A piece of history restored in Avon
AVON – In a valley where so much is new, preserving the old can be tricky. But Avon now has nearly finished restoring and returning a historic artifact to its original home.
Electricity hadn’t yet come to Avon in the 1920s, so Emmett and Myrtle Nottingham took matters into their own hands. The Nottinghams designed and built a waterwheel to generate electricity for their home along the Eagle River, and later sold some of the excess power to light the town’s railroad depot – located where the town’s Burger King now sits.
The Nottinghams used the power from the generator until about 1940, when the Rural Electrification Association brought power lines to Avon.
Like so many things along the river, the water wheel was left in place, unused, to deteriorate with age. It was still sitting there when Jeanette Hix and her husband moved into the then-new Canyon Run townhomes in late 1998. Her unit looked out over the river, and Hix often wondered what the “old contraption” down there might be.
The next spring, she and her husband wandered down to the river, and discovered the old water wheel. Hix and neighbor Ron Neville organized a cleanup to uncover the old structure. After that came a long process of organizing a town historical society and finding a way to have the wheel removed, restored and replaced.
The town, working with Colorado Mountain College and state historical preservation agencies, got the wheel taken out a couple of years ago and hauled up to Leadville for restoration. That process was sidetracked a couple of times because of administrative changes. The work was finally finished this fall, and the frame was put into place Thanksgiving week.
For Hix, who has a keen appreciation of history, having the job so close to completion is a big deal.
“Individuals and entities can learn a lot from history,” Hix said. “This waterwheel was designed by a woman, and women in the early 1900s were very important to Colorado. People who see this can learn about society, but you need some kind of artifact to point you toward that history.”
Mauri Nottingham lived some of that history – and he still has the water wheel’s generator in a shed at his Avon home. Emmett and Myrtle Nottingham were Mauri’s aunt and uncle; their kids were his cousins. Now almost 82, Nottingham remembers being at the home a few times. But he also remembers what life in the valley was like without electricity.
Mauri Nottingham’s parents used carbide gas to light their home – they used gasoline to run the washing machine and big, clunky batteries for the radio. Instead of a refrigerator, there was an icebox, with ice stored in a shed through the summer months.
“For my mother, electricity must have been wonderful,” Nottingham said.
While a lot of work has gone into returning the water wheel to its original home, getting down to it will remain tricky for the foreseeable future.
The wheel will be visible from U.S. Highway 6 just east of the roundabout at the entrance to Beaver Creek. But walking down to it requires a stroll through private property at Canyon Run.
Avon planner Matt Pielsticker led the official work on the water wheel project. He said there will probably be some sort of interpretive sign near the wheel, perhaps along the highway. And there may be a few warm-weather tours coming. There may be a trail in the future, but that could be tricky and expensive, since the river’s path is tight along that stretch of stream.
But Hix – who’s been in Houston for the past several months – is just happy to see progress, especially now that she’s seen some photos.
“There’s still a lot more work to be done, but I’m pleased to the progress,” she said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.