In southeastern Colorado, the Wet Mountain Valley is the heartbeat of the state for many Coloradans. Framed with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and the Wet Mountains to the west, the valley encompasses magnificent panoramic mountain views, a haven of homesteading country for farmers and ranchers, and a constellation of tiny towns that manifest a proud sense of history and community.
Hillside is one of those towns. They say, “If you blink, you’ll miss it,” as you drive along Highway 69 between Westcliffe and Cotopaxi. With roughly 9 acres and half a dozen structures, Hillside has been a hub in the valley’s community—most notably for its post office. With about three hundred P.O. Boxes and a small general store, locals, farmers, and ranchers frequent the post office not just to get their mail, but also to catch up with each other.
Breathing New Life into Hillside
As a child hoping for a candy or popsicle, Chris Seegers would visit the Hillside post office with his grandfather, who owned a ranch across the road. Being the son of a missionary doctor and 1 of 8 kids, Chris preferred his summers with his grandparents in the Wet Mountain Valley to life abroad with his parents in countries like Mexico and Morocco. At the ripe age of 10, Chris began to learn the ropes of his grandfather’s ranch: building fence, pushing cattle, and working with horses. In hindsight, his trips to the Hillside post office with his grandpa would foreshadow a dedication and commitment to the community and an entrepreneurship venture that would change Hillside forever.
Chris Seegers probably isn’t how you picture him, because he’s not your typical businessman. At age 30, Chris stands tall and lean with sky blue eyes, a sprucely trimmed beard, worn jeans, a chambray shirt, and work boots. While studying business management at Colorado State University, Chris met his wife, Tara—a native to Alberta, Canada—who was also studying business. After returning to the valley to co-operate The Lamp Post Lodge with his parents in Westcliffe, Chris couldn’t help but notice a “For Sale” sign in front of Hillside one day on his drive down Highway 69.
“We were looking at some long-term rental properties and some other things, and I just happened to drive up,” Chris recalled. “I saw that they had a ‘For Sale’ sign out front. I didn’t know what it meant, right? I didn’t know it meant the whole town with all the structures and everything.” He immediately got a real estate agent to show him the property, and Chris knew right away that the little town with the post office he used to visit with his grandpa could possibly be a business investment, along with an opportunity to restore the town’s livelihood.
Tara was a little more apprehensive. “The visionary was one hundred percent Chris at the beginning,” she explained. “Then, when I was able to walk the property with him a few months later, I quickly bought into his dream, envisioned the restoration, and was excited for the design opportunity!” Chris added, “Our biggest focus is maintaining community. If the post office shuts down, it takes away the central hub for people to come. People come in the morning and just catch up on each other’s lives. We thought if someone else buys it, they might just shut it down.” The vision for Hillside is to create short-term rentals, bring more people to the valley, and really show them how awesome it is in the area.
Rustic Yet Modern Charm
The Seegers’ vision for Hillside has been well executed. After purchasing Hillside, Chris and Tara sought the help of their contracting partners, Lori and Stuart Short, and most of the Hillside buildings have been renovated and are ready for guests. Four quaint cottages are perched along the property—all refurbished with a modern yet rustic feel thanks to Tara’s knack in interior design. Bright, clean, and glowing with a homespun elegance, each cottage invites you to sit in a cozy chair by the window to admire the view of the Sangres, prepare a fresh, home-cooked meal in a fully loaded kitchenette, or be a kid again and climb up to the top of the lofty queen-sized bunk beds to take an afternoon nap.
The cottages are just the beginning to all the Hillside charm. Across the way, a black willow tree grove with a small creek winding through it offers a blanket of shade and serenity to the property. The grove is rumored to be the oldest black willow tree grove in the state of Colorado. Yoga classes, retreats, wedding ceremonies, beer and wine tastings, and bluegrass concerts are just some of the events that this timeless grove will host.
Adjacent to the grove is the Hillside Hall, which in its time was one of the most hopping dance halls in the valley. In the 1920s, a local agricultural association known as The Grange built a railway that ran from Westcliffe to Hillside so that Valley residents could pay a dollar and ride the train to the dances in Hillside. “It was built in 1921,” explained Chris. “So for us, when we were able to purchase that building, our vision was to not turn it into some commercialized building, but to really bring that back so the community can use it so the building doesn’t fall into disrepair.”
Though the building needed several renovations, it appears to be untouched from the time it was built, adding to the historical appeal of the small town. High vaulted ceilings, clapboard walls, sconce lights, and oak floors are the footing for the antique stage and hand-painted tapestry mural dated at 1926. “It’s a really special building,” explained coordinator Lori Short. “There’s been a lot of weddings, a lot of funerals, a lot of music, a lot of potlucks, a lot of stories, and we are slowly starting to gather some of those stories.”
Since the restoration of the Hall, the Seegers would like to see new memories filling the space with events like high school plays, wedding receptions, reunions, corporate dinners, square dances, and concerts.
The Importance of the Post Office
Though each aspect of Hillside was restored with history in mind, the town’s post office remains the most crucial part for the Seegers and the community. “For the local community, we especially want to retain the historic post office and store that has been operational since the late 1800s,” explained Tara. The post office building resembles a small Victorian house with white siding and green trim, and it feels seemingly newer than the other Hillside structures. When a man by the name Dan England bought Hillside in the 1990s, he tore down the original post office, which was formerly a mine shack that was transplanted to Hillside in the 1800s. “That was a huge deal to the community, it was a huge loss,” said Chris.
With the help of Hillside’s longtime postmistress Barb Koch, the post office continues to function as it always did—now with Hillside memorabilia and goods for the general store. “She knew me when I was two-feet tall,” Chris praised Barb. “Without her, we couldn’t do this. She’s been around forever, she’s got a tremendous love for the area, and she’s got a tremendous love for what she does.”
Because of the Seegers and the support of the valley community, Hillside beats with a pulse the way it was intended to. With the Wet Mountain Valley as Hillside’s front door, limitless activities such as fly-fishing, rafting, hiking, mountain biking, stargazing, and music festivals are at its visitor’s fingertips. “The key theme is people that want peace, relaxation. People can bring their own food and cook their own meals and not have a motel or hotel feel. Out here at night, it’s just silent. To sit out here and drink a bottle of wine is incredible,” said Chris.
When asked whether or not the little town owners had big plans to expand, Chris explained that community is priceless in a country that is consumed with urban sprawl and development. “We are just short-term stewards of whatever we have. This is going to be here long after us. I’ve traveled all over the Midwest, and all these tiny towns are just disappearing. With that, you lose all the community, you lose all those deep relationships with families that have been there for 2 or 3 generations. So for us, it’s just maintaining that for as long as we own it—and hopefully whoever owns it after us continues to see the value in that.”
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