Step Outside the Box and Visit These Quirky Museums

The Washing Machine Museum’s offerings range from 1844-2015.  

The Washing Machine Museum’s offerings range from 1844-2015. 

By Eric Peterson

If there’s one thing that makes a good road trip great, it’s a seriously weird museum. And not just any musty old historical collection will do: I’m talking about those places that are committed to exhibiting the odd, the unusual, and the downright bizarre.

The closure of Colorado Springs’ Tesla Museum and Grandpa Jerry’s Clown Museum in Arriba notwithstanding, Colorado is home to its fair share of oddball museums. Here are five that are well worth a pit stop on your next ramble around the state.

Photo: Jonny Barber

Photo: Jonny Barber

Colfax Museum (Denver)

Proprietor Jonny Barber’s passion for Colfax Avenue, the longest urban street in the United States, is contagious. For more than a decade, he’d been hoarding everything he could with a Colfax connection: ashtrays from old motels and lounges; photos and artwork; and toys, books and miscellany. He took his basement collection public in late 2017 with the Colfax Museum in the back room of the Ed Moore Florist and Moore. 

Stop in and let Jonny share a few stories from this wickedly wonderful strip of blacktop that’s been the welcome mat of the Rockies for more than a century. “It’s been an amazing experience,” said Barber of the museum’s first months in operation. “The stories are so rich.”

6109 E. Colfax Ave., Denver

Photo: James Halterman, InterNACHI

Photo: James Halterman, InterNACHI

InterNACHI’s House of Horrors Home Inspection Museum (Boulder)

This museum is all about what not to do: The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) built a “House of Horrors” to spotlight a long and motley list of 1,000 construction defects in one spot.

It’s an inspector’s nightmare from the crawlspace to the roof. There’s everything from plumbing code violations and bad ductwork to missing handrails and breached firewalls in this intentionally badly built home, The House of Horrors is open to the public via self-guided tours as well as inspector-led events and classes.

4635 Nautilus Court South, Suite C, Boulder

Lee Maxwell and his wife of 65 years, Barbara, pose at their Washing Machine Museum in Eaton.  Photo courtesy Lee Maxwell

Lee Maxwell and his wife of 65 years, Barbara, pose at their Washing Machine Museum in Eaton. Photo courtesy Lee Maxwell

Lee Maxwell Washing Machine Museum (Eaton) 

Open by appointment, the Plains’ strangest museum showcases the humble washing machine in all of its variations. Lee Maxwell, proprietor of the eponymous museum, offers guided two-hour tours of the museum. His collection is massive: 1,400 machines in a 12,000-square-foot building that he built to store his machines. “It’s just plum full,” said Maxwell. And he’s got more in the barn.

Maxwell’s monumental collection started in 1985. “I retired and thought I needed a hobby,” he said. “For no good reason, I started collecting washing machines. One thing led to another.” Traveling the U.S. and Canada, he collected most of the machines in the ’80s and ’90s, accumulating “a whole conglomeration of weird machines,” said Maxwell. “They have weird movements, and they’re all different shapes and sizes.” His oldest full-size washing machine dates to 1844, and he has some “washing tools” that are even older. But it’s not just antiques: The newest machine is just a few years old.

35901 WCR 31, Eaton

May Natural History Museum (Colorado Springs)

If you like bugs, the May Museum’s got ‘em. It has big bugs: Herkimer, the roadside attraction that’s billed as the “World’s Largest Hercules Beetle,” stands sentry at the entry. It also has a sheer volume of bugs covered. The collection includes more than 100,000 specimens representing about 7,000 species of beetles, butterflies, scorpions, spiders and most every other creepy crawler imaginable. 

Late founder John May inherited his father’s insect collection and took it on tour before establishing his namesake museum and campground on the south side of Colorado Springs.

710 Rock Creek Canyon Rd., Colorado Springs

Museum of Colorado Prisons  (Cañon City)

Housed in the former Women’s Correctional Facility and sharing a wall with an operating prison, this facility offers a firsthand look at incarceration in Colorado. The exhibits include actual cells and other prison facilities outfitted to depict prison life from the 1870s to modern times, as well as displays on infamous Alferd Packer and other notorious individuals who did time in the Centennial State.

Don’t skip the gift shop. The inventory includes both prison-themed souvenirs and some products handcrafted by prisoners.

201 N. 1st St., Cañon City

The author of Ramble Colorado, Eric Peterson writes about Colorado manufacturers, breweries, artists and roadside attractions.