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Arts & Life

Despite Floods, Fires Tiny Town Remains Draw For Those Little And Big

There’s a town nestled in the foothills near Morrison where size is a state of mind and where some big icons of Colorado’s history are getting some tiny treatment.

Reed Sundine has been a train conductor at Tiny Town for 12 years, but his history with the park dates back much farther.

“I came to Tiny Town as a kid,” Sundine said. “My uncle brought me up here in the 1940s; then I brought all my grandchildren up here. It’s a great place for kids.”

The park’s three locomotives -- including Mary Ross, Cinder Belle and Occasional Rose -- alternate taking visitors around the miniaturized houses and businesses, some dating back to the early 1900s and representing real locations that are even older.

“It has the history of Colorado all around,” Sundine said. “We got the Molly Brown house, the Lace house -- which is the Victorian house in Black Hawk, Colorado, and the Maxwell mansion, which is in Georgetown, Colorado. We have all the mines that are up in Idaho Springs. So it’s just a piece of Colorado.”

It’s something Parker resident James Henderson appreciated.

“I think it’s neat seeing how much work must have gone into each one of these buildings -- some of them are huge -- uh, even though they’re tiny,” Henderson said. ”The craftsmanship is really neat. I appreciate that sort of thing. Getting to ride on the train, too -- my little boy is just a freak about trains.”

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Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
James Henderson rides the Tiny Town train with his 1-year-old daughter, Evelyn.

Wife Kristy Henderson said she chose Tiny Town to bring their family, including visiting family in from Las Vegas, because she was looking for something fun for the kids -- and themselves, too.

“I love seeing the Addams Family House,” she said. “That was like -- when we first came in, oh, that’s awesome! And the train was fun and we had some ice cream together.”

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Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Tiny Town features a variety of real Colorado locations as well as some fanciful ones, like the 'Addams Family' replica.

Next to the tiny houses and the train, ice cream is the 102-year-old park’s biggest draw. And it’s where guests get to meet the Mayor of Tiny Town, Elvira Nedoma.

Not only is Nedoma the manager of Tiny Town, she also refurbishes the houses and runs the concession stand. That’s a lot of hats -- or, in her case, tiaras. Nedoma is never seen at Tiny Town without her signature tiara.

“Yeah, I’m the ice cream princess,” she said. “It was a joke eight years ago and the kids won’t let me forget it. They come in here and if they see me with no crown on my head, uh-oh!”

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Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Elvira Nedoma is the manager at Tiny Town.

But when it comes to preserving Tiny Town’s history, Nedoma takes things pretty seriously. There are more than 150 houses in the park with new ones added each season. This summer, it will be a miniature version of Denver’s iconic Colorado Building.

Not just any building can make it in Tiny Town.

“We try to get historical buildings here,” Nedoma said. “I’ve had people want to put tattoo parlors in here -- that’s not for kids. You know, I’m very picky. We have to be very careful about what we put in here.”

Among its historical attractions are the Central City Opera House and Denver Fire Station Number One. But there are some more fanciful ones, including a replica of Tara from Gone With the Wind and a whimsical Dr. Seuss house.

But Tiny Town wasn’t always Tiny Town. As train conductor Reed Sundine likes to tell riders, the park was first known as Turnerville, named after its owner, George Turner, who started it in 1915.

“He brought his daughter up here and he had a moving company and she had no one to play with so he began to build her little houses,” Sundine said.

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Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Reed Sundine waits for kids to board the Tiny Town train caboose.

Turnerville opened to the public in 1920 and became an instant hit, drawing more than 20,000 visitors each year. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Flooding from nearby Turkey Creek heavily damaged the park in 1929 and 1932. Fire destroyed many of the buildings three years after that.

Then in 1948, Highway 285 was rerouted, taking with it a lot of potential visitors. Amid dwindling attendance, in 1966 -- after several attempts to sell the property and no offers -- Tiny Town closed.

Over the next 20 years, the park was reopened -- and closed -- several more times. But in 1987, the Northern Colorado chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management decided to take on the homes of Tiny Town as a civic project.

That’s how Elvira Nedoma, a former real estate agent, first found herself in Tiny Town.

“They built some new ones and refurbished the ones they could find that were damaged,” Nedoma said. “And now [...] for over 20 years now this place has been open and it will never close to the children again.”

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