New Castle site a portal to the past |

New Castle site a portal to the past

Amy Hadden Marsh
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

NEW CASTLE, Colorado – When the late Walter Cronkite hosted the mid-1950s weekly CBS television series “You Are There,” which featured the famous broadcaster interviewing historic figures of by-gone eras, he should have come to the old jail behind the New Castle Museum. Picture Cronkite in a suit and tie, stooping to enter the dark, dank stone building through a doorway less than six feet high.

Once inside, the ceiling is considerably higher, with one tiny opening at the top of the back wall for air and sunlight. A cot with a lumpy mattress and patchwork quilt rests on the dirt floor in a room behind heavy iron bars. A chamber pot sits nearby.

Cronkite might have stood on the other side of the bars, microphone in hand, and chatted casually with an outlaw about hard times in the West.

He might have asked about markings cut into the jail walls, including the year “1932.” Or, he might have inquired about the old saddle gathering dust or the giant bellows leaning against the wall in the entranceway. Cronkite missed all this, but the New Castle Historical Society has made sure that you don’t have to.

“This is a hands-on museum,” says Linda Holley, a society member and volunteer at the museum. She recalled a 10-year-old visitor who had never seen the jail.

“We [went] traipsing out there, and I’m pulling that big door open,” said Holley with a chuckle, “and she says, ‘Do you have very much paranormal activity here?'”

The New Castle Historical Society, chartered in 1983, moved into its current home at 116 N. Fourth St. in 1984. The red and white building once housed the New Castle Town Hall and Hose House and was built in 1893. The society leases it from the town of New Castle for $1 a year.

“The town’s been very good to us,” said society president LaRue Wentz.

Wentz lives nearby in a house built in the 1800s. Her grandparents bought it in 1906.

“When they died,” she said, “my uncle inherited it.” The house was passed to Wentz in 1996, which is when she moved to New Castle and joined the Historical Society.

“The best thing about the museum is the people,” she said. “I love to hear all the stories.”

If the artifacts packed into the museum could talk (and some of them do), they would easily tell the story of rural Garfield County from the mid-1800s to the 1960s. The museum’s audio archives include oral histories from up and down the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.

During a recent tour, Holley pointed out a photo of the Clinetop sisters, a dancing duo from Denver. Their handmade, intricately embroidered costumes are displayed in a wood and glass case in the main room, where an entire wall is lined with mountain lion, bear, and other animal pelts, including a white wolf.

Another case holds a 1925 Victrola, photo albums, musical instruments and old-fashioned remedies (such as Syrup of Black-Draught) from Doris Flynn’s drugstore.

As the tour reached the kitchen and foundry in the back, area resident Naomi Mayo dropped by for a visit. Pretty soon, everyone was swapping memories triggered by objects in the room.

“I bet nobody can remember using one of those,” Mayo declared, pointing to a washtub with a wringer attached for washing clothes by hand. Wentz was right about the stories.

But the Historical Society provides more than a treasure trove of memories. The museum hosts monthly programs and self-guided tours.

“We offer a map of the Highland Cemetery and a walking tour of the historic homes and buildings of New Castle,” explained Wentz.

The museum is featured on the new Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage map, funded by the Colorado Tourism Office and local governments. A study by History Colorado (formerly the Colorado Historical Society) shows that in 2008, visitors spent $244 million on heritage tourism in the state.

“Based on the statistics,” said Holley, “we decided to get involved with Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage travel.” The first map, featuring sites from Walden to Rangely and south to Carbondale, was published this summer.

New Castle Museum hours are 4:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Admission is free. Jail time is optional.

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