Once upon a time, there was a little town southwest of Denver that served as the hub for a farming community. Founded by a surveyor-turned-entrepreneur, Richard Little, he named it for himself: Littleton.
The town grew. Denver grew. Eventually their boundaries merged. But Littleton has retained its own unique personality despite its becoming what is commonly thought of as a Denver suburb.
Littleton has its own downtown, very different from that of the state capitol. There are charming century-old buildings, but no concrete skyscrapers. There’s traffic, but it wends its way through the landscaped streets at a slower and more polite pace.
There are scads of great little restaurants, including Café Terracotta, which has excellent salads and sandwiches at reasonable prices, to several upscale restaurants equal to anything you’d find in adjacent Denver.
And Littleton is dotted with pretty parks for strolling or picnicking, and where kids can play.
Though the edges of Littleton are home to a giant shopping mall and massive tech center buildings, Historic Downtown Littleton still has a small-town feel. There are a shops and businesses that cater to nearly every need, yet retain the feel of that small town.
The city’s two stellar attractions are Hudson Gardens and the Littleton Historical Museum. Both of these attractions will make you feel as if you’re far from any city.
Hudson Gardens was the dream of Col. King and Mrs. Evelyn Hudson, who in 1941 purchased five acres on the banks of the South Platte River, along a dirt road now called Santa Fe Drive. For 20 years, they operated the Country Kitchen, which became nationally famous for its fine food. The couple devoted themselves to making Littleton the prettiest city around, planting numerous trees and flower beds. As the garden property eventually grew to 30 acres, it was turned over to a foundation to perpetuate their vision.
Today, Hudson Gardens offers lavish floral displays, from a stellar rose garden (with a fountain) to a pond
dotted with blooming lily pads. Birds and butterflies flock here. Visitors meander paths among the day lilies and hollyhocks, stop to admire an outdoor miniature
train set-up, or just sit on a bench under a shade tree.
It makes you want to pack a picnic lunch. Check them out online to see its events schedule, including summer outdoor concerts.
Another urban oasis can be found at the Littleton Historical Museum. Here, you’ll find a living history site, with an 1860s homestead farm and a turn-of-the-century urban farm. Both include authentic period buildings, as well as livestock and living history characters to show you how cooking was done or horseshoes were made. Life was different for us all in the days when you churned your own butter. If you’re lucky, you might get to pet a young calf, and see other livestock, including horses, on site.
Inside the museum itself, there are both a permanent exhibit on Littleton’s history (with such artifacts as farm implements and fashions of the day), but also a second gallery with changing exhibits. Concerts and other public events also are held here.
At the museum, pick up a guided walking tour of downtown, to learn more about the Denver & Rio Grande Depot, the Carnegie Library, the 1907 courthouse, historic churches, noteworthy businesses and the homes of early influential residents.
And be sure to visit the town cemetery, where its most famous occupant is Western legend Alferd Packer, the Colorado cannibal.
In short, historic Littleton may no longer be a little town; but it doesn’t feel like the big city, either.
IF YOU GO
If you plan to visit, check out this website for directions to downtown Littleton, as well as parking tips, a calendar of events, and more: http://downtownlittleton.com/index.php
For Hudson Gardens: http://www.hudsongardens.org/
For the museum: http://www.littletongov.org/index.aspx?page=421
Linda DuVal is the former travel editor for The Gazette, a freelance travel writer and winner of several Lowell Thomas awards. She is the co-author of Insider’s Guide to Colorado Springs and writes a local Web site, Pikes Peak on the Cheap (www.pikespeakonthecheap.com).
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