Huerfano County, Colorado
Mining Museum

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Huerfano World - July 20, 1989 Coal Car for Mining Museum
Contributed by Louise Adams

Walsenburg's Mining Museum on East Fifth Street got a promotional boost Tuesday evening as City Council agreed to let a new committee place an old mining car at the corner of Fifth and Main Street to call attention to the facility.

Huerfano County Historical Society Board Member Malcolm MacDonald asked the Council for permission to place the car, which is being donated by John Bechaver. MacDonald also updated Council on a new in-city committee which will work to make the Museum a more viable attraction for visitors and residents.

Christine Schmidt, also a member of the Historical Society Board, is chairing the new Walsenburg Committee which includes MacDonald, Bechaver, John Biondi, Rudy Krist, Mary Bohannon, Charlotte Benedetti, Betty Ridge and Thelma Caldwell.

The committee hopes to open the Museum for longer periods of time during the months of August and September - possibly 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily and also allow for special tours for larger groups.

MacDonald told Council the Museum was being operated strictly on donations received locally and from visitors, noting the financial burden for the Historical Society for Fort Francisco Museum in La Veta was great.

Schmidt, Historian Nancy Christofferson and Artist Dianne Hanisch were instrumental in putting the Mining Museum into place two years ago. Since that time It has operated on an "as can" basis.

The new committee hopes to change that and is asking locals who would like to volunteer to play host in the Museum to contact one of the members. Councilwoman Joan Crump immediately volunteered for duty.

The committee is also most appreciative of any cash donations from residents and visitors to help maintain the Museum.

Huerfano World - July 5, 1990 Walsenburg Mining Museum Observing 3rd Anniversary
Contributed by Louise Adams

Yesterday, July 4, marked the third anniversary of the Walsenburg Mining Museum on Main Street. The brainchild of Jill Clark, former resident, the museum took shape slowly through the dedication and contributions of many individuals and groups.

Clark, then secretary of Downtown Development, first interested that group in the idea of establishing the museum. Undaunted by the monumental task she was facing, she then approached Christine Schmidt, president of the Huerfano County Historical Society, to request the society's sponsorship to help obtain grant monies.

The old Roof and Dick building at the corner of Fifth and Main Streets was targeted for the museum's home. Built in the 1890's, the spacious two-story building was county-owned and largely vacant, though needing renovation. The structure was secured for the museum with a 20-year lease for $1 per year.

Clark meanwhile was researching and writing grant proposals. Since most of the grants available required in-kind donations or matching funds, money-raisers were sponsored, such as Downtown Development's sale of little souvenir sacks of coal, handcrushed by Clark and Dianne Hanisch. Donations were received from such organizations as Civic League, Walsenburg Club, Knights of Columbus, the City of Walsenburg and Huerfano County.

Major grants were duly received from the Boettcher and Gates Foundations and Burlington Northern Railroad, which enabled Clark and Hanisch to begin designing the layout of displays in the building.

The building was gradually renovated through the help of volunteers, chiefly Tony Sandoval and Tom Standish, and of the city and county. Dianne Hanisch became the project coordinator.

The first major contributor was John Biondi, who offered donation of mining paraphernalia from his own extensive collection (he also gave many items to Francisco Fort Museum in La Veta for its mining display) and much helpful advice.

Advice was also received from the directors of the Lafayette Mining Museum, James D. and Beth Hutchison. Lafayette's museum opened in 1976 and its directors believe it to have been the first in Colorado to concentrate solely on coal mining, in fact, the ONLY one until the Walsenburg facility opened.

The Hutchisons, who finally visited the museum here last Wednesday after years of correspondence, said that many Huerfano County miners ended up in the Lafayette area, which covers western Weld and eastern Boulder counties. This was the heart of the Northern Field, as Walsenburg and Trinidad were of the Southern Field of coal mining.

Another important visitor to the museum was the original coal miner's daughter, Loretta Lynn, who stopped by last summer.

Possibly the highlight of the mining museum's collection is the varied array of photographs. On loan from the Colorado Mine Reclamation Bureau is a series of "before and after" shots of some of the old camps, showing the buildings and people of the boom years and what is left today. Other photos show the interior and exterior of the mines, the miners and the hardworking mules which labored both underground and above.

Maps and records kept by mining companies are exhibited. The maps are of interest for their intricate detail, with tunnels and rooms sprouting every which way and giving the overall impression of a complex maze. The old records have the miners' names, hours worked and, occasionally, pay received.

Also featured in the museum are the tools of the miners, from hard hats to picks and from lunch buckets to augers. Displayed alongside the photographs, these articles help the viewer understand the work and hardship of the early coal miners.

Six rooms of the building are used for display of the collection and the gift shop, where books and souvenir items are offered for sale. handouts concerning the railroad, local history and ghost mining camps are also available.

Barbara Medina is senior aide of the museum, which is open from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Monday - Friday and from noon - 5 p.m. Saturday. Cost for a tour is $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.

Huerfano World - July 14, 1994 Museum Materializing
Contributed by Louise Adams

County crews completed moving furniture, displays and equipment Wednesday to the new location of the Walsenburg Mining Museum in the old Huerfano County Jail. With one piece of machinery weighing over 1,000 pounds, the men gained new respect for the hardworking coal miner of yesteryear, who is memorialized throughout the displays of the museum. Old home of the museum was 502 Main; future site of Physicians Home Health Care Ltd. Grand opening for the new Walsenburg Mining Museum will be announced after the exhibits are reset in the newly remodeled building.

Museum Materializing

The Walsenburg Mining Museum is this week being moved into its new quarters in the historic Huerfano County Jail and will be open to the public soon, according to Christine Schmidt, chairman of the Mining Museum committee.

The old building, vacant since the new jail was opened in October 1989, has been renovated to house the exhibits while retaining the original jail cells and public rooms.

The building was constructed in 1896. One George Keyes of the Bullen Bridge Company in Pueblo won the $5,210 contract for the stone and wood work, and the Diebold Safe and Lock Company of Canton, OH, the bid for the cells and steel work at $4,685, for a total of $9,895! The contracts were let in June with a deadline for completion of the project set at Oct. 15 of the same year.

In the 1990s, the renovation process cost some $40,000 and plans and actual work have taken over a year. Funding has been generated through a $24,560 preservation grant, written by Schmidt, from the Colorado Historical Society in May 1993. Much in-kind work has been provided by the county, Walsenburg Downtown Development, the museum committee and the various contractors, some of whom are still continuing work.

The original rooms downstairs, plus the 27 by 28 foot cell room behind, are devoted to the coal mining displays.

Entering the museum, guests are in the old reception room, 14 1/2 by 18 1/2 feet, which will be used for exhibits.

To the right of the lobby is a 10 by 12 room built for the sheriff's office.

Two smaller rooms to the left of the old reception room were originally devoted to storage and to the women's cell room. The builders evidently expected no female crime sprees as the storeroom is the larger of the two at nine and a half by 12 feet.

The storage area has been converted to a bathroom which remains. The women's cell will probably house the Dick collection.

The large "bull pen" area contains four steel cells off a central hallway.

The first cell on the left, formerly the shower room, may house the gift shop. Items available include postcards, books, historical maps, notecards, stained glass, handicrafts, artifacts gathered from the local coal camps, weavings and other collectibles.

Another of the cells will be a replica of a coal shaft, a third will contain mining equipment, and the fourth will be refurbished to its original use as a prisoners' cell. Heavy and large equipment belonging to the museum, such as a jackhammer and bellows, will be displayed in the hallway between cells.

The upstairs of the old jail was designed as an apartment for the jailer and his family, with a hallway and four rooms, now three. Later these rooms were converted to the sheriff's office.

The second story will be the home of the Huerfano County Historical Society's archives. Newly carpeted, these rooms have had UV-tinted windows installed for climate control and to protect historic documents, newspapers and photographs.

The Walsenburg Mining Museum opened July 4, 1987, established through the efforts of Schmidt and Dianne Hanisch. They were assisted by the late Malcolm MacDonald, Louis Lenzotti, John Biondi and Tony Sandoval, along with volunteers from the business community. Schmidt has been project director throughout the succeeding seven years and, at times, has single-handedly kept the facility operational.

The museum was housed in a county-owned building at Fifth and Main Streets which was sold last year, necessitating the museum's move.

The collection includes unique photography displays of the mines, camps and workers, a mine office, small machinery and equipment and other coal mining related items.

Staffed by Florence Rogers, volunteers put in hours to greet guests, direct tours and operate the gift shop. Among these are Betty and Richard Ridge, Carolyn and Alfred Newman, Agnes and John Bechaver and Beulah Read.

Volunteers are always needed and may sign up with Rogers at the museum. They are asked for just two or three hours a week.

The Mining Museum Committee, headed by Schmidt, consists of JoVonne Fitzgerald, Gerald Lamb, Viola Archuleta, Betty Ridge, Norma Lou Murr, Florence Rogers, Carolyn and Alfred Newman, John Bechaver, Walter and Molly Bailey, Ben Eagle, Nick Faris, Dianne Hanisch, Joyce Kramer, Vivian Price, Nancy Christofferson and Pat Lepka, secretary.

In the June 17, 1896 issue of the Walsenburg World, the writer stated, "Altogether the jail will be one of the best and safest in the state, and the commissioners deserve great credit for the design and interest they have taken in the matter."

Today, the county commissioners again deserve thanks for making the project possible and allowing the Walsenburg Mining Museum to occupy, and thereby preserve, the historic structure.

Huerfano World - January 26, 1995 Mining Museum To Open In May
Contributed by Louise Adams

Walsenburg Mining Museum has targeted a May 1995 opening in the former Huerfano County Jail behind the courthouse.

Work has continued throughout the winter months to refurbish the building with electrical, plumbing and structural work.

The lower floor will be devoted to exhibits and the archives will be housed in the rooms on the second floor.

Exhibits will include mining memorabilia and photographs as well as a room furnished to resemble the home of a miner and family at around the turn of the century.

In keeping with the building's history, other exhibits will highlight law enforcement and the prisoners who spent time there.

The committee working on the museum began work Wednesday on the first room, destined to be a living room.

However, with the expansion of the displays, the committee is seeking certain items from donors.

Needed are a small coal car for the mining area, and handcuffs, leg irons, badge, large iron keys and black and white ticking bunk-size mattresses for the jail exhibit. Also, any size of mannequin is welcome.

Mining Museum by Carolyn Newman Huerfano World - May 31, 2001

Contributed by Louise Adams

One missing brass check from the Miners Memorial board at the railroad depot reminds us more than one coal miner did not return home from his day's work.

Each morning the miner took his numbered brass check from his mine's board. If he returned safely he placed it back on the board. A missing check meant a missing miner.

Woe be to the miner who forgot to replace his brass check - it meant his fellow workers were searching the mine for him while he was safe at home eating his dinner.

Brass check boards used in local mines are displayed in the Walsenburg Mining Museum, housed in the 1896 county jail behind the courthouse.

In the museum is the story of a 1912 miner who placed his brass checks on another man's loads of coal and thus got paid for mining the coal. The result: 60 days in jail.

In the museum the mine owner/operator's office is ready for the day's work. Payroll books and coal prices are at hand, the spittoon strategically placed, framed photos of the mines hanging on the walls. This room was furnished by the Dick family, mine owners.

New this year are the bits and pieces dug out of hidden recesses between the back cell bars and the walls. Although the pornographic pictures are not on display, the variety of cigarette wrappers, candy wrappers, even coins and playing cards give some idea how the men passed the time. Plenty more items remain hidden if a volunteer wishes to take on the job of retrieval.

The blinds on the upstairs jail windows no longer mean the jailer's family is living in the building and cooking for the prisoners. Now it means the district attorney's office operates out of the former living quarters.

The big museum project this week is the Coal Camp Kids Reunion Saturday noon at the Walsenburg Community Center. Photos and maps pulled out of the archives and never displayed before will be on view for the first time. Words like honeydippers (the men who yearly emptied the outhouses), fire boss, Ravenwood and pumpkin coal will pepper the conversations.

Newcomers and the general public are welcome also to the catered luncheon and short program. The $10 tickets are available mornings at the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Office Supply and Hollowpoint Sporting Goods as well as at the museum.

Local books and maps will be for sale. Even some coal candy. Several special guests will be on hand.

Friday is a mine site tour through Trinidad State junior College, led by Vern and Betty Story. Other heritage tours are scheduled throughout the summer.

The museum is run only with volunteer help under the guidance of the Huerfano County Historical Society. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday and some Saturdays. Weekend hours are by request. Telephone number is 738-1992.

Museum volunteers and board members include Kathleen Calza, Kathy Carpenter, Sally Hix, Lois Holbrook, Elaine Lenzini, Mary McIntyre, Alfred and Carolyn Newman, Vivian Price, Dororthy Ree, Betty Ridge, Jaye Sudar-Thomas and Jack Wynn.

The Spanish Peaks library has a grant to place 1,000 pages of the Historical Society's oral histories on the internet. John Thomas of the library is now scanning the 1979-80 recollections of old timers.

Perhaps the next museum project will be photographing and recording the dozens of mine camp houses which were moved into Walsenburg when the camps closed.

And watch for the museum float in the Black Diamond parade Saturday.

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