Little Museums in the Big City

Amelia Earhart's car on display at the Forney Museum of Transportation.

Joshua Hardin

Black American West Museum & Heritage Center

3091 California St.

Dr. Justina Ford didn’t let her race or her gender hold her back, not one bit. Although she was the first licensed female African-American doctor in Denver, she wasn’t allowed to practice medicine at any local hospitals. So she delivered babies at her home instead, bringing more than 7,000 into the world during her distinguished 50-year career. But she also did much more for her patients. During house calls, if she discovered the family was in need, she’d send them food to eat or coal to heat their home. Ford’s 1890 Italianate-style residence in Five Points is now a museum dedicated to telling the stories of Ford and other African-Americans who had a profound influence in settling and developing the American West. Exhibits showcase important figures such as Bill Pickett, a legendary rodeo cowboy and silent-film star who introduced the modern rodeo event of bulldogging.


Forney Museum of Transportation

4303 Brighton Blvd.

J.D. Forney received a pretty awesome gift from his wife and son in 1955 – a 1921 Kissel, just like the car he loved when he was younger. Once word got out that he had an interest in autos, planes and other modes of transportation, customers of Forney’s welding-equipment company started asking if they could pay for their orders with old vehicles they wanted to get rid of. Forney happily obliged, and his collection of one quickly grew to a collection of hundreds. Today, Forney’s beloved vehicles are on display at a 70,000-square-foot indoor facility. His Kissel is there, along with an 1888 Denver cable car, a Big Boy steam locomotive, a Stutz fire engine, sleighs, bicycles and even a 500-piece Matchbook car collection. Not everything is on display at once, so each visit to the museum is a slightly different experience.


Center for Colorado Women’s History at Byers-Evans House

1310 Bannock St.

Denver Art Museum, Denver Public Library, Civic Center Park, Central City Opera House – some of the area’s most beloved cultural institutions might not be around today if it weren’t for the dedication and moxie of Anne Evans, daughter of John Evans, the governor of the Colorado Territory. So it’s only fitting that this stirring testament to Colorado’s amazing women is housed in the historical home where Anne and her family lived and worked. The exhibits, events and lectures connect the history of women in Colorado to the history of women worldwide, and guided tours of the home are available several times daily. In December, the museum hosts traditional three-course teas – perhaps just like those Anne relaxed with after doing her important work.


American Museum of Western Art – The Anschutz Collection

1727 Tremont Place

From girls school to gambling hall and bordello, from restaurant to jazz club, the historical 1880 Navarre Building in downtown Denver has a colorful history. And, since 2010, it has housed a colorful collection of important works from nearly 200 artists. The more than 600 paintings, drawings and sculptures in the Anschutz Collection tell the story of the American West from the early 1800s to today, in a variety of painting styles, from expeditionary and narrative to expressionist and modernist. Take a guided tour or explore on your own with expert audio narration to learn how the character, history and beauty of our part of the country is about more than just cowboys.


Denver Firefighters Museum

1326 Tremont Place

Built in 1909 and now nestled among towering skyscrapers in downtown Denver, Historic Fire Station #1 was used for its intended purpose until 1975. Then, in 1980, it opened as the Denver Firefighters Museum, celebrating the Denver Fire Department’s rich history, now more than 150 years old. Although the museum’s impressive collection of artifacts, photographs and equipment dates back to 1867, it’s also a family-friendly place, with hands-on exhibits and activities for all ages – including plenty of inspiration for youngsters contemplating a career in firefighting. Through the end of the year, view “Art in the Firehouse,” featuring works from firefighters who are also artists and art pieces from the museum’s collection. In 2020, watch for special celebrations and events that will commemorate the museum’s 40th anniversary.


The Money Museum

1020 16th Street Mall

Who says banks are boring? Small but mighty, The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Denver offers a wealth of opportunities for learning about the ins and outs of the nation’s financial system. View images of historical currency, design your own bills, test your counterfeit detection skills and see what $30 million looks like up close. And who says you can’t take it with you? At the Money Museum, every visitor scores a bag of money on their way out the door! (OK, so it’s shredded and completely worthless, but it’s still a pretty cool souvenir.)


National Ballpark Museum

1940 Blake St.

As a young boy, Bruce “B” Hellerstein collected baseball cards. As an adult, he collects baseball memorabilia that’s much larger than those little pieces of cardboard – like the arched window from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, a turnstile from Old Yankee Stadium, the last pitching rubber used at Mile High Stadium, and house seats from all the classic ballparks. After displaying his massive collection in his basement for years, he secured a permanent home for it all in 2010, right across the street from Coors Field. The museum is open year-round, with extended hours during Rockies home games, and some exhibits rotate so visitors can see something new each time. This winter, “Catch This!” examines the evolution of mitts and “Hats Off to You” showcases the history of caps.


Museo De Las Americas

861 Santa Fe Drive

One of just 17 Latin American art museums in the United States, this Denver destination has deep connections in local traditions. On the first Friday of each month, the 28-year-old museum hosts Cultural First Friday, such as the annual Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration in November, honoring the deceased. First Fridays evoke a unique feeling for the staff, bringing out the whole family, from the youngest child to the oldest grandparent. The activities – like painting sugar skulls at Dia De Los Muertos – explore the reasons behind the traditions. Participants experience their heritage, understand it and hold onto it for future generations.


Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

1485 Delgany St.

Founded in 1996, the museum initially occupied an old fish market on Sakura Square in Denver. Previously, Denver had no real home for works of contemporary art. There was not a place to view works by modern artists, or to inspire and challenge audiences. In 2007, the museum opened in a 27,000-square-foot permanent facility, which is environmentally sustainable and features plenty of natural light. With hidden skylights and windows opening on the streets of the Platte Valley, this building has an ease of flow and openness. Visitors often rave about the size of the museum, talking about how easy it is to make an afternoon of the museum and the surrounding area. They are still talking about a previous exhibit, Amanda Wachob’s “Tattoo This,” which has moved on. But you can check out Stacy Steer’s “Edge of Alchemy” – a 2017 handmade, animated short film that places silent film stars Mary Pickford and Janet Gaynor in a surreal story about creating life.


Molly Brown House Museum

1340 Pennsylvania St.

Activist Margaret “Molly” Brown is best known as a survivor of the Titanic, but her legacy extends much further. She helped create Colorado’s earliest juvenile court system, as well as the Denver Dumb Friends League, the no-kill animal shelter still active today. Brown also championed coal miners’ rights and women’s suffrage. She worked to be the voice for the voiceless, and often donated money to causes that aided those who had no other chance. This brick home with steep roofs and asymmetrical design has seen years of changes since her death in 1932. In 1970, Historic Denver, Inc., restored the house and opened it as a museum. The museum frequently has tours, showcasing the home as it was during Brown’s life. Upcoming events include tours about “Margaret Rocking the Vote,” which explores the 100 years since the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, and “The Browns’ Happiest Christmas,” a Victorianstyle Christmas party.


Denver Museum of Dolls, Miniatures & Toys

Miss Yokohama is on the move again. After arriving in San Francisco in 1927 with 57 other artisan beauties, the Japanese Friendship Doll toured the U.S. as an ambassador of hope and acceptance following the passage of the Asian Exclusion Act. After years in Denver and then a trip back to Japan for restoration, she ended up at the doll museum where, as one of only seven remaining dolls, she soon became one of the museum’s most popular attractions. Now, she’s preparing for her final move – to the museum’s new permanent home at 830 Kipling St., Lakewood, slated for a late 2019 or early 2020 opening. The 20,000 objects in the museum’s collection prove that dolls, toys and miniatures aren’t just fun to play with and collect. They’re also culturally significant artifacts that reflect our history and conjure some of our happiest memories.


The Colfax Museum

Schuyler Colfax, President Grant’s vice president from 1869 to 1873 and one-time Speaker of the House, was pretty proud of his political accomplishments, especially his efforts in passing the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. If he were here now, he would also be proud of the very long street that bears his name – the “wild and unpredictable” Colfax Avenue. Jonny Barber is proud of Colfax Avenue, too, and that’s why he opened The Colfax Museum in 2017 to show off his extensive assortment of one-of-akind Colfax-related artifacts and curiosities. Although a flood wiped out the museum’s most recent location, much of the museum’s collection was on display at the Denver International Airport at the time, and he’s hoping to open in a new, permanent location by the first of the year. Check the museum’s Facebook page for updates.

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