BAYFIELD – Before the A&W came to town, before Forest Lakes, even before automobiles were the main mode of traffic, this place developed a history and personality that still haunts the old buildings and cemeteries.
Step for a moment into the building at 11 W. Mill St. in downtown Bayfield. Can you hear the blacksmith working (1900)? Can you feel the kids’ excitement when the soda fountain cranked up (1935)? Can you sense the ire in folks paying their parking tickets (1978)?
Those who know Bayfield know this building is now the epicenter for the town’s history. A drugstore was built in 1914 on the site of an old blacksmith shop, then it spent 30 years as Town Hall. It reopened in 2009 as the Pine River Heritage Museum.
Only fitting that the tour begins here.
What tour, you ask? Sorry you missed it. Most of you did. But maybe you won’t miss the next one. The La Plata County Historic Preservation Review Commission on May 17 held its “first annual” historic driving tour of the county, and it focused on Bayfield.
A side note here: Newspapers do not use the term “first annual” for logical reasons. We know the past pretty well, but we’re not foretellers of the future. Will there be a “second annual”? The commission says there will, but they’ll have to do better than commission members, one county commissioner (Julie Westendorff), county planning staff and one media guy (that’d be me) if they really want to make this a big thing.
Anyway, the point was to emphasize history and ways that the average citizen can help preserve it. Ten years ago, the county created a historic register and established the county Historic Preservation Review Commission.
The review commission locates places deserving of being recognized, and county commissioners vote on whether to actually include those places on the register. Right now, there are about a dozen places on the county register.
“We’d like to have more,” says Andrew Gulliford, the commission’s chairman.
Inclusion could make your home eligible for state grants when you remodel or fix it for historic purposes. It will not, commission members emphasized, restrict you from making changes. It will, they said, likely mean a bronze plaque is placed in the neighborhood.
So, where were we? Oh yes, the Pine River Heritage Museum, a quaint place that provides a nostalgic look at this town’s past. The society bought the building with the help of a State Historical Society grant, explains Tony Schrier, vice president of the museum group.
Bayfield has always been spread out, once among the ranches and farm fields, and now among the various subdivisions and remaining ranches and hobby farms. Downtown was once the center for commerce, but now you can get all your goods, and bank and visit the library, on the other side of U.S. Highway 160.
“It’s surprising how many locals don’t know we have a museum,” says Anne Schrier, a volunteer.
And a shame, because it offers a small but fun look at some of the area’s past. A remodeled schoolroom has old desks and old report cards hanging on the walls. A sheep display, complete with video, explains Bayfield’s ties to that industry.
The museum, once the Bayfield Drug Store, is also the start of a walking tour put together in 2010 by Nik Kendziorski, archives manager at Fort Lewis College’s Center of Southwest Studies. The tour’s 32-page pamphlet is a result of a collaboration between the Downtown Bayfield Association and Pine River Heritage Society, funded by a Colorado Historical Society grant.
“It was a great little project to look at some of the historic buildings left,” Kendziorski says.
Next stop was the Bayfield Ranger Station. Several buildings there were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era program that helped put America back to work in the 1930s.
We couldn’t visit the inside of two rural schoolhouses on south East Street but could envision the Lowell and Pargin schools, once north and east of Bayfield, in use in the early 1900s.
Pat and Faith Zink graciously allowed our group to cruise through their home on the Buck Highway (County Road 521), which was once the Robbins Hospital. In 1910, it was built for about $5,000 with 14-inch-thick concrete walls.
But did Dr. A.W. Robbins ever actually have an operating hospital? Historians believe so, but Pat Zink isn’t so sure: “Everybody has a different recollection.”
Next stop was the Pine River Cemetery just north of Eight Corners intersection at U.S. Highway 160 and County Road 501. When Susan Dunham died in 1882 at age 45, her husband, Walter Dunham, buried her on their land above the Pine River. In 1883, Walter donated some of that land for a cemetery, Beth Sower, president of the cemetery district, informs us.
Elvis isn’t buried here, and not to start a rush of paparazzi, but check this out: The scuttlebutt is that a son of Gen. Robert E. Lee got a Native American girl pregnant, and she’s buried here. Also, it’s the final resting spot of a cousin of Mark Twain.
Gem Village is on nobody’s list of top 10 places in America to visit, but one man had a dream along those lines. In the 1950s, Frank Morse split up a 160-acre parcel for development along Highway 160 just west of Bayfield.
Each year, the club would host a show inside the Gem Village Rock Club, along the frontage road.
“He wanted it to be a rockhound mecca,” says Mary Alice Copeland, one of just two who remain in the area who lived there then.
And that’s what history is all about: people’s dreams and lives. It’s where we came from. The present is always with us, the future is uncertain. The past is something else. It can be preserved, and many people believe it should be.
This story has been corrected since its original publication to fix the spelling of Beth Sower’s name.