Preserve the past to inform the future |

Preserve the past to inform the future

Carla Jean Whitley
The old schoolhouse on the Silt Historical Park property hosts lectures and other events.
Carla Jean Whitley / Post Independent |

Seven county historical societies stand to benefit financially if ballot measure 1A is passed on Nov. 7. Take a look at the work each offers in western Garfield County.

Grand Valley Historical Society

7201 County Road 300, Battlement Mesa | 285-9114 | grandvalleyhistoricalsocietyparachuteco

Lee Hayward attended classes in the Battlement Mesa School House. Judith Hayward came west much later, relocating from Atlanta to Parachute in the early 1980s. But when she met and married Lee, his story became part of her own.

The society has also hosted a cemetery walk, in which locals portray some of the area’s early residents and share their history.

She founded the Grand Valley Historical Society in 1999, motivated by a friend and the memory of her husband, who died a year earlier. The society received the schoolhouse building in 2000, and it now serves as a hub for the organization’s activities.

“My husband just instilled the love of the history here,” Hayward said. “I would hear him tell the stories over and over and over. Nobody got bored.”

Individuals and organizations rent the schoolhouse for events, and it’s the meeting place for the Grand Valley Sew and Sew Quilters, who also host an annual show. The society has also collected history of many of the area’s families, organized in manila folders in the building’s small office space. Oral histories are also part of the organization’s collection. Recording them was one of the society’s earliest acts, thanks to Jimm Seaney, the man who convinced Hayward to launch the group.

The society has also hosted a cemetery walk, in which locals portray some of the area’s early residents and share their history. Quarterly meetings include local and Colorado history programs. An adjacent cabin, donated by the Williams company, offers visitors a glimpse at the way past residents lived.

“We have been lucky. The other historical societies are the ones that are really struggling, some of them more than others,” Hayward said.

New Castle Historical Society

New Castle’s museum is open by appointment only, and the appropriate phone numbers are available from the town and the library. Learn more about the town’s historic assets at

“Things without stories are meaningless.”

That’s a phrase LaRue Wentz has encountered many times, and it rings true. Wentz is president of the New Castle Historical Society, an organization she’s been involved with, to varying degrees, for two decades. The society runs the town’s museum on a by-appointment basis. That’s a bit of a misstatement, really; Wentz lives within walking distance of the museum, which is housed in the old town hall and fire station. The building was constructed in 1893 and served as the town’s council chambers for more than 90 years.

Now it’s filled with artifacts, both from the town’s history and from the years in which New Castle formed.

“We’ve been searching for the stories in the museum,” Wentz said. “It’s really fun to go through boxes and see what we have.”

Among those items are paraphernalia from the Clinetop sisters. They were dance hall girls in Leadville who later moved to New Castle; the Clinetop trails are named for them. The museum includes their stockings with hand-embroidered flowers and other costuming.

Although it’s open on a limited basis, the museum remains a popular place for school field trips. Wentz hopes to see interest from schools and individuals continue to rise.

Rifle Heritage Center

Fourth Street and East Avenue, Rifle | 625-4862 | Search Rifle Heritage Center on Facebook

Step into the Rifle Heritage Center and you may be met by a willing tour guide. That’s common of the area’s historical society museums, and if you’re lucky, your guide may be able to share his or her personal recollections of the area’s history, as well.

The society’s museum is two stories and many rooms filled with the area’s history. You’ll stroll through a replica general store, where shelves overflow with products you would have seen in decades gone by. Continue to stroll through the building and take in a number of American flags; can you tell how many stars are in each?

Each of the building’s rooms explores a different aspect of the city’s history, and artifacts from early residents are plentiful. You’ll see Dr. Roy O. Smith’s dentist chair, for example, and uniforms of military men who fought in battles as early as World War I. Another room includes farm implements (did you know how many types of barbed wire exist?). Younger visitors may be especially surprised by a collection of earlier communication devices.

The museum closes each year as temperatures drop, as the building is not heated.

Silt Historical Park

707 Orchard Ave., Silt | Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. | 945-5337 |

The experience begins as soon as you set foot onto Silt Historical Park’s grounds. A railroad car greets visitors, a reminder of the area’s past as a railroad watering town. The collection of buildings comprising the park house a variety of artifacts from years gone by, and volunteers are often available to guide guests through history.

Tom Cochran began volunteering this summer, and said he’s long had a love of history passed down from his father. Some of the older tools on the property are familiar from when he was a child in the 1950s — “not that they were in use then, but they were around the farm,” he said.

The buildings are arranged as though they’re part of a mining town at the turn of the 20th century. An old schoolhouse was relocated from the area that is now the Rifle Gap Reservoir, and it hosts lectures and other events. Nearby, a blacksmith shop offers space for live demonstrations of the craft. A homesteader’s house allows a look at home life in 1914.

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