Social club carries on abandoned town's legacy
A new art festival will showcase not only the work of potters and painters, it will bring attention to the last standing building in a long-abandoned town.
Hilltop, an unincorporated town established in 1888 around a railroad depot between what are now Parker and Elizabeth, has been forgotten by all but a few loyal ladies who comprise the Hilltop Social Club. The 15-member group is in charge of maintaining the only remaining structure, the Hilltop School, which is still owned by the Douglas County School District.
The school is used mostly as a gathering spot for the social club’s business meetings, but on April 27 it will host the first Hilltop Art Fair, which is being organized by the women’s fellowship at Hilltop United Church of Christ across the street. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., artists of all kinds will display and demonstrate their crafts, and the proceeds from sales will benefit both the Hilltop School and the church.
For more information about the art fair, call 303-841-2808.
The idea behind placing booths at the historic school is to familiarize the public with its heritage and advertise it as a place for special events like weddings.
Situated on three pristine acres at Flintwood and Democrat roads, near the Douglas-Elbert county line, the school is in remarkably good condition. It was built in 1898 after the original one-room schoolhouse burned down.
The Hilltop Social Club has not missed a monthly meeting since its inception in 1921, and the women began leasing the building when K-8 classes were moved to Parker in 1954. Some longtime members of the club, like Susy Cushman, who joined in 1965, and Be Dent, who joined in 1979 and has lived in the area for 74 years, recall friendships with a few teachers, whose pictures now hang on the wall.
“We’re trying to keep the memories alive,” said Dent, 85.
The Hilltop School has been turned into a museum of sorts. Its walls are lined with memories: a photo of a class standing out front in 1930; lists of teachers and students. The school is a clearinghouse for all things Hilltop. Books contain photos of the town’s old haunts, like the train depot, general store, post office and the Hilltop Trucking Company.
“It was pretty bustling,” said Louise West, one of the social club’s newest members. “It had a big population, but most of them have died.”
The foundations of the other buildings, now on private property east of the school, have crumbled. Hilltop was crippled when the railroad closed in 1935 and the trucking company was, by most accounts, the last one to leave. The group continues to search for artifacts from the town’s heyday.
“We just keep digging,” Cushman says. “Some of that stuff is still kicking around.”
Upkeep is not always easy at the school, and the social club has small fundraisers to pay for maintenance. The roof, furnace and gutters were replaced recently, with some financial assistance from the school district, but there are plenty of repairs that need to be made. The Hilltop Art Fair, complete with food and live music, is being viewed as a potential annual fundraiser to help with the costs, and the church across the street sees it as an opportunity to have a community event for families.
“The women’s fellowship though it was good time to add to the culture out here,” said Eileen Enterline, who is organizing the fair and partnered with the social club. “It’s interesting. I have lived here so long, but learned so much about the area from this project.”
Members of the social club will be on hand acting as docents. They will share stories — like the one about an engine used to push the train disconnecting and rolling clear down the hill to Denver — and speak about the school dances and elections and town meetings that once echoed through the school.
To rent the Hilltop School for an event, call Ellen at 303-814-9379.