For someone who claims he isn’t much of a history buff, Bill Hegberg has delivered a project that will help Basalt showcase its heritage.
Hegberg was the key force behind the Basalt History Tour, a walking tour featuring 12 signs placed in strategic places to highlight important chapters in Basalt’s past.
The 30-by-20-inch signs each show between two and four images of Basalt dating as early as the 1880s along with several paragraphs describing everything from the Colorado Midland Railway to the charcoal kilns and from Aostans to “splendid spuds.”
He estimates that about a third of the 36 or so photos used for the signs are rare images that came out of personal collections and haven’t been widely displayed before.
Hegberg got interested in the project last year when he and his wife, Kathy, went on one of their regular jaunts around town after Sunday breakfast. Bill said he told Kathy it would be nice to see the historic places, beautiful spaces and stately architecture of Basalt highlighted. She urged him to take on the project. He had previously helped coordinate a similar walking history tour in Telluride that highlighted the town’s mining past.
Hegberg, acting as a private resident, received a green light and in-kind help from Town Hall and the Basalt Regional Heritage Society as well as donations from Pitt and Barbara Hyde and Gary and Susan Blackie. Bennett Bramson shared the knowledge he gained from writing a Basalt history book that was published in 2013.
Hegberg said midvalley native Janice Duroux or some other source would advise him to talk to one person or another to learn more about one of the 12 topics he picked for the history tour. One source would lead to two more, which would multiply to four and so on. He cultivated a great network of old-timers who educated him about the history of their families and, therefore, the history of Basalt.
“I met people I never would have met,” he said.
Hegberg said he previously knew only about a fifth of the information he gleaned from sources while working on the project. One personal surprise he unearthed was how many of the families that came from the Aosta region of Italy in the late 1800s and early 1900s remain household names, such as Glassier, Gerbaz, Grange, Duroux, Arbaney and Vagneur.
He also was fascinated to see how wide and braided the Roaring Fork River was in Basalt in 1904 before development pinched the channel in.
The information signs have gray lettering and images on a black background. They are framed by rusted rails to tie back to Basalt’s railroad past. Interpretive Graphics Signs & Systems, of Salt Lake City, prepared the plates for the signs. Myers & Co. Architectural Metals, of Basalt, fabricated the signs at cost.
The walking tour starts with a sign posted in front of Town Hall. Hegberg polled his advisers and collaborators to determine what marker to use to define the route of the walking tour. A white paw print of a bear won out. Participants just need to follow the paw prints to find the next sign. The tour is about three-fourths of a mile.
One particularly intriguing sign on the east end of Midland Avenue is titled “The Splendid Spud.” It described how the “Potato Special” railroad car carrying agriculture agents pulled into town in 1908 and lobbied farmers to grow potatoes. By 1922, the Roaring Fork Valley shipped more than 3.5 million potatoes each year, Hegberg estimated from his research.
The Basalt Regional Heritage Society will host a dedication of the Basalt History Tour at Town Hall at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Hegberg said he considers himself more of a booster of Basalt than a history buff. He figured the history tour could help spur business in Basalt since it takes participants past 70 percent of the commercial-core businesses. It exposes businesses, highlights pretty places and teaches about history.
He said his goal is to share what he has discovered about Basalt.
“Basalt’s the coolest little town,” Hegberg said.