Redstone’s heritage key to its economics

Trina OrtegaCarbondale CorrespondentGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

A recent federal designation of Redstone as a Preserve America community has furthered the efforts of the town and Pitkin County to gain funding to repair the historical coke ovens and turn the property into a historical site. The Redstone Historical Society and PitCo announced last week that a White House initiative called “Preserve America” had designated the “Ruby of the Rockies” as a community that strives to protect and celebrate its heritage. “It is a jewel, it really is,” said Ron Sorter, president of the historical society, adding that the town is already designated a National Historic District, and individual homes and buildings are also listed on the national, state and/or county historic register. “It’s one of the few places in Colorado where history is preserved.”In addition to the federal designation and accompanying benefits, such as road signs and websites, Preserve America communities also are eligible for additional federal monies.Sorter said the day after receiving the designation, the county submitted a grant proposal to help restore the historical coke ovens that sit along Highway 133 at the main (south) entrance of town.In 2004, the county, Aspen Valley Land Trust, and the historical society worked together to preserve the coke ovens property, which during the Mid-Continent liquidation in the mid-’90s had been eyed for a possible convenience store. The goal now is to raise money to restore three of the ovens near the kiosk, to repair additional ovens to keep them from further eroding, and to establish the coke ovens property as a historical park.It’s a worthwhile cause to link the town’s heritage to present-day tourism to make the town sustainable.Redstone was founded on coal mining by John Cleveholm Osgood, who built the Redstone Castle and Redstone Inn and operated the Colorado Fuel and Iron Co., which produced high-grade coke coal from the nearby Coal Basin mines.”Redstone was actually built for the cokers, the guys who manned those coke ovens,” Sorter noted of what was considered the best coal produced west of the Mississippi. The coal was then shipped to Pueblo to make steel.”The town can’t exist without the ovens; the ovens can’t exist without the town. Sure, there’s a river and a road in between the two, but they’re symbiotic.” Sorter noted that other businesses, such as the Redstone Castle and Redstone Inn, capitalize on their heritage when it comes to present-day use.The castle offers sleigh rides and tours, and the inn is the place to be for community gatherings, slide lectures, valleywide meetings, a weekend getaway, and great food served 18 hours a day year-round.The inn originally was built to house the coal workers and boasts original furnishings, such as the Gustav Stickley arts and crafts chairs, desks, and benches. The same sturdy chairs sitting in the lobby today gave rest to the weary workers when they came “home.”Debby Strom also elaborated on the rich fine arts history of Redstone that has continued into the 21st century. The inn contains a host of artwork and reproductions from well-known artists who resided in Redstone over the last century. “One of the things we almost always forget is the living history. Art has always been what’s kept the community alive for the last hundred years,” Strom stated. From Frank Mechau, who conducted a painting school in Redstone in the 1930s, and Western history illustrator Jack Roberts, to Sports Illustrated photographer Lane Stewart, who captured the heart of rodeo cowboys on film, the inn documents great moments in the West’s heritage.Strom has run the inn for 19 years and is proud to be part of Redstone and Pitkin County’s rich history.”We’re really a proactive community,” she said. “This is not like a Disney reproduction. It’s the real thing. We’re an old-fashioned Colorado resort.”

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