Dearfield Was A Booming Black Community A Century Ago. Now There’s A Renewed Push To Preserve The Ghost Town That Remains

Jackson’s goal in establishing the community was to foster middle-class self-sufficiency for the Black community on the Eastern Plains, as inspired by Booker T. Washington. His original plan was to expand the farming community and build a sanatorium, because many such facilities at the time did not accept Black patients, or potentially an educational institution, like Tuskegee University in Alabama, according to Professor George Junne, who teaches Africana Studies at the University of Northern Colorado.

Instead, the land remained a thriving farming community.

“When you look around (now), you can’t imagine it,” Junne said. “They were growing strawberries out here, which takes a lot of water. They were growing cantaloupes and melons, and they had chickens and geese and horses and cattle and all that kind of thing. It was an amazing community.”

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The partially restored Dearfield Lodge, also known as the Jackson Family House, was built in 1917. At various times known as a boarding house or hotel, it also served as the office of Dearfield founder O.T. Jackson. Dearfield was one of six Black Homestead communities in the Great Plains.
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Surrounded by encroaching Black Honey Locust trees, the fallen-down remains of the Squire Brockman House in Dearfield lay a short walk west from the Dearfield Lodge. Brockman was the town blacksmith and car mechanic, and a skilled violinist who drew audiences, including white folk from Dearfield and surrounding communities.

At its peak during World War I, Dearfield had two churches, a restaurant, a dance hall and 300 residents. Junne said even though Dearfield was a Black settlement, in many ways life was more integrated on the Eastern Plains than in many other parts of the country.

“Because they interacted; they danced on the same dance floors, had baseball teams with each other, black kids from here would go to white schools in the area sometimes, after the schools here closed down.”

Dearfield’s heyday was relatively short-lived. It foundered on the same forces that drained the life from so many places in eastern Colorado.