Meet Eagle County’s archivist Lacy Dunlavy, who is digging deep into history
EAGLE — History can be a visceral thing.
Anyone who has come across a grandfather’s World War II induction order or a birth certificate from a long lost, but much beloved, aunt understands how a piece of paper can provide an unexpected and very personal tie to the past. That’s why families hang on to stuff. It’s also what Lacy Dunlavy does for a living.
As the archivist for the Eagle Valley Library District, Dunlavy collects the photos and documents that tell the story of Eagle County.
“The power of one photo is exponential,” Dunlavy said.
She noted that from a name attached to a single photo, she can uncover voting and property records. She can trace school attendance and find out if or when an individual purchased a vehicle.
“If you got milk delivered from the Chambers Day, I have those record books as well, and I can find out how much milk your family had delivered,” Dunlavy said.
In short, one document can be the first clue in a journey of discovery that can ultimately reveal a great deal about what life was like for an Eagle County resident decades ago. Uncovering those stories is a passion for Dunlavy.
Very specialized field
Dunlavy has worked for the Eagle Valley Library District for the past two-and-a-half years. She came to the district with a master’s degree in library sciences with a specialty in archives and preservation.
“I have always wanted to be an archivist, which is crazy,” she said. “There’s not a lot of these jobs that exist. I wanted to work with museum-quality archives.”
The Eagle Valley Library District is unique in its commitment to the preservation of local history. Not many library systems have an archivist on staff and archivist jobs are generally attached to large museums.
A native of Ohio, Dunlavy completed a two-year internship at the University of Colorado at Boulder that confirmed her love of the field and her love for the mountains. When the local library district advertised its archivist position was open, she jumped at the opportunity.
“Who wants to give up the mountains for a job back in Washington, D.C.? Not me,” she said.
As the library archivist, Dunlavy regularly makes her way through documents and photos that are donated to the library. This week, for example, the Doll family dropped off a large box of records — everything from ledgers to stock certificates — from agriculture business operations around the turn of the century.
But she is always ready to break away from her cataloging efforts when someone comes forward with a research request.
Those requests come from academics, such as a couple of researchers who are working on studies of Gilman and the Eagle Mine. They also come from ordinary folks who want to know the history of the house they bought or the story of their family’s years in Eagle County.
“You never know what you are going to turn up. I tell people to be prepared,” Dunlavy said.
She has uncovered breaks in family trees that signal that a member was adopted. She’s uncovered evidence that a person everyone called “Dad” wasn’t actually biologically related.
Dunlavy once worked with a woman who was looking for infant graves in local cemeteries. Dunlavy said the woman shared a story her grandfather told her. The grandfather was unaware he had a deceased baby sister until he enlisted in the service and the death was part of his family record.
“She had only lived for a couple of days and the family was so traumatized from that they didn’t ever mention her again,” she said.
Dunlavy has also found fascinating local stories, such as the lost-and-found tale of one family. The father had run afoul of the law and disappeared, leaving his wife and three children behind. He changed his name and actually made a better life for himself in California. But when he returned to reclaim his family after seven years, it wasn’t exactly a joyous reunion.
“In the meantime, the town had taken care of the family and they weren’t very happy about his return,” she said.
The archives Dunlavy maintains are stocked with cool stuff — yearbooks from Eagle and Eagle County high schools, ledgers from old businesses and copies of thousands of historic photos. Much of this information can be found on line.
Dunlavy works closely with the Eagle County Historical Society and she noted this area actually has a wealth of first-person accounts and actual artifacts from its pioneer days. In general, Dunlavy explained that the library archives are set up for documents — or ‘flat stuff’ as she calls it.
“The historical society has a museum in Eagle so they get the pianos and saddles,” she said.
As for the library archives, one of the prized pieces is a real print of the Fulford Signal. The July 3, 1893 newspaper was printed on orange hued newsprint and it heralds a big gold strike in the mining town south of Eagle.
“It wasn’t true though,” Dunlavy said. It turns out the newspaper account was an early example of fake news. The people in charge of promoting Fulford wanted to generate some interest in the mining town so they salted their ore samples.
As a local archivist, Dunlavy has become very familiar with what she calls the “big names of Eagle County.” Whether we know it or not, modern county residents are also familiar with those names because they might live on Mayer Street or hike in Hernage Gulch.
She was so familiar with those families that she noticed something strange happened around 1940.
“I started seeing all these women with different names. Where did that come from? Then I figured it out — Camp Hale,” Dunlavy said.
When the Army opened the training site for the famed 10th Mountain Division, local girls started marrying fellows from all across the U.S. When the war was over, many of those soldiers returned to Colorado and the state’s ski industry was born.
As for herself, Dunlavy has found a particular tie with the Doll family. The Dolls were originally from Ohio — a community close to where Dunlavy was raised. She feels a sense of kinship with the Dolls because of their shared buckeye roots.
The great thing about local history is that anyone can find those kinds of shared connections from people in Eagle County’s past, Dunlavy said.
“You find amazing connection where you least expect them,” Dunlavy said.
Hardscrabble stopped by the Vail Daily newsroom to jam as one of their three performances in one Saturday, the last of which was at the Bonfire Block Party.