Sheds to some, ‘masterpieces’ to others
LAKE GEORGE, Colo. (AP) – They’re just shacks, tiny, weather-beaten sheds with protruding nails and tilting walls that stubbornly stand along County Road 77 in Park County about six miles northwest of here.You see a pair of dilapidated outhouses. Jim Fagerstrom sees privies with a proud past – and a promising future.”They are masterpieces,” Fagerstrom said. Then he rapidly ticks off the reasons why:They were built in 1940 by the Works Progress Administration and are still standing.They have ventilation systems that pipe out foul odors with such efficiency that Fagerstrom marvels: “There’s so much thought put into that.”One even has a latch that holds up the wooden seatcover when a visitor needs it out of the way.”This is classic,” said the gray-bearded, plaid-clad Brooklyn native who moved to Colorado 30 years ago and runs the Ute Trail River Ranch down the road.Is it any wonder that Fagerstrom has made it his business to preserve these old-time privies and get them back into working order so the public can continue to enjoy them for years to come?Not to his significant other, Debra Baxter, who chuckles and says he’s always had a strong interest in historic preservation. Did he mention, she adds, that they have their own outhouse, a two-seater of unknown vintage?To be sure, the overall job for the county’s historic preservation committee to which Fagerstrom belongs is not only to preserve these outhouses but the 84-year-old schoolhouse to which they belong. They’re also trying to figure out how the public can best use them, Park County Commissioner Jim Gardner says.
‘Preservation with purpose’The Tarryall School, with its badly chipped walls, sits empty along the county road; behind it, the two outhouses stand as miniature sentries, neglected and mostly unused since the school closed in 1949.Driving back and forth, Fagerstrom developed a particular fondness for the property and its potties. How wonderful, he thought, if they could persuade people to visit this place, indulge in a bit of history. And if the school is worth saving, surely so are its toilets.”They’re as significant as the school itself,” Fagerstrom said.Indeed, a historic assessment found them to be “excellently preserved examples” of the 2.3 million privies built by the WPA in the 1930s.Regardless of whether the schoolhouse ever opens to visitors, the outhouses should be utilized again, Fagerstrom says.”It’s preservation with purpose,” he said.Fagerstrom would like to see County Road 77 used more – by cyclists, hikers and people just wanting to see more of Park County. And if people use the road, they ought to have a place to stop, he reasons.”What if they’re coming and nothing’s built – there’s not even a place to go to the bathroom?” he said.This year, Fagerstrom persuaded a Buena Vista company, Valley Precast Inc., to donate the construction of a $600, 1,000-gallon concrete vault over which the outhouses could sit.It was an unusual request, but that comes with the territory, says president Derrick Eggleston.
“I guess we’ve learned not to find a whole lot of things odd,” he said.Out of fashion? Technically, the outhouses are usable now, but the deposits a visitor might make merely fall into the hole and lay there.In October, Fagerstrom and others lifted one of the outhouses and planted it over the vault. The other remains in its original spot, the walls listing to one side. Fagerstrom wants to move that one too, then refinish both, replacing loose nails, repainting them and generally getting them into working order by spring. As for pumping out the tank?”I’ll probably do it,” he said.Fagerstrom always takes the approach of “if you want it done right, you do it yourself,” Gardner said. “He’s a one-man whirlwind.”It will be worth the work, Fagerstrom said: “I think people will enjoy this.” And rumor has it that state Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, already does.”Mike Merrifield bikes this road. He uses these outhouses,” Fagerstrom alleged.Contacted at his Manitou Springs home, Merrifield initially denies the “charge.””Are you talking about the little white schoolhouse? With a couple of outhouses? I’ve never used them,” he said coyly. “I’ve looked inside them. Just out of curiosity. I can’t attest as to the quality or usability.”
As a former teacher, he says, he found the schoolhouse fascinating.”I guess if I had used them, I would keep it a secret,” he said.But preservation is a worthy goal, Merrifield adds.”More power to him,” he said of Fagerstrom.Ninety-year-old Jack Smith, who once used those very outhouses as a boy attending the Tarryall School, approves of Fagerstrom’s goal, although he wonders whether people these days are willing to use an outhouse.”I don’t suppose they do,” he said regretfully.This story came from the Colorado Springs Gazette via the Associated Press.Vail, Colorado