Monday, June 27, 2016

Preserving Our Past

by Linda Farmer Harris

Local museums like the San Juan Historical Society Pioneer Museum in Pagosa Spring, Colorado, preserve historical records, artifacts, and memories from that area's past. Their focus is "Preserving Our Past for Our Future."

Communities that collect and preserve pieces of their history are richer because of the shared endeavor. Museums are also a treasure trove of resources and gateway to other holders of local history.
San Juan Historical Society Museum, Pagosa Spring, Colorado
In 1970, Glenn Edmonds put a notice in The Pagosa Springs SUN announcing a meeting to form a museum. The community responded and by 1976 the present building and location were acquired. Financial donations and restoration services were secured and quality pieces were donated for display.

Docent Ann Oldham gave me a tour of the exhibits and related the history associated with them. They are still acquiring pieces. The need to expand the museum was evident.

The museum office includes the old Pay Cage from the Hersch Mercantile Building, donated by Hal Franklin. Dr. Ellsworth's dental chair is on display. The old Chromo Post Office fixtures were donated by Fitzhugh Havens.

Other displays included a blacksmith shop, a typical early 1900 kitchen, logging and ranching equipment, railroad memorabilia, saddles and tack, and farming equipment, and so much more.

One way to preserve history and generate revenue for the museum is through the publication of pictures and stories. The San Juan Historical Society collects and compiles information to publish in their Remembrances series.

Ms. Oldham showed me 13 published volumes of Remembrances covering Founding Families (Vol.1), The Bride of the Silver San Juan (Vol.2), School Days, School Days (Vol.3, shown above), Making a Living (Vol.4), Living in God's Country (Vol.5), Food on the Range (Vol.6), Day to Day (Vol.7), Then and Now (Vol.8), Voices from the Past (Vol.9), A Woman's Work (Vol.10), Federal Forest Reserves (Vol.11), Military Matters (Vol.12), Unlucky Days (Vol.13).

The content is fairly obvious from the volume title except for Vol. 13 Unlucky Days. I had to look through that volume. It was clear from the stories why the volume was titled unlucky.

Stories had titles such as "The great 1919 fires; Failure of the First Bank of Pagosa; Catchpole's mistake or folly; Questionable medical devices; Dispute along the 37th parallel; Courthouse in flames; Flu epidemic of 1918-1919; Two bridges down; We still have horse thieves; The Allison Gang; Eighteen days without electricity; Winter in deep snow; plus many more stories.

Ms. Oldham is also an historical author. In 2013, she wrote Albert H. Pfieiffer: Indian Agent, Soldier, and Mountain Man.

The museum's collections include many daily living artifacts, business, and medical tools—things you'd expect in a pioneer museum. They archive pictures and give a written synopsis of events.
Farm and Ranch Equipment
Old Pictures & Histories
Pioneer Families and Places around Pagosa Springs
Pagosa Lumber Company Safe, Ledgers, and Posting Machine
They have a Metabulator (below) in their vintage medical apparatus section. It was used to measure a patient's basal metabolic rate—how much oxygen consumed while breathing.
Crank Telephone above a Metabulator & Chair

Telephone Switchboard
This console brings back memories. My mother was chief operator for Southern Bell Telephone in my hometown. We lived in the telephone company house—front room housed the switchboards and the other rooms housed us. It's recorded in a company newsletter that my first words were "number please." When my brother was born mom gave up her day job and dad moved us into our own home.

My first job after high school was with First State Bank in Lubbock, Texas. They had the PBX (private branch exchange) business system with one operator and one assistant. The day they were both out sick caused unbelievable chaos. It turned out I was the only one who knew how to work the system. I didn't know the people, extensions or departments because I was only a bookkeeper, but a cheat-sheet, a quick run-through, and we were good to go. That day I began the official back-up to the back-up.

Memories are a wonderful part of a local museum. Objects can trigger memories of experiences that had already settled in the deep reaches of our minds. I hadn't thought about switchboards in years, or the party-line system we had until I was in college. The first time we had a private line, we all listened for the "rings" that told us when to answer our phone. We laughed about the calls we missed because one long ring was for the Bakers and we were waiting for the four quick or short rings that meant us. It took a while to get in the habit of answering the one long ring.

Tools of Many Trades
Frank Matthews's Barber Tools & Store Front

School Desks, Books, and hand-crank Eraser Duster

I remember these desks in elementary school, but we had to bang two erasers together to remove the chalk dust. It must have been fun to put them in the Eraser Duster and crank them clean.

Did you ever have eraser duty? If we didn't read well or acted up in class we'd go home chalky!

The society offers a gift shop featuring a wide variety of items. The gift shop is important to the continued success of the museum. Sales are utilized to offset operating costs.

Ms. Oldham said that this museum faces closure possibly at the end of 2016 if funds are not secured to keep it open.

This is a tragedy and a loss that will be felt throughout the county and beyond. Teachers bring their students to see the things they study in history class, writers get a face-to-face with items they use in their books, and folks get to see the way it used to be before technology became the norm.

My May 27, 2013 HH&H blog—Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight gives a broad brush stroke of the founding of Pagosa Springs, Colorado and some of the more well-known historical spots.

Have you visited your local museum? Are you are contributing or supporting member? What museums have you visited over the years?

Lin and her husband, Jerry, live on a hay and cattle ranch in Chimney Rock, Archuleta County, Colorado. Her novella, The Lye Water Bride is included in The California Gold Rush Romance Collection (Barbour Publishing, August 1, 2016).


Linda Farmer Harris
Turning Tidbits of History into Unforgettable Stories


  1. I've visited local museums when my children were in school....usually on class trips. I haven't been to any recently. I do remember the smell of those old antiques. I love the school stuff in your pictures. I used to clean the chalkboard and clap erasers, but my school days don't date back as far as the above schools. Thanks for sharing, this was very interesting.

  2. Chappydeb, your school days don't date back that far? (hahahah,just kidding!) Lin, thanks for sharing. As a fellow museum lover, this was fun. Virtual visits are so much easier and I doubt I'd ever have seen this one otherwise.

    1. Glad I gave you a good chuckle, my friend. ;-)

  3. I have an old school desk like those pictured above in my garage. This museum looks like a cool place to visit.