Group documenting history

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With the assistance of a group of graduate students from the University of Colorado at Denver, Historic Routt County is documenting the area's agricultural history one building at a time.

For the past four years, students in professor Ekaterini Vlahos' "Home on the Range" course have traveled throughout the county to perform detailed site analyses of more than 80 agricultural-based buildings and structures.

Vlahos, a professor in the university's College of Architecture and Planning, and 16 of her students were back at it Saturday, spending the day at two ranching properties in the Elk River Valley.

The Pavilion Ranch and Wheeler-Keller Homestead are the newest subjects for Vlahos and her students, who used cameras, drawings, surveying equipment and detailed descriptions of property structures to form the base of what eventually will be a comprehensive analysis of each site.

The completed work of the students is turned over to Historic Routt County, a local nonprofit group with a mission of preserving the historic character of Routt County communities and rural areas.

The survey work falls under Historic Routt County's Barns Etc. program, which helps property owners document and preserve their historic ranches. The survey work performed by Vlahos' classes is often the starting point for securing historical status and designations for properties.

"It's a wonderful partnership," said Arianthe Stettner, board president of Historic Routt County.

Site documentation typically takes two forms. The first is a survey performed to meet the criteria of the Colorado Historical Society. The surveys are detailed examinations and descriptions of particular properties. Using photographs, drawings, measurements and site-based observations, the surveys eventually can include analysis of details such as construction materials, building styles and techniques and even how the property fits into the larger context of agriculture in Routt County, Vlahos said.

"The ultimate goal is to have a record of a historical ranch," she said.

But perhaps more important, the surveys allow for a detailed examination of the relationships between agricultural land, buildings and people.

During the past four years, Vlahos' students also have completed Historic American Buildings Surveys, or HABS, drawings for eight Routt County ranch properties. HABS drawings are detailed, precise representations of historic properties. Some, if not all, of the HABS drawings will be preserved in the Library of Congress.

Between the site surveys and the HABS drawings, the partnership between Vlahos' classes and Historic Routt County has done much for the historic documentation of area structures.

"It's a pretty major accomplishment, I think," Vlahos said. "We're able to give Historic Routt County amazing information, and at the same time, we're able to work with property owners we wouldn't normally be able to work with.

"It's been a great partnership. The outcomes have been really positive, and it's been great for my students."

And the increased focus on property documentation has sparked the interest of other property owners.

"We have a lot of people coming to us now and saying, 'We want you to look at our site, too,'" Vlahos said.

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