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Author examines life of Anne Evans in pioneering Denver

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Governor's daughter helped foster cultural landmarks, built summer home on Upper Bear in Clear Creek County

By Vicky Gits

Because she grew up in the shadow of her father, John Evans, the second territorial governor of Colorado from 1862 to 1865, Anne Evans' life story was largely ignored until Evergreen author Barbara Sternberg decided to make it the subject of her just-published book.

"Anne Evans — A Pioneer in Colorado's Cultural History" is the story of a woman who was a longtime summer resident of Evergreen and the driving force that saved the Tabor Opera House and the Teller House in Central City, among other things. She was born in London in 1871 and lived until 1941.

Sternberg was impressed by the variety of Anne Evans' interests, her appreciation of Southwestern Indian art and her influence on Denver's emerging cultural institutions.

Evans was not that concerned about getting credit for her accomplishments. "She was someone who believed and acted that it doesn't matter who gets the credit. Getting it done is the most important thing," Sternberg said in an interview.

Evans never married and devoted herself to filling the cultural void that was Denver in the early days. She was a primary force in both the creation of the Denver Art Museum and the formation of the Denver Public Library. She attended school in France and Germany in her teens and studied at the Art Students League in New York City.

The 3,245-acre Evans Ranch was Anne Evans' summer playground growing up, and a rustic retreat the rest of her life. Colorado Open Lands purchased it for $4 million as a wildlife refuge in 1984. In the winters she lived at 1310 Bannock St. in Denver, in the house her father purchased, which later became the historic museum known as the Byers-Evans House.

Sternberg weaves the meticulously researched story of Anne Evans' life around a capsule history of the evolution of Denver.

In 1972, Sternberg moved to Evergreen, where she continues to live. Her daughter, Jennifer Boone, is the owner of Boone Mountain Sports, where Sternberg hosted a book signing Dec. 16. Her book is co-published by Buffalo Park Press and the Center for Colorado and the West at the Auraria Library.

Sternberg's granddaughter Megan Boone Witucki, and her daughters, Francesca Starr and Jennifer Boone, along with graduate student Evelyn Waldron, all helped with research, editing and production.

Sternberg is well known in Evergreen as the author, with her late husband, architect Gene Sternberg, who died in 2005, of the encyclopedic book "Evergreen Our Mountain Community." While researching the book on Evergreen, Sternberg found herself "seriously interested" in the life of Anne Evans.

While investigating the story of the Evans Ranch, at the end of Upper Bear Creek Road in Clear Creek County, Sternberg interviewed Peg Hayden, who was a great-granddaughter of Gov. Evans and lived year round in a home on the Evans Ranch.

Sternberg divulged that she was interested in writing Anne's story, but Hayden insisted she was collecting material about Evans' life and was determined to write a book herself. Sternberg decided to move on to other things.

A few years later, after the book never materialized and Hayden died, her daughter, Mag Hayden, offered to share whatever was available from her mother's papers.

Unfortunately, it turned out that Anne Evans ordered all her personal papers be destroyed at her death, unlike her parents, who saved a wealth of personal letters and even a couple of diaries. Uncovering Anne Evans' life was a monumental task.

Sternberg decided to write the life of Anne Evans, as she described it in the book, "in the context of a powerful family deeply involved in creating Denver and Colorado."

The book covers the career of Gov. Evans, the Sand Creek Massacre, life in the Colorado Territory, leading up to Anne Evans' birth in England in 1871, her childhood summers in Evergreen on the Evans Ranch and her days as a young woman artist studying in Berlin, Paris and New York. She was accepted as a professional member of the Denver Artists Club, a forerunner of the Denver Art Museum, in 1894.

Sternberg observes that Anne Evans' story in one sense reflects the conventions of the Gilded Age and the propensity for young women with artistic interests to involve themselves in "cultural housekeeping" activities. Eventually she gave up the desire to be an artist and dedicated herself to supporting cultural institutions.

It is also the story of a young woman possibly influenced by the growing consciousness that marriage was not necessarily the only route to happiness. "Perhaps the truth was that Anne Evans did not so much reject marriage as that she embraced the freedom of being an independent woman," Sternberg observes in the book.

Taking advantage of her independence, Evans decided to build her own spacious rustic cabin on the Evans Ranch. It was featured in House Beautiful magazine in June 1917 and the Rocky Mountain News.

Probably the work of Evergreen architect-builder Jock Spence, the house is made of vertical logs and has many craftsman touches. Purchased and restored in 1990 by art-collectors Jan Mayer and the late Fred Mayer, the house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"They did the most fabulous, faithful job of reconstruction and preservation and very tasteful introduction of modern things," Sternberg said in a telephone interview. The Mayers were "incredibly supportive," Sternberg said.

Part of the Evans Ranch was sold to the state for a state wildlife management area in 1958. A large part has been saved as a conservation easement.

Anne Evans' passion for art, talent for organization, independent spirit and social connections came together in her support for the Central City Opera House in 1931. Donated to the University of Denver by the MacFarlane family, the theater was a leaking wreck.

Although the only access to Central City was by a primitive Jeep road, Evans and her companion Ida Kruse MacFarlane, who conceived of saving the opera house, forged ahead anyway and raised the money to open a summer festival with top talent from New York. It was an "idiotic" idea that turned into amazing success that endures today. The chapter on "Saving Central" is one of the best in the book.

Another chapter covers summer life on the Evans Ranch and includes a wealth of diary entries of a young woman who spent August 1927 in the cabin, hiking, riding horses and climbing Mount Evans.

"Anne Evans" is available at Boone Mountain Sports in Evergreen and Hearthfire Books in Bergen Park.

 

Contact Vicky Gits at 303-350-1042 or Vicky@evergreenco.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact Vicky Gits at 303-350-1042 or Vicky@evergreenco.com