Tour America's Treasures

An invitation to tour America's historical sites...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Chimney Rock Archaeological Area

View Chimney Rock Archaeological Area in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Colorado page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

The Great House Pueblo at Chimney Rock Archaeological Area.
Photo by John Richardson, courtesy of Chimney Rock
Interpretive Association.

Chimney Rock Archaeological Area
3 miles south of Highway 160 on Highway 151
Between Durango and Pagosa Springs, Archuleta County, CO

The Treasure:  On a high mesa, capped by two monumental rocky spires, scientists and volunteers work to preserve and interpret a magnificent complex of ruins that promise to offer key insights into the culture of the Ancestral Puebloan people.

Accessibility:  Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is accessible by guided tour only. These tours are offered on a daily basis from May 15 to September 30 and start at the Chimney Rock Visitor’s Center.

Background:  Nature created the first treasures here. The two rock spires that give Chimney Rock its name were carved out by retreating glaciers that left these vertical remnants of ancient sedimentary rocks. The tallest is designated Chimney Rock; the other spire (wider but a bit shorter) is known as Companion Rock.

Companion Rock and Chimney Rock.
Photo by John Richardson, courtesy of
Chimney Rock Interpretive Association.
The sublime appearance of these geological formations may have been a factor in attracting people to settle in this area over 1,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of settlement suggests Ancestral Puebloan farmers may have arrived between 850 and 900 A.D. They appear to have grown corn and beans, supplemented by hunting and gathering practices, in the North Piedra River valley. Over the decades, their small villages moved upslope, nearer to the Chimney Rock spires.

These original settlements in the Chimney Rock area were small, based on subsistence living. However, during this same time period, 93 miles to the south in New Mexico, a great Puebloan civilization was forming.  At the remote Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico, the Pueblo people created a major regional culture center characterized by huge stone “Great Houses,” with an average of 200 rooms apiece, and distinctive circular ceremonial structures known as kivas.

The High Mesa ruins at Chimney Rock indicate that at some point the Chaco Canyon culture infiltrated this southern Colorado area, probably between 1000 and 1100 A.D. The extremely impressive ruins at Chimney Rock include a Great House, known as the Chimney Rock Pueblo, which contained at least 36 rooms and two ceremonial kivas. Many scholars believe that these late-period Chimney Rock structures were built to serve as an outlying ceremonial and festival center for the Chaco Canyon culture, perhaps inspiring pilgrimages to the sacred Chimney Rock location for special rituals. A professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado has proposed a popular theory that the Great House’s location would have aligned with the two rock spires to commemorate lunar events important to the Pueblo religion.

This period of High Mesa settlement and ambitious architecture at Chimney Rock was short-lived. By the first quarter of the 1100s, the Ancestral Pubeloans began a still-unexplained migration southward, abandoning their great ceremonial centers. The stories told by their ancestors—today’s Hopi, Zuni, Jemez, Acoma, Taos, Picuris, and other Rio Grande Pueblo tribes—may contain allusions to the ancient grandeur of life in Chaco Canyon and ceremonial worship at Chimney Rock. All agree that Chimney Rock is sacred land.

Historic image of the Great House Pueblo at Chimney Rock in 1941.
Photo courtesy US Forest Service, Pagosa District.

The Great House tour at Chimney Rock.  Photo by John Richardson,
courtesy of Chimney Rock Interpretive Association.

A Major Lunar Standstill moonrise as observed from the Great House ruins
at Chimney Rock.  Photo by Helen Richardson, courtesy of Chimney Rock
Interpretive Association.

Notes from the Editor:  Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is within the San Juan National Forest, where the work of preservation is overseen by the volunteer Chimney Rock Interpretive Association and the Pagosa Ranger District of the USDA Forest Service. The popularity of the site presents numerous preservation challenges, particularly the ongoing need for site stabilization. Erosion, foot traffic, animal activity, wind and rain, and (most regrettable of all) looting can result in irreplaceable losses.

Archaeological dig at Chimney Rock
in 2008.  Photo by John Richardson,
courtesy of Chimney Rock
Interpretive Association.
The Chimney Rock Archaeological Area website posts the following list of public awareness guidelines. While these guidelines were written specifically for Chimney Rock, they are applicable to hundreds of other archaeological sites as well. I’m reposting them in full because of their extreme importance. Please take them to heart!

  • Stay on existing roads and trails. Scars on the landscape heal slowly and increase soil erosion.
  • Walk carefully in archaeological sites to avoid stepping on walls and trash mounds. Do not stand or sit on walls, move rocks, or climb through doorways. All cause damage to archaeological structures.
  • Never touch painted or plastered walls, petroglyphs, or pictographs. Skin oils damage them.
  • Avoid picnicking in archaeological sites. Crumbs attract rodents that tunnel and nest in the site. Make sure that you pick up and carry out all of your trash.
  • Do not camp in archaeological sites. It’s easy to accidentally destroy walls and artifacts in the dark. Campfire smoke stains walls and cliffs, and charcoal leaves a mess. Leaving human waste in archaeological sites is unsightly and unsanitary. Never burn wood from archaeological sites.
  • Never dig in archaeological sites. If you pick up a piece of pottery, put it back where you found it. Leave all artifacts exactly where found for others to enjoy. Artifacts in their original context tell stories about the past. Out of context, artifacts mean little to an archaeologist.
  • Treat sites with respect as they are spiritually significant for Native Americans. Do not leave “offerings” as they only confuse the site’s original story.
  • Do not disturb archaeological sites or remove artifacts on federal public lands without written permission from the Department of the Interior. The sites are protected by Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and the Antiquities Act of 1906.
  • Do your part to preserve this rich heritage.

A tour of the Great Kiva at Chimney Rock.  Photo by Helen Richardson,
courtesy of Chimney Rock Interpretive Association.

Other Recommended Sites:  Because their archives are currently closed in preparation for the opening of their new Visitor and Research Center in 2013, Mesa Verde National Park was not included as an entry in our current Colorado tour. Located approximately one hundred miles due west of Chimney Rock, Mesa Verde National Park is probably the country’s most iconic site for exploring the culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people, particularly their distinctive cliff dwellings. Mesa Verde received two Save America’s Treasures grants, one for stabilization of the cliff dwellings and the other for preserving artifacts in their collections.

Sunset at Chimney Rock Archaeological Area.  Photo by Helen Richardson,
courtesy of Chimney Rock Interpretive Association.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Monday’s destination:  Next stop:  Connecticut!
Wednesday’s destination:  Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

© 2012 Lee Price

Friday, May 25, 2012

Naropa Poetic Audio Archives

View Naropa University in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Colorado page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

The Allen Ginsberg Library at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Naropa Poetic Audio Archives
Naropa University
Boulder, CO

The Treasure:  The Naropa Poetics Audio Archives at Naropa University preserves over 5,000 hours of audio material starring some of the greatest writers of the Beat generation and other important literary movements from the 1970s to the present.

Accessibility:  Much of the audio material has been digitized and can be downloaded and enjoyed at Naropa Poetics Audio Archives. As for the actual archives at the university, it is open to the public by appointment only.

Allen Ginsberg in 1978.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Background:   Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) was still a young man when he exploded on the poetry scene in 1955 with his long poem “Howl,” which famously opens: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…” The intensity of the poem, its obscenity-laced language, and its widely-publicized legal battles brought the Beat literary movement to national attention.

Important Beat writers included Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and Ginsberg’s life partner, Peter Orlovsky. They were often viewed as youth-celebrating iconoclasts, generally open to drug and lifestyle experimentation, politically outspoken, and intensely personal in their writings.

Ginsberg embraced Buddhism, the religion of his good friend Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist who founded an alternative college called Naropa Institute (now University) in Boulder, Colorado in 1974. At the prodding of Trungpa, Ginsberg and fellow poet Anne Waldman organized a writing program—the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics—at the young college. Today, the Kerouac School encompasses the University’s Department of Writing & Poetics (offering both Bachelor’s and MFA degrees), the Summer Writing Program, and the MFA Creative Writing program.

From the outset, the Kerouac School sought to attract the leading voices of the American literary avant-garde to Boulder, Colorado to present at readings, lectures, performances, seminars, panels, and workshops. Recordings of their presentations form the core of the Naropa Poetics Audio Archives. On these recordings, you can hear the art and insights of artists such as Amiri Baraka, Gregory Corso, Philip Whalen, Robert Creeley, William Burroughs, Joanne Kyger, Harry Smith, Gary Snyder, Jerome Rothenberg, Peter Lambourn Wilson, Michael McClure, Diane di Prima, Anselm Hollo and the two founders, Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman.

If you know your poetry history, you’ll notice that it’s not just the Beat movement that’s captured in these audio archives, but key examples of other major 20th century American literary movements, including the l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e school of poetry, New York schools of poetry, the Black Mountain school of poetry, the Berkeley and San Francisco Renaissance, the Black Arts movement, and other offshoots of postmodernism, surrealism, dada, and the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance.

Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs at the
Gotham Book Mart in New York City in 1977.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Notes from the Editor:  You don’t even have to leave your computer to enter this American treasure! Start at the Internet Archive’s finding aid to the Naropa Poetics Audio Archives. To find a poet, scroll down to Browse Collection by Creator. The poets and other literary artists are listed in alphabetical order, with additional information on group presentations

Now settle back and sample the fireworks. Try Allen Ginsberg performing “Howl” in its entirety (a 72-minute reading with the “Howl” performance beginning at the 40-minute point), or Ginsberg chanting William Blake poetry accompanied by period instruments, or William S. Burroughs comparing his approach to writing to Jack Kerouac’s, or a performance by the poet/punk rocker Jim Carroll which includes his underground hit “People Who Died.”  And that’s just the start of 5,000 hours of recordings…

A personal note:  I like alternative universities. There aren’t many—probably less than a couple of dozen in the country—but they offer a refreshingly personal approach to education that contrasts well with the 99% of standard-model colleges and universities. Alternative universities are usually structured to encourage interdisciplinary approaches, seeking to dissolve the arbitrary lines that separate the sciences from the humanities and the arts. If this sounds like a cake-course approach, it’s not. Small college size and low student-teacher ratios create intimate learning environments. There are no giant lecture halls where students can hide in the back row. Everyone is expected to participate and lazy thinking is immediately challenged. This is where Socrates would feel at home in 21st century America.

Archival storage at
Naropa University.
I’m especially supportive of the alternative university approach because my son attends one of these academic gems—College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. While the emphasis at College of the Atlantic tends to tilt in the direction of ecology, Naropa University is famous for its creative writing, religious studies, and psychology offerings. The University’s fabulous Naropa Poetics Audio Archive is proof of the extraordinary creativity that can flourish in this type of academic environment.

Other Recommended Sites:  When visiting Boulder, you’re very close to the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Don’t miss it! The rugged mountain landscapes and alpine valleys are unforgettably magnificent. And if you’re a little nervous (like me) when it comes to white-knuckle mountain driving, consider taking advantage of their convenient shuttle services and tour buses.

Poet Anne Waldman, co-founder of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied
Poetics, at the Miami Book Fair in 1988.  Currently, Anne Waldman is the
Distinguished Professor of  Poetics at Naropa University and serves as
 Summer Writing Program Chair and Artistic Director.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tour America's History Itinerary
Wednesday’s destination:  Chimney Rock Pueblo

© 2012 Lee Price

Monday, May 21, 2012

Old First National Bank Building in Telluride

View Old First National Bank Building in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Colorado page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

The Old First National Bank Building in Telluride in its current state
of restoration and decorated for Christmas!
Photo courtesy of Heart of Telluride.

Old First National Bank Building
West Colorado Avenue
Telluride, CO

The Treasure:  The Old First National Bank Building, also known as the Nugget Building, is a handsome example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style and the grand centerpiece of a renowned historic Colorado town.

Accessibility:  The restored Old First National Bank Building is now home to a number of local businesses including a movie theater, a sunglasses store, and a chocolate shop.

Background:  Located in southwestern Colorado, Telluride is nestled in a picturesque canyon surrounded by steep forested mountains and cliffs. Prospectors arrived in the 1870s, initially coming in search of gold but then staying for the silver. The town’s name of Telluride derives from the telluride ores found in the area, associated with its extensive silver, zinc, lead, and copper deposits.

When the first railroad reached the town in 1890, canny local businessmen realized the time was ripe to capitalize on the area’s significant mining potential. Among them, Lucien Lucius (L.L.) Nunn (1853-1925) was a born entrepreneur who came to Telluride in 1880 and began to build his fortune as he practiced law, sold real estate, and dabbled in gold mining, journalism, and banking.

In 1891, Nunn hired architect James Murdoch to design a respectable building to serve as home to his bank and his power company. Already established as an important architect in the rapidly emerging city of Denver, Murdoch  brought impressive credentials to the job. He proposed a large building made of the native red sandstone, constructed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style known for its 11th-century-style stone masonry, large arches, and medieval-inspired towers. When it was completed, the inside was as impressive as the outside, with stained glass windows, a tin ceiling in the original bank area, and a grand staircase.

Historic photo from before 1910 showing the Old First National Bank
Building with its original tower and balustrade.  These features are
scheduled to be reconstructed in the final phase of the current
restoration project.

The restored red granite columns and stained glass windows at the
original corner entrance of the bank.
Photo courtesy of Heart of Telluride.

Historic photograph of a 75 mule pack train in Telluride with the
Old First National Bank Building visible in the distance.

Historic photo of the Old First National Bank Building, taken sometime
between 1910-1920.  The balustrade and tower were removed for safety
reasons after the 1914 flood which brought 2-3 feet of mud into the building's
first floor, thus destabilizing the foundation.

Today, the Old First National Bank Building has served the town for 120 years. In its early years, it was home to the First National Bank and the Telluride Power Company. At various times, portions of the building have been used as a grocery store, a movie theater, and an Elks Lodge.

But years of deferred maintenance took their toll, particularly on the soft sandstone. By the 1990s, the building looked tired and shabby, even suffering the indignity of having the handsome sandstone on its eastern side crudely buried beneath a façade of purple shotcrete. Even as Telluride enjoyed a fast-growing reputation as a premier tourist town, the Old First National Bank building—once the centerpiece of the town—needed a thorough historic restoration to return it to its former glory.

Before the restoration work began:  The Old First National Bank
Building with its purple shotcrete facade.
Photo courtesy of Heart of Telluride.

The restoration work in progress at the Old First National Bank
Building in Telluride.
Photo courtesy of Heart of Telluride.

Nikola Tesla.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Notes from the Editor:  Even though he’s lived most of his life in Thomas Edison’s adopted home state of New Jersey, my son Terry is a diehard fan of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943). For him, the turn-of-the-century “War of Currents” waged between George Westinghouse (representing Tesla and his alternating current) and Thomas Edison (with his advocacy of direct current) remains a relevant hot issue. He bristles whenever history books give all the electrical credit to Edison.

Now here’s the connection between the Old First National Bank Building and my son’s hero: In summer 1890, L.L. Nunn asked George Westinghouse if his company could use their new alternating current (AC) technology to provide electricity for Telluride’s Gold King Mine. With L.L. Nunn supplying the money and Tesla supplying the brainpower, the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant opened in 1891. It was the world’s first commercial AC power plant.

A year later, Nunn moved ahead with his plans to build the Old First National Bank Building, which housed the Telluride Power Company (that ran the power plant) on its second floor. L.L. Nunn and his brother Paul Nunn continued to collaborate with George Westinghouse on subsequent power plant projects in Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Niagara Falls, and Mexico.

While Tesla never actually visited the Ames plant, his connection with the plant continues to be celebrated. Although history books still tend to slight Tesla’s achievements in comparison to Edison’s, it was Tesla’s AC current that ultimately won the “War of Currents” and shaped the power transmission landscape of 20th and 21st century America.

Other Recommended Sites:  The Telluride Historical Museum tells the rich story of this rugged mining-town-now-turned-tourist-mecca. They encourage walking tours of the historic town. You can either explore with their MP3 systems or the more old-fashioned way—utilizing their Telluride’s Victorian Vernacular book which features five self-guided tours of the area.

Located 30 minutes south of Telluride, that original Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant is still standing in Ophir, Colorado. There’s a plaque outside the small plant that commemorates its international importance: “World’s First Generating Station to Produce and Transmit Electrical Current.”

Special thanks to Katrine Formby and Amy Cook of Heart of Telluride for their invaluable help with compiling the historical information and images for this entry. And their vacation rental units look enchanting!

The Old First National Bank Building in its current state of restoration.
Photo courtesy of Heart of Telluride.

Turn-of-the-century postcard view of Telluride with the Old First
National Bank Building midway down the street on the left.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Friday’s destination:  Naropa Poetics Audio Archive

© 2012 Lee Price

Monday, May 14, 2012

For the Love of Film

For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon III,
May 13-18, 2012.

If you value preservation...

if the art of film is important to you...

if you've ever thrilled to an Alfred Hitchcock movie...

then please follow this link to make a donation to the National Film Preservation Foundation to support the effort to make the recently discovered silent film The White Shadow (1924) accessible to a wide audience via the internet.

A group of over 100 bloggers are trying to raise $15,000 and it's going to take many generous small (and large!) donations to get there.  With great appreciation for your generosity,

We're Going a Bit Off-Topic on Tour America's History Today...

Preservation is very important to me.  And that includes film preservation…

Today I’m taking a brief break from our tour of Colorado’s Save America’s Treasures site to promote an important preservation project that I’m involved with over at my other blog, 21 Essays

From May 13 through May 18, 21 Essays is participating in a film preservation blogathon called For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon, hosted by three topnotch film sites: Ferdy on Films, The Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod. As the need to preserve our culture is central to Tour America’s Treasures, I think it’s relevant to share about our blogathon here.

This year, our goal is to raise $15,000 in six days to make The White Shadow (1924) accessible to modern audiences. Here’s the story behind The White Shadow—and the reason why this project is so exciting to film enthusiasts like me!

A large cache of silent films was discovered in New Zealand in 1989. Because the films were on highly unstable nitrate film and many were in fragmentary condition, it took years of work to move ahead with efforts to both identify and conserve the movies. The National Film Preservation Foundation and the New Zealand Film Archives, with funding support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, led the preservation effort. A number of the movies turned out to be films that were widely regarded as “lost.” And among these “lost” films were the first three reels of The White Shadow.

The White Shadow has gained attention not because of its largely-forgotten star (Betty Compson) or director (Graham Cutts) but for the man who was its assistant director, writer, editor, and production designer—film legend Alfred Hitchcock, just 24 years old at the time and still a year away from landing his first full directing job.

Preserving the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock—that’s what this blogathon is about. All donations will go direct to the National Film Preservation Foundation to make The White Shadow accessible on the internet: To record a new score by composer Michael Mortilla and to mount the film on the National Film Preservation Foundation website where it can be viewed for free by all.

The image above is of Anny Ondra in Hitchcock's early sound film Blackmail (1929). That’s  the film that I’ll  be writing about all this week on 21 Essays in an effort to drum up support for this film preservation effort.

Please consider supporting this worthy cause.  Just click on the link at the top of this page to make a contribution in support of this great project.

Lee Price
Editor, Tour America's History

Tour America's History Itinerary
Wednesday’s destination:  Old First National Bank of Telluride

© 2012 Lee Price

Friday, May 11, 2012

Museo de las Americas

View Museo de las Americas in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Colorado page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

A school group visits Museo de las Americas.
Photo courtesy Museo de las Americas.

Museo de las Americas
861 Santa Fe Drive
Denver, CO

The Treasure:  The collections at Museo de las Americas focus on the art, history, and culture of Latinos in the Americas from ancient times to the present.

Accessibility:  Museo de las Americas is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 to 5 and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5.

Background:  Colorado has a rich Latino culture and history. The very first Europeans to enter Colorado were Spanish conquistadors who included southern Colorado within a large Spanish province they called Santa Fe de Nuevo México. In the first half of the 19th century, Mexican influences dominated the emerging Colorado culture. City and town names throughout southern Colorado stand witness to their Spanish roots:  Cortez, Durango, Ignacio, Antonito, La Junta, Salida, Las Animas, and many others.

The settling of Denver and the northern towns by travelers from the east took place later, largely spurred by the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858. Initially, there was relatively little Latino influence in the fast-growing city of Denver. Even in the 1930s, census results showed a population that was only 2% Hispanic. But the population changed rapidly as the 20th century unfolded. Today, Denver is approximately one third Hispanic, the home of a vibrant Latino culture that is an inseparable part of the city’s identity.

Special exhibitions at Museo de las
Americas.  Photo courtesy Museo
de las Americas.
The Museo de las Americas was founded in 1991 to preserve, present, and promote the diversity of Latino Americano art and culture from ancient times to the present. It’s located in the heart of the Santa Fe Art District, centering a lively community with more than 40 art galleries as well as shops and restaurants.

The collections of the Museo de las Americas encompass over 4,000 objects, including pre-Columbian objects, beautiful Spanish Colonial art from the 17th and 18th centuries, and contemporary art. The museum maintains a busy schedule of special exhibits, events, and educational programs. Be sure to check their program calendar of upcoming events in advance of your visit to Denver.

Other Recommended Sites:  To get the big picture, explore the local neighborhood. On Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe website, there’s an easy-to-use event calendar with up-to-date information on activities at all the neighboring galleries, shops, and restaurants. Their First and Third Friday art walks are particularly popular.

Crafts at Museo de las Americas.
Photo courtesy Museo de las Americas.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Tuesday’s destination:  Old First National Bank of Telluride

© 2012 Lee Price

Monday, May 7, 2012

Montrose City Hall and Elks Lodge

View Montrose City Hall in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Colorado page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

The Elks Lodge building in 2008 following restoration work.
Photo courtesy City of Montrose.

Montrose City Hall and Elks Lodge
433 South 1st Street
Montrose, CO

Website:  City of Montrose

The Treasure:  Montrose City Hall and (across the street) the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge are handsome mixed-style buildings representative of the eclectic architecture of the area in the early years of the 20th century.

Accessibility:  Both buildings, Montrose City Hall and the Elks Lodge, are actively used by the City of Montrose for city business.

Background:  The City of Montrose is located on the high desert lands of the Uncompahgre Valley. For centuries, the Ute Indians regularly moved through this area, enjoying its good hunting grounds and artesian springs. In those days, the weather was not appropriate for the establishment of long-term farming settlements because the climate was semi-arid, averaging only nine inches of rain annually. The summers were hot, the winters were cold, and all seasons were dry.

Nevertheless, a town grew up here in the 1880s, with growth spurred by its status as a stop for the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, a narrow gauge train line running between Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah. Montrose emerged as a transportation hub serving the local mining communities. One of the town’s founders, Joseph Selig, suggested the name Montrose for the town, based on the character of the Marquis of Montrose in Sir Walter Scott’s popular novel The Legend of Montrose.

Gunnison Tunnel arch for the 1909 dedication ceremonies.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The opening of the Gunnison Tunnel in 1909 changed the character of Montrose. A major engineering project of the Bureau of Reclamation, the 5.8-mile Gunnison Tunnel was the longest irrigation tunnel in the world at the time of its opening. President William Howard Taft attended the opening dedication ceremonies.  Diverted from the Gunnison River, the irrigation water from the Gunnison Tunnel enabled Montrose to take advantage of the fertile valley soil and position the town as a regional agricultural center.

Architect J.H. Antrobus was selected to design both the City Hall building and the Elks Lodge in 1926. Located practically across the street from each other, the two buildings share many similarities. Like many architects of the time and the region, Antrobus picked and chose from a smorgasbord of architectural styles. The dominant style of both buildings is Art Deco, but there are also prominent features representative of Mission Revival, Pueblo Deco, and Late Gothic Revival.

Notes from the Editor:  It takes a lot of work to restore an aging historic building! It’s not just a matter of returning the large public spaces to their original handsome appearance, but can also require major upgrades to make spaces handicapped-accessible and to deal with requirements for hazardous material abatement (in the case of the Elks Lodge, issues of asbestos and lead-based paint needed to be addressed). To restore Montrose City Hall and the Elks Lodge, important tasks included roof repair; plumbing upgrades; foundation stabilization; door and stairway restoration; structural stabilization; fire escape upgrade; window rehabilitation; historic plaster repair; historic wood floor refinishing; addition of fire sprinkler systems; mechanical upgrades; electrical upgrades; masonry restoration; and millwork.

Historic photo of the Elks Lodge, circa 1928.
Photo courtesy City of Montrose.

The lobby at Montrose City Hall during renovation in 2007.
Photo courtesy City of Montrose.

The restored lobby at Montrose City Hall in 2008.
Photo courtesy City of Montrose.

Other Recommended Sites:  The City of Montrose is a gateway to the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park. The park’s south rim entrance is 15 miles east of Montrose. The scenic park is famous for its awesome sheer cliff faces carved out by the Gunnison River over the past 15 million years.

In addition to the National Park, Montrose boasts three museums that explore different facets of Colorado history. The Montrose County Historical Museum focuses on the settling and pioneering of the region. The Museum of the Mountain West displays 500,000 artifacts in old west historic buildings that have been reconstructed on the site. Located three miles south of downtown Montrose, the Ute Indian Museum offers an introduction to the history of American Indians in Colorado and exhibits an impressive collection of Ute Indian artifacts. 

The renovated city council chambers in Montrose City Hall.
Photo courtesy City of Montrose.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Friday’s destination:  Museo de las Americas

© 2012 Lee Price

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mayflower Gold Mill

View Mayflower Mill in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Colorado page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

Period photograph of the Mayflower Mill in Silverton, Colorado.
Photo courtesy of the San Juan County Historical Society.

Mayflower Gold Mill
San Juan County Historical Society
Court House Square
Silverton, CO

The Treasure:  The Mayflower Gold Mill (also known as the Shenandoah-Dives Mill) is an intact precious metals mill that preserves the technology of the once-flourishing mining communities of Colorado.

Accessibility:  Tours of the Mayflower Mill are offered through the San Juan County Historical Society. Their Heritage Pass covers admission to the San Juan County Historical Society Museum, the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour, and the Mayflower Gold Mill Tour.

Background:  Starting in 1858, the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush lured would-be prospectors to Colorado in quest of the precious metals rumored to underscore the state’s formidable mountain ranges. Initial placer mining quickly exhausted the metals that were there for the taking in the alluvial deposits of modern and ancient stream beds. To really take advantage of the metals locked within the mountainous terrain, new industrial mills were needed to extract the precious metals from high-grade ores unearthed through the dangerous work of underground lode mining.

Silverton is a small town nestled in a deep valley surrounded by the magnificent San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. In the first enthusiasm of the Gold Rush, this area largely escaped attention, partly because it was only officially opened to pioneers in the early 1870s. Early prospectors found a harsh and rugged environment, but the lure of precious metals was sufficient to eventually attract a permanent community, prepared to weather the severe winters and dangerous mining conditions.

In the mid-1920s, successful mine manager Charles A. Chase decided that a new state-of-the-art mill in Silverton would still have potential to capitalize on the plentiful metals in the surrounding mountains. As the American economy collapsed into depression in 1929, Chase’s Mayflower Mill opened  for business, complete with modern steam shovels, dump trucks, a 10,000-foot aerial tram, and the latest in metal extraction technology.

For the following 61 years, Silverton benefitted from the hard-working mill. It produced nearly 2 million ounces of gold, 30 million ounces of silver, and 1 million tons (not ounces—tons!) of combined base metals such as copper, lead, and zinc. The mill used a flotation process to separate the minerals. The original mill equipment is still there in the Mayflower Mill, which has been closed for business for more than twenty years but has now comfortably moved into a new function—educating visitors about Colorado mining in the old days.

Children tour the Mayflower Mill.
Photo courtesy of the San Juan County Historical Society.

Notes from the Editor:  I’ll always link Colorado mining with the story of my own great-grandfather heading west to mine for gold in Central City, a short distance west of Denver. Like thousands of other would-be prospectors, he never hit it rich and eventually returned east discouraged (and, in retrospect, it’s a good thing his venture failed or I wouldn’t be here today!). Central City is a long distance from Silverton but I still deeply appreciate that places like Silverton keep their mining history alive. The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush opened a remarkable chapter in American history, and Colorado’s awesome mountain ranges provide the most scenic backdrops imaginable for explorations into our country’s mining history.

Other Recommended Sites:  The railroads were essential to the success of any mining enterprise. At Silverton, you can experience a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad—a coal-fired, steam-powered scenic rumble through the San Juan Mountains

Photocrom postcard of Silverton, Colorado, circa 1897-1924.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tour America's History Itinerary
Monday’s destination:  Montrose City Hall

© 2012 Lee Price