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Local’s book looks at Vail Valley before skiing

Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyShirley Welch stands by Avon's old Nottingham power plant, which powered the Nottingham Ranch and is part of her new book "The Eagle River Valley."
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VAIL, Colorado ” Shirley Welch’s interest in Eagle County history started with simple curiosity.

She would often visit the Brett family cemetery that is near her home in Edwards’ Lake Creek, wondering about the stories behind the graves. For instance, one marker shows that a young man named George died at the age of 17.

“You go, ‘What happened to a 17-year-old that he should have an early death and not be here?'” said Welch, a 40-year resident of Eagle County.



Welch’s curiosity has fueled her new history book, “The Eagle River Valley,” a coffee-book-style volume that she co-authored with the Eagle County Historical Society.

Tapping on the historical society’s collection of old photos, the book travels from one end of the valley to the other, from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

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It covers the early mining camps of Red Cliff and Homestake ” and the later mine at Gilman; the military barracks of Camp Hale; the ranches of Eagle, Gypsum and Dotsero; Avon’s lettuce craze; and the shepherds of the Gore Creek Valley.

The book doesn’t delve into the ski history that transformed the county starting in the 1960s. Welch noted that Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail” and Peter Seibert’s “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” covered that story.

“The little towns, their story hadn’t been told,” said Welch, who has also written a novel as well as a biography of Frank Doll, a lifelong resident of the Vail Valley who died last year.



It was Welch’s long talks with Doll ” who lived through much of the county’s history himself ” as she was writing “The Life and Times of Frank Doll” that helped jump-start the book.

Another impetus for the book was her work for Mountain Hospice, where she recorded patients’ personal histories. That work reinforced how important it is to record history before it is forgotten, she said.

“It was really important to get this history down,” she said.

The book is available at the Bookworm of Edwards.

From Shirley Welch’s “The Eagle River Valley”:

– More than 40,000 tons of ice were harvested from Pando, now known as the Camp Hale area, each year in the early part of the 20th century. The river was dammed to create a lake, which was also used for recreation.

– Red Cliff was the first permanent settlement along the Eagle River, with its first cabin built in 1879. The town was incorporated in 1880, and, with the completion of its first sawmill shortly thereafter, it experienced a building boom. But disastrous fires in 1882, 1883 and 1889 destroyed much of the town.

– By 1895, the mining town of Fulford, south of Eagle, had 100 residents, 25 buildings, two hotels, two general stores and three saloons. The settlement was first called Nolan, after a prospector who accidentally shot himself in his tongue as he crossed a log. He bled to death.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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