“Everyone knows Route 66 because they had a better PR guy, a better song, and a TV show,” Elvis impersonator, artist, and Colfax Avenue historian Jonny Barber once told the Los Angeles Times. But Barber, a Denver, Colorado resident, wants to put the spotlight on another notable U.S. thruway: Colorado’s wild and unpredictable Colfax Avenue.
In 2017, Barber opened the Colfax Museum to preserve the street’s legacy. He’d been storing all his Colfax memorabilia—which includes odd treasures like a stegosaurus footprint dating back 150 million years, posters, and a hotel room door broken by a drunk guest at the bed and breakfast he and his wife used to run—in his basement, and now he’s moved it into a proper museum.
Even before he opened the museum, Barber spent the last 14 years acting as the keeper of Colfax history. And what a history it has been.
Beat Generation stalwart Neal Cassady met a Columbia University student at a Denver public library on Colfax. That student, named Hal Chase, later introduced Cassady to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. If the two hadn’t met, “there would have been no Beat generation,” said Barber.
Clint Eastwood filmed Every Which Way But Loose on Colfax. It was once the site of the world’s biggest laundromat. The adventurous sorts could even wrestle a reptile at the Alligator Garden that called the street home. There’s even an oft-repeated story that Playboy magazine called the street “the longest, wickedest street in America” (though this is up for debate).
Wickedest or not, Barber wants to preserve it all. Barber’s Colfax Museum was housed in a space provided by a local florist, until the building was sold, forcing Barber to relocate to Lakewood. For Barber, the weird history of the highway is worth protecting, no matter what the future holds. “If Colfax looks different in 20 years,” he said. “I can’t change that, but I can create a time capsule full of its stories and tall tales.”
Colfax Avenue runs 32 miles through the Denver Metro area, starting at I-70 as it exits Mt. Vernon Canyon and cutting its way east to Strasbourg, Colo., where it ends at Headlight Road.
Colfax Avenue forms part of US Route 40, which stretches for 490 miles across Colorado and originally stretched across the country, from Atlantic City, New Jersey all the way to San Francisco. These days, this little ribbon of Americana cuts off at Silver Creek Junction, Utah, 50 miles east of Salt Lake City.
Update as of September 2021: The museum closed in 2020 due to flood damage. Some of the artifacts have been spread along Colfax Avenue until the owners locate a new location for the entire collection. Check their website to see where the current artifacts on display are.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open from 11:00 to 5:30. Check the museum Web page for the most current information.