Preservation efforts keep community in touch with roots
May 25, 2017
The historic preservation of old buildings is one way to remember the people who’ve helped shape the character of a community. Factor in the agricultural and economic forces of the past, and a historic building serves as a cultural reminder of a bygone way of life.
Guests of the lecture on historic preservation at the Left Hand Grange Hall on May 17 learned how the county has invested in our shared cultural heritage—through five historic properties in particular, a painstaking process described by Boulder County Parks and Open Space Education and Outreach Director, Pascale Fried.
Fried began by discussing the Altona Schoolhouse at Heil Valley Ranch. Open for 60 days out of the year, the one-room schoolhouse was built in 1880, and served as a district school until the Heil family bought the property in 1949. During the school’s heyday, there were as few as 19 and up to 49 children in attendance, Fried said.
Two additions made by the Heil family were removed from the schoolhouse in 2015. During demolition, a root cellar was discovered underneath the floorboards of one of the additions, which was filled in while also being preserved. The decision underscores the county’s desire to maintain the integrity of the original structure, while also keeping the more recent root cellar, and its “walls made of a beautiful sandstone,” according to Fried, intact.
Sixteen desks from the era when the schoolhouse was operational have been donated, and the county is looking for about eight more, Fried said. They’ll be used in future living history educational programs.
The Carolyn Holmberg Preserve at Rock Creek Farm on Highway 287 just north of Broomfield was once the site of a Pony Express swing station, where express riders traded spent horses for fresh ones, Fried explained. The building on the site, known as the Goodhue Farmhouse, was built in the early 1900s (by Abner Goodhue, and later sold to Stearns Dairy in the 1930s, where cows grazed on the property’s more than 1,000 acres).
The county renovated the farmhouse in 2004, knocking down interior walls to create an open meeting space. A parlor was also refurbished and staged with 1930s-era furniture and décor, with input from Niwot historian Anne Dyni, Fried said.
The Cardinal Mill on Caribou Road in Nederland operated between 1902 and the 1940s, when it was abandoned for economic reasons, according to Fried. Gold, silver and tungsten were mined at the mill, the rock taken by cart to the top of the mill and dumped through hoppers, and then crushed to extract the metal. Purchased by the county in 2003, the mill’s renovation process has been extensive, because the 6,000-square foot structure has been exposed to the elements, as well as theft and vandalism, for more than half a century.
Water had also run through the property, Fried said, while pointing out a water line. “There were fish living in there.”
The county hired contractors to rebuild the stone retaining wall on the western side of the mill to divert the water, and logs to shore up the eastern side, materials used on the original site. “We use historic photos as much as we can [in our restoration work],” Fried explained, “so we’re not guessing.” She said historic preservation requires “detective work,” such as visits to the assessor’s office to research old property records, or tracking down photographs to uncover clues on how buildings were used.
Built in 1861, the Ramey Homestead on N. 61st Street is one of the oldest in Boulder County, Fried said, with owner George Webster purchasing the original 60 acres for $1.25/acre. Two buildings on the property were damaged in the 2013 flood, with the granary carried 300 feet. “It stopped because it hit a sink hole,” Fried said. A barn on the property essentially broke in half. Repairs were made, and rock and soil were hauled in to level the land.
The county purchased the Walker Ranch Homestead on Flagstaff Road in 1976. James Walker was an enterprising homesteader who turned his original 160 acres into a 6,000-acre empire, making money in timber, mining, cattle ranching and blacksmithing. An original log cabin built on the property in the 1880s was later followed by a house, because James’s wife, Phoebe, wanted roomier accommodations. An electrical fire, however, burnt the house down in 1992.
“The rangers living there plugged in a popcorn maker—they immediately heard the crackling in the walls,” Fried said. By the time they’d driven to a neighbor’s house to call the fire department, they could see the flames.
The county replaced the house in 2008, when funds afforded, sticking true to the home’s exterior while making changes to the interior, including energy efficient upgrades. An original bedroom with a pot-bellied stove remained in the plans, however, along with a parlor, rooms which Dyni also helped decorate. “She picked out the hand-made wallpaper,” Fried said, which was ordered from England.
In response to a question from the audience, Fried suggested a visit to the National Parks Service site, where you can find the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation. These guidelines are meant to help return a property to a “state of utility” through renovation, while at the same time preserving features that are “significant to its historic, architectural and cultural values.”