Keeping history alive

Organization works to preserve the past

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The historical roots of settlers in Routt County is richly honest. Honest people came to forge a living out of the land. There was no culture-changing gold rush, no boom and no reason to come to the county except to find a way to make a living by mining or agriculture, said Arianthe Stettner, city councilwoman and original member of the building preservation group Historic Routt County.

"Our history is the story of the regular folks who came to live a regular life," she said. "The story is valuable because it's the story of the common man."

Along with pictures, memories and exhibits displayed at The Tread Of Pioneers Museum to remind locals of the past in Routt County, Stettner said the early communities left monuments of their culture: buildings.

"The buildings in Routt County are more modest than other parts of the state," she said.

Barns, schoolhouses, churches and homes, some more than 100 years old, still stand today. Preserving those structures, and the land that they sit on, is preserving a snapshot of the past and the rural nature of the county, Stettner said.

Since Historic Routt County became an official nonprofit agency in 1999, it has helped property owners receive $356,000 worth of grants from the Colorado State Historical Fund to help preserve the buildings with historical value in the county.

"With (preserving buildings), you get a more grounded feeling of what it was like here in the past. It gives you a sense of identification to the community," said Laureen Schaffer, historic preservation specialist.

Schaffer works for Historic Routt County. Her job is to help property owners weave through application processes to get on federal, state and county historic registers. Once they are on the registers, Schaffer assists in receiving grants to help preserve the historical structure.

"Once you get on any of the registers, you are eligible for grants," Schaffer said.

Grants come from the state and federal level and from private foundations.

The general guideline for a property to get on a register is that is has to be 50 years old, maintain its original historical look and has some historical significance to the area. The easiest register to get on is the county's the state is more difficult and the national list is the hardest.

Twenty properties are on the national register, 23 are on the state register and 47 have made on the county register.

"We are very active," Schaffer said. She added that the group is second only to Historic Denver in the amount of grant money, per capita, that it pulls in for historic preservation from the state level.

Historic Routt County's roots date back to the Historic Preservation Committee, formed in 1993, which was a group organized through The Tread of Pioneers Museum. Encroaching new development was a driving factor in that group being formed. As new development came in, the old buildings, and the patterns in which land was built on, began to vanish.

"We started to see some special buildings disappear," she said.

The committee helped property owners take advantage of the new state gambling tax in 1993, which 5 percent of went to the State Historic Fund to grant out to preserve historical properties. Today, the fund generates about $9 million a year, said Mike Lucky of the State Historic fund.

In 1996, museum officials decided to only concentrate on exhibits and the committee was disbanded. A year later, it reorganized.

"As we gained supporters, we became our own organization," Stettner said.

By 1999, Historic Routt County achieved its independent nonprofit status, enabling the group to apply for grants for property owners.

Currently, the group has 20 grants active for properties in the community and projects for restoration work on the drawing board for this summer are at Rock Creek Stagestop and the Mad Creek barn.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206

or e-mail dcrowl@steamboatpilot.com

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