson County Open Space, receives $318,609 a year, said museum administrator John Steinle. Attendance is holding steady at 13,200 visits through August, compared with 13,300 through August 2007. For all of 2007, attendance was nearly 20,000.

Steinle said he wasn’t familiar enough with the operations of the Humphrey Museum to comment on its apparent slowdown.

The Humphrey Memorial Park and Museum consists of 43 acres, a storybook vintage 11-room log cabin built in 1878, 10 buildings, a garden and a tent-covered, rock-walled croquet court, all with a ponderosa backdrop.

“It’s been a tough year for us,” said Shaw, the museum director. “We are going to close down a little earlier, pare down and conserve our resources, and then open our doors up sometime in the spring.”

The fifth annual Gloaminfest, an outdoor benefit concert that was scheduled for Oct. 4, had to be moved to St. Laurence Episcopal Church, 25812 Barkley Road, in Conifer, from noon to 6 p.m. on the same date.

Shaw said the museum group wasn’t able to muster enough volunteer help to properly manage the occasion. Bavarian Night, on Sept. 20, was held as planned.

Event organizer David T. Lyon was expecting about 300 people for the Gloaminfest, featuring Switchback and the Kamikaze Klones, among others.

But Lyon isn’t upset about the change in venue.

“They gave us enough time to have it in another location and, being in the music business, we always try to have plan B,” Lyon said. “We just had to go to plan B and redo our posters and tickets. I don’t have any hard feelings. It just sounded like one of those deals they don’t have a lot of control over.”

Why did he choose the Humphrey Museum for the event?

“It was the tent, and I really liked the location. They were very friendly. They were going to provide the brats and the hot dogs, and they would keep the money from that part of it, but we were providing everything else,” Lyon said.

Situated a mile north of the interesection of Bergen and Evergreen parkways on Soda Creek Road, the museum is a treasure trove of collectibles amassed by Hazel Lou Humphrey, who died in the house at age 78 in 1995.

There are 24 sets of dishes, Southwestern Indian pots, beaded Indian gloves, Chinese ornaments and dozens of Navajo rugs. Priceless items are mixed with mundane travel souvenirs. Humphrey wanted the house maintained in the same condition as she left it, cluttered from top to bottom with her belongings.

Before she died, Humphrey applied for and received a designation on the National Register of Historic Places, and she left the endowment of $500,000 to maintain the house and grounds as a museum.

But money had to be spent to make the rustic habitat fit for public visitation. Improvements include a new well, a new shake-shingle roof, all-new interior plumbing, septic and leach field, a flagstone patio, a new historically correct portico, an electric gate, elk fencing and the 2,400-square-foot party tent.

Unfortunately, the tent arrived in May of this year, which was too late to attract any wedding bookings.

House museums like the Humphrey Museum typically are having a very hard time these days across the nation, Shaw said.

Formerly a museum volunteer, Shaw has been director for seven years. She said she has tried everything she can think of to obtain more financial support.

“A lot of people think we are funded like Hiwan Homestead Museum. In 10 years we have tried everything. No stone has been left unturned,” Shaw said. The Open Space Department maintains the property is too small, and it also doesn’t want to be in the business of managing museums, Shaw said.

History of the Humphrey Ranch

The Humphrey Ranch was first developed by J.J. Clarke as a 350-acre homestead in 1878. Clarke raised cattle and built a small cabin that is part of the house museum.

Hazel H. Hammer, the daughter of an extremely wealthy Chicago judge and real estate tycoon, and her husband, Lucius Humphrey, a Denver newspaper man, bought the ranch in 1917 from the Clarke family and moved there with a 2-year-old daughter, Hazel Lou.

The family occupied the ranch until the last living family member, Hazel Lou, died in 1995, when she was 78. Hazel Lou’s mother was a well-known socialite and traveled the world collecting art, china, porcelain, furniture and objects.

Hazel Lou was one of the founders of the Jefferson County Historical Society and helped save the the buildings that became the Hiwan Homestead Museum from being torn down for development.

“Part of the attraction is the house is just stuffed full of stuff,” said local historian Hank Alderfer, whose family was friends of the Humphreys. “When Hazel was living, there was more stuff in it than there is now.” Alderfer said. “She was a jolly lady. She was quiet, but when people heard her talk at the caucus meetings, they listened. She was a proponent of Jeffco at every level.”

Alderfer believes the house deserves to be saved for its architectural value and because it has historical meaning to Jefferson County. “Some of its collections (Indian wedding moccasins, glassware and kimonos) are unmatched,” he said.