Museum depicts life as a child from 1890-1910
December 18, 2003
Summit County kids think they have it so tough.
There’s nowhere to hang out after dark. There’re few places to play video games. They can’t skateboard year-round, it’s hard to get to friends’ houses – there’s nothing to do.
They’re the perfect target group for the Summit Historical Society’s new presentation, “A Child’s Life – Turn of the Century.”
It replaces “Booze, Brothels and Baptisms,” which depicted the seedier side of Summit County life. The exhibit attracted more than 35,000 visitors.
Kid life in Summit County at the turn of the 20th century wasn’t easy.
Children were 17 times as likely to die before the age of 1 as they are now. Diphtheria, smallpox, whooping cough, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, measles and meningitis all ran through the High Country at one point or another.
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And each relegated kids and adults to the “pest house” – and sometimes, the graveyard.
But more survived than not. They often grew up without electricity, running water or an inside toilet. They attended class in a one-room schoolhouse – in the case of the Montezuma School, from May to September because the snow was too deep in the winter.
To attend high school, students had to go to Leadville or Denver.
Children played on sleds, skates and training skis – skis with looped handles – in the winter, and played in the woods, rode bikes and rode the backs of errant burros that meandered through town in the summer.
Family life included helping with chores: girls helped their mothers in the kitchen or picking berries, while boys sifted ore, trapped, hunted or shoveled snow.
All this is depicted in the museum at 111 Main St. in Breckenridge.
And all of the exhibits are on loan from numerous people throughout Summit County: Robin and Patty Theobald, Howie and Kay Cohen, Maureen and Jim Nicholls and Ed Crane among others.
“We can bring things out that have been stored in odd places – just sitting there,” said Rick Hauge, president of the Summit Historical Society. “There’s tons of stuff all over the county. And there are a lot of artifacts related to kids.”
Not all of it was made in Summit County, yet all of it was utilized here.
A blackboard outlines the subjects students will study during the year: arithmetic, penmanship, the Pledge of Allegiance, reading and physiology. Several framed documents outline the teachers of the day – and how much they were paid: $70 a month for women, $100 for men.
There are class photos outside the county’s various schools, photos of kids in Fourth of July parades, and a collection of physician’s tools that include bone saws, metal forceps and signs from the days of old reminding people that “bad air leads to consumption,” or that “Miss Lydia’s liver pills” cure all ails.
A Christmas scene, modeled after a photo in the Kaiser family home, depicts the kind of toys children clamored for in the late 1800s. Boys opted for cast iron fire engines, banks and trains; girls put miniature tea sets, dishes and dolls on their lists to Santa.
A tin trumpet sold for 7 cents, a bag of 1,000 marbles fetched 90 cents and a doll carriage ranged from $1 to $10. A brass train with two cars cost $8 – quite the investment for a family that made, on average, $3 a day.
A theater area features two continuously running videos filmed by Wendy Wolfe and Larry Crispell who are collecting stories on film from people who lived in the area decades ago.
The living history depicts the dredge mining era and the days of railroading.
Other exhibits depict the average kitchen – a cast iron stove discovered in the Rice Barn in Summit Cove, a tin washtub and cans of food. Another shows what the average’s kid’s room looked like. Suffice it to say, there’s no TV, much less a computer, GameBoy or telephone in sight.
“We all grew up in some kind of life,” Hague said of what seems like a tough existence. “That’s what forms our realm of expectations. A lot of these people had no electricity, no central heat. That was the norm.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.