Cardiff structure all dolled up
Post Independent Staff
School hasn’t just been out for the summer in the old townsite of Cardiff in south Glenwood Springs.
It’s been out for nearly 60 years.
But now the doors are about to reopen on the 117-year-old Cardiff school, which served the former coal coking company town there. It will become available for public use, and as a place where the Roaring Fork Conservancy will teach river biology and ecology to kids.
Red Mountain Friends of Historic Preservation has spent four years renovating the building, which now is being given to the city of Glenwood Springs.
“We said four years ago we were going to put lipstick on her and now she’s got her blush and we are ready to go,” said the organization’s president, Marice Doll.
Doll can’t help but speak in human terms about a building with such a history, and one that has alternately tested her patience during reconstruction, and won her over with its charms.
“It is a significant building. It’s the only one of its ilk that’s in Glenwood and it’s in excellent condition. … The cheekbones were good, but the cosmetics weren’t good.”
Already the beneficiary of a local historical designation, the building sits on city property overlooking the Roaring Fork River, about 200 yards from where it was first built and with nice views of Mount Sopris and the Flat Tops.
The group formed to save and move the school to make way for development of its former location. Just moving it cost $40,000, and when it was pulled off its foundation, group members learned late that day that the floor joists were rotted. So they rushed out to buy lumber and worked by car headlights that night to make the repairs necessary so it could be safely set down on its new grounds the next day.
The group also learned it had to remove the ceiling.
“As we pulled it down we pulled down 117 years of coal dust with it. I can’t tell you what a mess it was. We just came out of there black,” Doll said.
The restoration endured other setbacks such as the discovery of missing and drooping roof trusses, and repeated acts of vandalism. But each time Doll got disillusioned, something positive happened to encourage her, such as the discovery of marbles, art projects and other reminders of the children who once inhabited the school.
“She gave us a lot of gifts, every time things got hard,” Doll said.
The Red Mountain Friends group plans to create a small museum in the school to house items that remain from the building, as well as from the old town. A ceiling lamp, the original piano, some desks and books are among the reminders of the school’s vibrant past.
Cardiff was platted in 1887 and the 25-by-40-foot school was built two years later, about as far away as possible from Cardiff’s beehive-shaped coke ovens, to reduce the smell from them, Doll said. At its peak in about 1910, 75 students went there. An addition was built, making the building L-shaped, and a bell tower was added over the entry.
The coal industry crashed in 1917, resulting in the decline of the town. In 1936, the city decided to move the building about 700 feet, to the foundation of an old saloon, to make way for the city airport. The school closed in 1947.
Only the original building remains today. The bell tower and addition didn’t survive relocation.
Lots of financial contributions, along with assistance from the Glenwood Springs Garden Club, Elmer Glass and others, helped make the restoration a reality. While there’s still more to be done, the building is now available for public uses such as events, meetings and weddings, with the Red Mountain Friends handling bookings and building maintenance.
Doll believes the new uses of the building will only be appropriate for a place that once was used not just for education, but for dances, teaching Italian miners English, and other public functions.
“It wasn’t just the schoolhouse, it was the social hub of Cardiff,” she said.
A taste of the building’s renewed role of community gathering place will come Friday, Aug. 25, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., when a celebration of its reopening is held at the adjacent Conservancy Park, at 4018 Sky Ranch Drive in the Park East subdivision.
Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516
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