Tony Vagneur: Woody Creek’s quirky charm missed by drive-by world
It wasn’t a big deal, it didn’t seem, the old Woody Creek School sitting there at the bottom of the hill. Although it didn’t function as a school, per se, anymore, a lot of education still surrounded the place.
To this day, it still rankles me a bit that I missed being a student there by one year. Back in the early 1950s, all the one-room schoolhouses in the area were reorganized into several larger school districts, leaving country schools such as Woody Creek closed down. Aspen became the target center of learning for those of us out in the Woody canyon or on McLean Flats (that was McLain Flats’ original name, FYI).
Riding a bus to school instead of a horse? You gotta be kidding me! It was unwelcome progress — difficult to understand for this youngster.
But the old school stayed busy as the unofficial community center. A valley-wide square-dance group would meet there about once a month which filled up the place. Being a young-un, I sometimes got dragged along for lack of a babysitter and spent time hanging out with other young kids. That wasn’t a whole lot of fun, it didn’t seem, but we occasionally terrorized the kitchen and surrounding landscape.
As uninterested bystanders, we learned that Betty Lamb had an 18-inch waist, the envy of some of the women and a curiosity to those of us who wondered why that was such a big deal. We learned that the surrounding ranch, owned by Paul Hoffman, was being sold to a dentist from Denver. Doc Henry Road ring a bell? Nationally famous accordion player Frankie Yankovich and his band played there once, overcrowding the place with polka music lovers.
The 4-H Club met there for years, each separate hobby taking up a different evening. We learned how to fatten steers — what was too much grain to feed, the proper amount of hay to toss in the pen; how to teach the animal to lead, what the judges expected. It was a social as well as a learning event.
Our fledgling “tractor club” led by George Vagneur, met there once a month, where we turned in our written assignments and went over our workbooks. Early summer, we had a big tractor jamboree held at our ranch, the Elkhorn, way up Woody Creek, where we each got to show off our respective driving skills.
It was, for the time, the Woody Creek community center. Ditch meetings were held there, county commissioner Orest Gerbaz held court occasionally, letting constituents voice their concerns. The Rural Electric Association gathered locals there to explain that, at long last, electrical power was coming to Woody Creek.
Somehow, the place got into private hands, and today, as you drive by, it is clearly a private residence. It went on the market in 1977 or so, for the same price I paid for a two-story Victorian in Carbondale that year. Trust me, if I’d known the school house was up for sale, I’d have bought it in a heartbeat.
Times change — the Woody Creek Store moved to its present location; the Lee Jones family built what now houses the Woody Creek Tavern. There was a time, years ago, when a fortuitous blending together of energy and vision created the Woody Creek Community Center, better known as the WC3, next door to the Tavern, in the space that now houses Aspen Outfitting Co. You may remember it.
It served lunches and snacks, coffee and cold drinks and delicious chocolate, but its actual worth was not in its food or drinks, but in the basic human fact that it provided a gathering place for souls seeking a bit of interaction with others of a similar mind. Events of common interest were held there.
Unfortunately, trying to run a restaurant in conjunction with the WC3 was folly, an impossible task, especially next door to a behemoth such as the Woody Creek Tavern, and the bills were more than the revenue.
But wouldn’t it be nice, says Jan Schoeberlein of Woody Creek, to have a place dedicated as “The Woody Creek Community Center,” or other such name, such as “The Gathering Place” where the community of Woody Creek could convene? Maybe in the original Woody Creek Store location?
No muss, no fuss, no restaurant or other contrived stuff — just as the old Woody Creek schoolhouse used to be, a gentle meeting place for the many different activities and concerns that the residents of the narrow valley needed.
The post office is now the general meeting place for those who get mail, totally inefficient for anything but a chance encounter. It might be worthwhile to be able to call a meeting of the citizenry every so often, simply to take the pulse of the community, just like we did with the old schoolhouse.
Woody Creek is a strong, albeit sometimes strange, community, but that is often missed by the drive-by, outside world.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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