Hidden in Plain Sight
For the eagle-eyed, there are many mysteries in this valley.
What’s the story behind the stone marker recessed in the grass at the Brush Creek Community Playground and the placard sign outside a Gypsum home denoting the site as the county “Poor Farm?”
Here are the answers to some of the puzzles hidden in plain sight around the valley.
Playground Time Capsule
Today the Brush Creek Community Playground is one of the premier places to play in the valley. But back in May 2001, it was just drawings on a paper before a weeklong community construction effort.
As one of their first efforts, the developers of Eagle Ranch contracted with an Ithaca, N.Y. firm to design a one-of-a-kind play structure inspired by suggestions from kids in the community and actually built by a local volunteer work force. During a seven-day construction effort, around 470 businesses and individuals agreed to help. It took more than 700 man hours, but after a weeklong playground-raising effort, the new structure was completed.
During the construction, volunteers brought in food for the workers and free day care for younger kids was offered on site.
To build excitement for the effort, local kids talked with the designers and offered ideas about what they would like to see in the finished structure. As a result, there is a teepee and a train and a mine shaft depicted. There is also a musical instrument and a “telephone” tucked into the park. Kids handprints and artwork decorate the structure. And as noted by a recessed granite stone located at the site, local children collected an assortment of items and placed them in a time capsule.
“The date on the time capsule is May 2, 2001, but there aren’t any instructions about when to open it,” said Beard, who was one of the captains of the playground children’s committee. “When we were putting it together, some of the kids wanted to dig it up in just 10 years, but that benchmark has already come and gone.”
Traditionally, time capsules aren’t disturbed until 100 years have passed, but Beard noted it might be fun to dig it up in 50 years, when the kids who placed items inside might still be around to enjoy the unearthing.
“There isn’t anything of monetary value in the time capsule, but it will give whoever opens it a real insight into what kids valued back in 2001. I hope whoever digs it up has as much fun as we did putting it together,” said Beard.
Just past Wolcott, sharp-eyed motorists can spot a wooden cross placed on the red cliff over looking the valley. The late Leonard Horn, a prominent Eagle County resident, placed the cross there in 1962 for Easter sunrise services.
“The cross, although it was never cemented into the ground, stayed in place despite brutal winters until 1976, when vandals tore it down and tossed it over the cliff,” said Kathy Heicher, president of the Eagle County Historical Society. “Horn, at the time, blamed the vandalism on ‘hippies with long hair who came in a Volkswagon.’”
Heicher said that on Good Friday in 1979, The Rev. Bruce Dunsdon and members of the Eagle Baptist Church nailed the original cross back together and re-installed it at the cliff. Wooden benches were also installed at the site and a wood pulpit was cut out of a old cedar tree.
“Many local residents have attended services there, and can attest to the beauty of a sunrise view from that location,” said Heicher.
Equally intriguing to the casual passerby is the abandoned quarry equipment in the gully just east of the cross locale. The quarry at Horn Ranch produced stones for Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel, Aspen’s Hotel Jerome and Pueblo’s Opera House in the late 1800s.
This weekend, local resident can get an upclose view of the local landmarks.
Eagle County Open Space will be hosting a guided hike of the historic stone quarry at Horn Ranch from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, June 21. The county’s Open Space Program acquired the rights to lead guided hikes across private land as part of the Horn Ranch Conservation & Recreation Project completed in 2013, which protected 403 acres of land and 1.4 miles of the Eagle River.
Heicher will join hikers to provide information about the early days of the ranch. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about a unique part of Eagle County history and the open space program’s plans for the property, as well as enjoy views of Red Canyon. This short hike is only open to the first 25 people who sign up. To register and obtain directions, contact Toby Sprunk at 970-328-8698.
Additional hikes will be led in the summer and fall. For more information on the open space program, visit http://www.eaglecounty.us/openspace.
The “Poor Farm’ House
a s the sign outside her home attests, Helen Lindow of Gypsum lives at the Poor Farm. The sign is not ironic, it is historic.
“I put up the sign for Gypsum’s centenial,” said Lindow. “I just think the building is cool and the history is cool.”
According to a history of the property compiled by Heicher, back in 1900 the Eagle County commissioners launched an effort to find a property where aging and destitute citizens could live out their days. In December of that year, they purchased 195 acres, located in the Gypsum area, from Mary E. Hockett for $4,500.
The action drew indignation from some sections of the county, but in 1901, Andrew Gerard won the poor farm contract and agreed to pay the county $350 per year to lease the property. In turn, the county paid him $4 per week for each resident on the farm. Three “wards” moved to the site and for the next 39 years, many county pioneers lived out their days at the farm.
By 1939, the federal government had enacted a system of care for the needy, old age pensions and Social Security. The Poor Farm, with only two wards in residence, was no longer needed. The site, which had been parcelled down to around 100 acres, was sold to George Strohm for $5,000.
“Thus passed a relic of other times,” reported the Eagle Valley Enterprise on Aug. 11, 1939. The newspaper noted the farm had always been a well-operated facility, not something akin to a Charles Dickens novel.
“But so, it was a poor house and its passing is not regretted.”
When people think of potatoes, they typically think “Idaho.” Many local residents don’t realize is that Eagle and Gypsum have a strong potato-growing legacy.
In decades past, when agriculture rather than real estate or tourism drove the local economy, spuds were one of the big cash crops. The Eagle Valley in general, and the Brush Creek and Gypsum Creek valleys in particular, had the right combination of cool temperatures and sandy soil that made for perfect potato-growing conditions. The valley was particularly known for its high-quality russet potatoes, featuring brown skin and firm white flesh. Russets, then and now, are valued for baking, frying and potato chips.
In the past, valley ranchers formed potato grower’s associations, to maximize marketing and sales. They brought in experts to offer advice about raising quality seed potatoes, or combating potato diseases. Five generations of the Slaughter family, the Gerard family, the Erickson family, and other local ranchers, grew potatoes and stored crops in cellars dotted around the local landscape.
Only a few remaining potato cellars are sprinkled through the area. One cellar was located by the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink, where a home now sits. The last owner of that particular cellar was the Allen family, and descendants would use the cellar as a make-shift storage unit before the land sold.
“When my son was little, we used to walk to that cellar, stand on top of it, and throw rocks as far as we could,” said Eagle resident Raenette Johnson.
In Eagle, on the vacant land at the corner of Capitol Street and Highway 6 was once the site of the Ping Hotel.
Originally named the Nogal Hotel, it was the town’s first permanent hotel, boasting thirteen rooms (eight bedrooms), accommodating 26 boarders. Otis and Minnie Ping bought the structure in 1923. The Pings expanded the commercial operation by adding two wings out back and several detached motel units.
Minnie Ping was an ambitious businesswoman, and Otis was the handyman who did the work. The Pings eventually installed a gas station, featuring a glass-bubble pump. Their son, Leonard, and daughter Garnet grew up in Eagle and attended Eagle High School. For years, Leonard ran a photography business out of the hotel.
The Ping siblings lived in the complex their entire lives, with Leonard passing away in 1988, and Garnet later in 2003. In 2011, Claude DeGraw (Leonard’s nephew) took down the building, piece by piece, and found many old photos in the process. Some of the pieces were used elsewhere, including the Bonfire Brewery in Eagle. The DeGraws spent months sorting the images into scrapbooks, then began an effort to return many of the photos to the descendants of the people pictured in those long-ago snapshots.
“My mom remembers a dinner that she had at the hotel when Russell Ping (her cousin) came back from Korea,” said Jennifer Dunham. “Someone gave my great grandpa Ping a bottle of whiskey that had an apple on top that was decorated with a face on it.”
The Glenwood Canyon flag
At mile marker 154 in Glenwood Canyon, if you look to the south, there is an American flat fluttering in the breeze from atop a 300-foot rock buttress.
It’s been there since 1968.
Climbers Bill Paddock and Steve Kibler first raised the flag before they were deployed to Vietnam as teens. Since that time, a slew of stories have been written about the marker.
“A lot of the news stories made it sound like something it never was,” said Paddock, in a 2012 interivew with the Eagle Valley Enteprise. “They made it sound like it was a patriotic act, tied to our sevice in Vietnam. We climbed a lot that summer and just thought it would be cool to put a flag up there. We had no idea it would become such a big thing. It just happened. Now if the flag’s not flying, I hear about it.”
After they returned from Vietnam in 1970, the pair replaced the flag. They have continued to do so annually since then. It is still a year-to-year tradition, however.
“We talked about doing it for 50 years,” said Paddock. “It might go on longer than thas. We’ll see.”