The Most Comprehensive Exhibit on Boulder’s History


It’s not easy trying to compress 150 years of history into 2,600 square feet.

When the Boulder Historical Society started planning this exhibit six years ago, it seemed like plenty of space. But every day that it drew closer to the big opening for the exhibit, “The Boulder Experience,” the space seemed to shrink more and more.

The highly anticipated exhibit is open now in the new Museum of Boulder, 2205 Broadway.

“The biggest challenge has been how do you narrow it down? There are so many amazing stories, so much content we could include,” says Nancy Geyer, executive director of the museum.

The museum has a variety of other exhibits, but this one is like nothing Boulder’s ever seen before, both in size and curation detail.

The historical society is pulling from its massive collection of 45,000 local artifacts (from antique hand plows to old IBM computers to historical clothing) and hundreds of thousands of archived photos, books and documents in an attempt to create the most comprehensive story of Boulder’s history ever told.

The goal: for people to better understand Boulder by diving deeper into its past.

“Boulder really is a unique community,” Geyer says. “It’s a relatively small city but has a major impact both nationally and globally.”

Boulder historic photo
Historical archived photo of Boulder

She’s talking about social issues that Boulder has spearheaded, like marriage equality and open space preservation, as well as the natural foods movement and space science developments.

“I would love for people to come out of here saying, ‘Wow, I never knew that about Boulder,” Geyer says.

Plus, she adds, as with all history, it’s important to understand and remember the past so we don’t repeat its mistakes. Not all of this exhibit is successful entrepreneurs, Nobel Laureates and Olympians. The museum pays respect to the Native American story in this area, including the tragedy of the Sand Creek Massacre and Boulder’s involvement in that.

Exhibit organizers reached out to Arapaho tribe members for this part of the exhibit. Arapaho community members contributed to the development of the historical documentation, narrated the film and animated it. There aren’t a lot of Native American artifacts preserved from the Boulder area, so they needed another way to share this story.

A historical photograph of Boulder
A historical photograph of Boulder

All of the tens of thousands of other artifacts and archives from Boulder’s history aren’t all housed in the museum. They live in a warehouse and the Carnegie Library, to be pulled on for future exhibits, too.

The museum went to the community to borrow other objects to display, like an atomic clock from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the bike Connie Carpenter won the Olympics on in the ‘70s.

The historical society hired a curation team to put this exhibit together, and they also used focus groups and community interviews to help craft an outline for the topics.

Boulder, 1845
Historical photo of Boulder in 1845

In addition to the Native American story, the Boulder history exhibit includes information on:

  • Boulder’s social history, such as issuing the first gay marriage license to political demonstrations in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and how Boulder’s hippies changed the demographics of Boulder in such a short period of time.
  • Local social issues. These will be presented on interactive “touch tables,” where you can learn about different community issues (like homelessness), hear different opinions and even add your own opinion to the exhibit. You can choose to share your opinion, which will be projected on the wall, making the participants part of the exhibit.
  • The evolution of the natural food industry, from Celestial Seasonings to White Wave and how Boulder has evolved into being a mecca for healthy food. You’ll even see an old soy milk vending machine.
  • Boulder’s science and tech scene,  like the Kepler Telescope (built in Boulder), the atomic clock and a space weather prediction center, where visitors can practice predicting the weather.
  • Sports and athletics. Learn about some of Boulder’s famous athletes and see their famed gear, from Dave Scott’s Ironman bike to Gary Neptune’s climbing gear.

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