EAGLE, Colorado - Tucked away in a corner of town that few locals visit sits one of Eagle's historical treasures.
The Eagle County Historical Museum at Chambers Parks hosts 8,000 to 9,000 visitors every summer. But ironically, the folks who would be most likely to truly appreciate its collection are not the visitors who stop by. Instead the people who are most likely to peruse the collection are motorists who have stopped at the Eagle Regional Visitor Information Center or pulled over for a bathroom break.
That's not to say out-of-town or out-of-state museum visitors aren't welcome. Of course they are, says Eagle County Historical Society President John Bronn. But he'd like to see more locals take the time out to tour the museum. He believes they would discover a hidden gem.
To assist in that effort, the historical society is hosting a special evening reception Thursday, Aug. 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the museum. "An evening at the Museum" will feature historical presentations from members of the Porchlight Players community theater group, a quilting demonstration, book signings by local history authors Kathy Heicher and Shirley Welch and music by Pat Hamilton.
"The museum really looks great at night. It really sparkles," said Bronn.
The museum itself is a historical artifact. The main collection is houses in the former Chamber's dairy barn, a structure that was moved to Chambers Park two decades ago. Also on site are displays in the historic Avon Store building and a blacksmith shop, both moved to Eagle from the upvalley community. A Denver and Rio Grande Railroad caboose completes the series of structures on site.
Inside the museum visitors will find everything from a large topographic display depicting the geography of Eagle County to a well preserved buggy to a newspaper linotype machine to a handmade pillow depicting historic photos of Gypsum. Bronn's favorite corner of the museum details the area's ranching past.
"The agricultural display hits home for me. I came from a small farm outside of Lincoln, Neb. so the lifestyle of a hardscrabble rancher is familiar," said Bronn.
Marion Laughlin, another member of the historical society board of directors, loves to look at the collection of photos hung on the museum walls. "It's fascinating to see. It really brings it to life to see how people lived," she said.
Both Bronn and Laughlin notes that the tools of everyday pioneer living - such as hand scythes for harvesting and heavy irons that had to be heated on a wood stove - give visitors a new appreciation for how difficult life was for the area's pioneers. Even the pioneer improvements - a manually operated washing machine and a decorated camp kitchen - look pretty primitive to modern eyes.
This year's museum event is the latest in a series of summer events hosted by the historical society. Last year, the group hosted a tour of the Red Cliff cemetery. Next year, in honor of the community's centennial, the society plans a cemetery tour in Gypsum.
But for the summer of 2010, the group truly wanted to showcase its most enduring contribution. "One of the reasons for us to do this is we get 8,000 to 9,000 museum visitors per year, but only 10 percent of them are locals. We would like to do this evening so we can get locals to visit the museum and appreciate what a great collection we have here," said Bronn.
"That was the whole idea behind it. Let's feature the museum at countywide event," said Laughlin.
The Eagle County Historical Society has a long wish list of items that may be stored in local attics or basements or in some cases, long-time residents' memories.
• The forms and machinery used to build the various Sears houses located around Eagle. An example of this architecture is the Hitching Post Bed and Breakfast on Washington Street. Apparently the mechanism was used to build several houses around town and Rolland Randall, a deceased long-time resident, recalled playing on it as a child.
• A rustic-looking "Eagle County" is part of the collection at the museum in Chambers Park. The historical society would like to know where the sign was originally posted.
• The former Gypsum railroad station was moved to Eagle and is now a duplex located on Howard Street. The society would love to find a photo of the station at its original location.
• Back in 1970, Eagle made national news when the local medical clinic board strung a banner across U.S. Highway 6 stating "Eagle needs a doctor." The society would love to have a photo of this unique advertising effort.
• At one time, the Eagle and Gypsum area was famed for its lettuce production. The society would like to locate a color poster advertising local lettuce.
If anyone knows where to find any of these items or knows the stories behind items already in the collection, contact Marion Laughlin at 328-1098.