First family finds first paper

Crawfords hope 1885 Pilot spurs effort to digitize newspapers

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— A few things have changed at the Steamboat Pilot since editor and proprietor James Hoyle's original issue was printed on July 31, 1885.

There is the technological: the advent of color photography; and the inflation-related: a subscription at the time cost $2 a year. Then there is the content: Stories such as "Burdette's Fishing," a lengthy narrative about catching an elusive pickerel on Lake Minnetonka, no longer qualify as front page news.

Until this fall, the tattered scrap of the first cover page on display at The Tread of Pioneers Museum, 800 Oak St., was the only remnant of the issue.

It was only fitting that Nancy Crawford Rossi and her brother, Jim Crawford, great-grandchildren of Steamboat Springs' founding father, James Harvey Crawford, should be the ones to find the remaining pages of the first edition. Hidden among piles of boxes, antiques and memorabilia in the historical Denver home of James Crawford's deceased daughter Luly, Nancy and Jim uncovered an old box of newspapers.

"Once we uncovered them, we made an inventory and showed them to the reference librarians at the Bud Werner Memorial Library," Jim Crawford said. "After looking through their microfilm collection, we realized we had found 12 undocumented issues."

Reference librarian Alysa Selby said these 12 issues were thought to have been "lost to history" because all archived Pilot newspapers published between 1887 and 1896 were destroyed in a 1909 fire.

What Selby calls "a huge historic find," could not come at a more opportune time. She and Crawford are spearheading a fundraising drive to modernize the library's newspaper archives by digitizing them -- a technology that will index the page images and allow readers to search online by use of key words.

"The Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection is only willing to digitize newspapers in chronological order, provided we've exhausted all options to find a complete record of every known paper in existence," Selby said.

Filling the gaps in the Pilot's record is a step forward, but the real challenge will be raising the projected $40,000 needed to digitize not only the Pilot, but also Routt County's other historical newspapers -- The Routt County Republican, The Routt County Sentinel, The Oak Creek Times and The Yampa Leader -- up to 1923. Copyright law prohibits online access to editions printed after 1923.

"As a research librarian, people will come in and want information on some fire or event, but unless I have a specific date, it's hit or miss with a microfilm search. It's a tedious and painful process. With digitization, it's as easy as searching the Internet, and it means we have more accurate access to the historical record," Selby said.

Jim Crawford also thinks that the technology will benefit the entire community -- so much so that he donated $5,000 to the Bud Werner Memorial Library to initiate the digitization fundraising efforts.

"Hopefully, other people step up and make donations. I spend hours looking at microfilm, frustrated at how long it takes," Crawford said. "I want to be able to do research at home on my family history."

While the missing newspapers are being microfilm-scanned by the Colorado Historical Society, Selby and Crawford are encouraging community donators to come forward. Contact Alysa Selby 879-0240, ext. 305, or e-mail aselby@marmot.org for more information.

-- To reach Dave Shively, call 846-1129 or email dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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