The Milheim House Continues Its Legacy of Education

The Milheim house has a long and storied history in Denver.
The Milheim house has a long and storied history in Denver. Worldmind

When the Milheim House was built in 1893, it was a stately manse across the street from the Molly Brown House on Pennsylvania Street. Built by John Milheim, a Swiss immigrant who opened Denver’s first bakery and other enterprises, the Denver square declined over the century and was marked for demolition in 1989. But preservationists prevailed, and the house was picked up and moved — very slowly and very carefully — to its current location at 1515 Race Street, where it has since hosted programs to meet the educational needs of the rapidly growing city.

In 2011, Lighthouse Writers Workshop was the first organization to move into the Milheim, where it offered a plethora of creative opportunities to put pen to paper, from classes to readings to LitFest, an annual literary festival that brought impressive crowds to learn from an equally impressive guest list of novelists, poets and writers of all stripes. “Ah, the Milheim House,” says Lighthouse founder and poet Michael Henry. “What a lovely, quirky building.”

But Lighthouse tends to outgrow its spaces: during its decade in the Milheim House, "the community we served tripled in size," Henry says. Lighthouse is now in a temporary interim space awaiting the groundbreaking of its new building. Henry says he’ll “miss the amazing, decorative interior — the crown molding, chandelier and original fireplaces, not to mention the wood staircase and its elements made to resemble a harp.”
click to enlarge An architectural rendering of Lighthouse's planned facility at 39th and York streets. - LIGHTHOUSE/KEMBERLIN ARCHITECTURE
An architectural rendering of Lighthouse's planned facility at 39th and York streets.
Lighthouse/Kemberlin Architecture

The Milheim House wasn't empty for long, though. In June, it was purchased by the Worldmind Nature School, a nonprofit that bills itself as “an inclusive, outdoor-based school for early childhood through sixth grade that uses a unique, real-world STEAM curriculum individually tailored to each student.” The school came to the Milheim House from its former location at the Graystone Mansion in City Park West.

The pandemic turned out to be both a boon and a bust for Worldmind, which started serving Denver families in 2018. The school was based in City Park and partnered with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for shelter during inclement weather. But as the COVID-19 virus spread, Worldmind’s permit to operate out of the parks was pulled, and the museum, like many institutions, temporarily shut its doors.

The outdoor element of Worldmind, however, made it an attractive option for families. “We were getting many parents interested in our model,” says founder and executive director Megan Patterson. “So we found the Graystone, and we had a couple of weeks to get in there and start classes.”

The Milheim, according to Patterson, fits perfectly with the Worldmind model. “It brings in our real-world curriculum so our students, now through sixth grade, are able to be constantly out in the community doing real-world learning," she says. "The Milheim fit into that. We can use the history of the house to teach students about Colorado history.”

The history isn’t the only thing that drew Patterson to the Milheim. “It was the energy of the house,” she says. “So positive. And the outdoor spaces are great for classrooms, and we now have access to both Cheesman and City parks.”
The preschool and kindergarten are fully outdoors, with the reopened Museum of Nature & Science still serving as shelter when necessary. The elementary classes are at the Milheim, currently stretching to sixth grade. The plan is to eventually expand through middle school as current students matriculate.

The model has been especially effective in serving gifted, twice-exceptional and neurodivergent students, according to Patterson. “The idea is that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing," she says. "Being out in nature builds resilience and grit, and research has shown that to be a main indicator of success in education later on, all the way through college.”

The Milheim legacy continues, and its occupants, both former and current, can use some support on Colorado Gives Day, December 7. Coloradans can donate to both Lighthouse and Worldmind through the ColoradoGives website.

Find more information on both Lighthouse and Worldmind on their websites.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen