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Historic Jeffco: Clear Creek History Park

“Spirit of volunteers created Golden's Clear Creek History Park”

by Erma Wyhs

The Vision: At a recent gathering of some volunteers that helped create the Clear Creek Living History Park, historic building preservationist, Bill Bailey said, “If it had not been for this tenacious woman,” (the tenacious one being yours truly) and I said, “If it had not been for Bill Bailey,” and added “Bo Bowers, Janine Sturdavant and all those early volunteers, it would never have happened.”

 

It began in 1991 when “Irma spotted a For Sale sign.” It was on the Pearce Ranch, homesteaded in 1878 by Tom Pearce, a hard-rock miner from Wales. The ranch on Crawford Gulch Road off Golden Gate Canyon also included the former Reynolds cabin built on the spot even earlier. I had fallen in love with the place long before 1991 and I dreaded it being development.

 

Every time we drove by, I talked about saving it all and my husband kept reminding me to “save the ranch,” until he finally said, “Are you really going to save this ranch or not?”

 

The Pearce cabin as it looked in its former location on the homestead.

 

The next day I called Ray Printz, director of Jefferson County Open Space, to see if there would be some interest in a historical working-ranch park. Printz suggested that OS may be able to help if I brought the cabins to Golden and I should talk to ask my boss, Charlie Fagan, about it. Fagan was head of the Golden Parks and Recreation department which oversaw the Golden Pioneer Museum where I was the director. To my surprise Fagan responded, “I have always wanted a living history park.”

 

So I called Bo Bowers, who with his fellow-retired Marines, had helped save and move the Guy Hill School. He had retired and felt he could not impose on them to move the cabins. However, he became the most supportive person of all and pestered City Council, the Mayor, and anyone who would listen to him, and some who didn't want to listen, about what an advantage to the city such a project could be.

 

The Letter: Weeks passed and I began thinking it would never happen. Then one day, a prophetic letter came from Bill Bailey in Delta. “I restore old cabins,” it said. Was this a mere coincidence? No, it was more than that. This was meant to be. Next, I needed a sponsor so I called Janine Sturdavant, President of Golden Landmarks Association, and she took the matter to them. Meg VanNess, president of the Golden Historic Preservation Board, took it to that group and so it went until, finally, with Bowers constant persuasion it became a possibility.

 

By then I had located the current owner of the property, Harvey Mozer. We eventually became friends, though at the time when talking to his neighbors, Mary and Charlie Ramstetter, he referred to me as “that crazy woman in Golden who wants to take my cabins down there.” The Ramstetters thought it was a good idea and encouraged him to humor the “crazy woman’s project.” By this time, the city now resigned to the project, signed a contract which was matched by an Open Space sales tax grant.

 

Down Came the Cabins… to Golden, that is. “Historic cabins proposed for park,” read the April, 1993, headline in The Golden Transcript and later “Letter launches living park.” Bill Bailey started the tedious work of numbering the logs, just as Tom’s son, John Pearce, had done when he relocated the cabin from the old Help ranch located near Ralston Buttes. The Help barn was later rescued for the park.

 

The Pearce Ranch "spread" with the cabin up on the hill beyond the barns.

 

“Bailey builds history,” Transcript, June 1994... “Volunteers make magic at park... ” And so on. Bailey, nationally known for his preservation expertise, did some of the preliminary dismantling alone due to his health concern for the volunteers. The buildings had been vacant since 1975 and deer mice were plentiful, making for the possibility of Hantavirus. George Lindstrom, Golden’s personnel director helped me work with the EPA. Anyone visiting the site had to wear "moon suits." Logs were scrubbed with bleach and left in the sun for several weeks. By this time Mozer was committed to getting those logs hauled into town. One load arrived in the middle of the Buffalo Bill Days parade!

 

Volunteers learned all about the good old days when they did the assembly. Richard and Cynthia Bauman, Gregg and Donna Reed, and Sam and Donna Miller became expert chinkers of a filling between the logs that was an authentic mix even down to the binder of horse hair that a Girl Scout Troup curried from Arabian Horses owned by Peggy Hunnicutt. The Baumans and Reeds also learned the art of hewing logs and taking the bark off the logs. Gene Child, Bob Gesumaria, and John Gilmore worked on windows and roofing and doors. I turned the financial reports over to Child as he was the one good with such a task which was at the bottom of my like-to-do list. One steadfast volunteer was Bill Kersting who died last year. His daughter, Marcia, said her father often spoke of the project as the thing he was most proud of having done in his life. Harvey Mozer, who also died several years ago, expressed much the same during my last visit with him.

 

Bowers was beyond compare in obtaining donated materials from roof shingles from Woods to paint from Meyers Hardware. Nona Brown built the chicken coops, got the chickens and got up early every morning to feed them (only the rooster woke before she did). Donna Reed and I put together the grant for money from the Home and Garden Show, Inc. and got $5,000 for vintage plants. The list of donations is several pages long as is the list of volunteers.

 

Is It Done? I once said, “It only took 3½ years.” But, actually, it will never be done; at least, not in the hearts and minds of the volunteers who gave it their blood, sweat and tears, wearing their blisters and calluses like badges of this labor of love. It remains with the volunteers forever, a cherished memory, a confidence born of a result that proved citizens can make a difference.

 

There are many interesting, heart-warming, and some heart-wrenching, stories of the work and devotion of the volunteers to a project that made people more aware of their history than they had ever been. I truly believe it is the most outstanding volunteer program ever anywhere. And it is accessible for all visitors and Golden area locals. Today’s managers of the Clear Creek History Park and the Astor House Museum organize delightful educational and entertaining events. It isn't just "a job" to them. They have great respect for the people that created the structures in the 1880s.

Photo of group gathered recently to share what they experienced with today’s staff, L to R: Mark Dodge (2007 park manager), Donna Reed, Gene Child, Donna Miller, Irma Wyhs, Nona Brown, Mary Ramstetter, Shannon Voirol (Director Astor House & History Park), Janine Sturdavant, and Bill Bailey.

 

Irma Wyhs has been a journalist since 4th grade at a one-room schoolhouse in Missouri. She majored in English at Washington University in St. Louis and moved to Colorado in 1963.

 

Irma and Bill Wyhs at the Clear Creek History Park

 

She was a watercolor artist and teacher and helped establish the Foothills Art Center while raising three children. She has written for Golden Transcript since 1968 and served the Lakewood Sentinel for 13 years. While managing the Golden Pioneer Museum 1989-97, Irma organized the creation of Clear Creek History Park.

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