Carbondale gets historical |

Carbondale gets historical

John Colson
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

They’re open for business at the Mt. Sopris Historical Society Museum, at the intersection of Highway 133 and Weant Boulevard in Carbondale, and they’re eager to talk with anyone seeking a shot of history about the middle Roaring Fork Valley region.The organization’s volunteer board and growing membership is hoping, with the opening of the museum, they will begin to receive historical treasures found in old houses or dusty attics and basements that can help tell the story of Carbondale.

They’re also hoping for a flood of offers from local volunteers eager to be on the working end of local history.Officially opened on the recent Potato Day weekend, Oct. 7, the museum’s doors actually opened earlier, permitting a few visitors to get a sneak peek at the artifacts, documents, implements and other paraphernalia within the 19th-century log cabin.Among the documents, for example, is a narrative by Eleanor Clagett Reed about the local effects of the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918-1919 and the ledgers of the primary schools of Garfield County in the late 1800s. Pictures show Carbondale shortly after it officially became a town, and there are accounts of its years as the potato capital of the West.MSHS President Linda Romero Criswell says there are now about 10 active members who come to the museum to catalog records and greet visitors during the hours of operation, 1 to 3 p.m. on weekdays.”I just come here and spend my two hours whenever I can,” said Criswell, although longtime residents say she’s been a critical motivating force in opening the museum.

The MSHS first came into being as the Carbondale Historical Society about 1974, founded by the late Mary Ferguson and others, using the old town jail structure as its headquarters and museum.Carbondale native Toni Cerise, one of the original founding group, credited the local Lions Club with being “a big help in those early years,” scheduling “workdays” around the museum property and providing the funds to pave the small parking lot along Weant Boulevard.”It’s been a community project,” she said.The society was renamed the Mt. Sopris Historical Society in 1985 and achieved nonprofit status in 2000.Cerise said that MSHS volunteers have long been motivated by their interest in the past. She described the board as “an eclectic group … from all sorts of backgrounds, but with a common goal … to see our history preserved.”It’s important to know about more than what happened in the last 30 years,” she said, noting that the MSHS helped local author Anita Witt put together the wildly popular movie, “Last of the Cowboys,” about the valley’s fading cowboy culture.Criswell, whose interest in local lore led her to invent a historical board game called “Perspective – The Time Line Game,” has been a leading voice in the effort to reinvigorate the MSHS board, including a 2004 expansion of the board to its current nine members.

The museum itself is a log house built in 1887, the year before Carbondale was incorporated, which sat for decades about a quarter-mile south of its current location. It was moved in 1995 when its historic site, in the middle of what is now the Hendrick Ranch subdivision, came up for development. Four years later, in 1999, it was joined by the old Carbondale town jail, a small brick structure that was moved from its ancient home on Second Street to the MSHS site.For several years the MSHS cabin was shared with the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, and the historical artifacts and materials were stored in an upstairs room. But the Chamber was asked to vacate the premises a couple of years ago, and the MSHS has since spent nearly $20,000 in grant money fixing up the place.The improvement fund included $1,400 from the Carbondale Rotary club, $5,000 from the Garfield County Commissioners and $12,000 from the town of Carbondale, as well as numerous donations from individuals.

At this point, said a smiling Criswell, “We have no money, basically, and we have no paid help. But it’s the Carbondale spirit to do things for the love of doing them, and to volunteer.”The MSHS board is hoping that, besides an influx of volunteers, the museum can count on continuing support from the town of Carbondale.”I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to support the historical society,” commented Mayor Michael Hassig, who expects a funding request from the MSHS during the upcoming 2007 budgeting process.The town reserves 2 percent of its annual sales tax revenues for assistance to area nonprofit organizations, he said, and Cerise said the application for funding in 2007 has been submitted to Town Hall.Romero said the MSHS is in pretty good shape right now, with “newcomers and old-timers” serving on the board and helping with the chores of organizing and operating the museum, though she said there’s always room for new faces. The society belongs to a loose alliance of historical societies and facilities from surrounding towns, and continues to get help with organizing its catalog from the Frontier Historical Society of Glenwood Springs.

Romero said the organization is working on a schedule of events, starting with a Yuletide celebration, which will feature a pump organ donated by longtime local musical instructor and performer, Betsy Schenck. Cerise said the board hopes at some point to hire a part-time attendant to take some of the pressure off the volunteers.In addition to the other plans, Criswell said, “We’re hoping people will have weddings here,” and local groups are being invited to hold meetings in the museum’s conference room.Already, she said, school classes have come for tours, as has a home-school family interested in history, and four local women who graduated in 1949 from the old Carbondale Union High School (now the Carbondale Middle School) spent an afternoon telling tales from the old days and reveling in the atmosphere.The museum can be reached at 963-7041, or by e-mail at Colson’s e-mail address is