The Buena Vista Heritage Museum sits in a building at the end of Main Street that was built in 1882 and has served as the Chaffee County courthouse and a school.
But BV Heritage president Vic Kuklin says that the building has never gotten the maintenance it needs in its 130 years of life – even the electrical wiring still dates back to the Chester A. Arthur presidential administration – and time is catching up with it.
The non-profit group, who received the old courthouse from the school district for one dollar, reached out to History Colorado, who sent a historical architect who had evaluated several buildings in old St. Elmo. The architect’s appraisal was that a restoration of the building would cost $2.7 million over 11 years.
Structurally, the building is okay, Kuklin said. But the architect’s preliminary report has “hundreds of pages of photos” of small flaws – holes in the masonry, issues with plumbing, the lawn outside the building and layers upon layers of paint over original woodwork – that need to be addressed.
The most pressing issue, especially during monsoon season, is that the building’s metal-lined wooden gutters, which, in accordance with typical late 19th century engineering, are located inside the building, are leaking. The standing-seam metal roof needs to be sloped to better disperse rainwater.
Restoring the cupola alone would cost $100,000, Kuklin said.
Repairing the roof would be a bit more costly. Moving to repair it, BV Heritage has been awarded a Colorado Historic Fund grant for $145,000 requiring a 25 percent match from the group. That match amount is $49,000 that the Museum needs to raise by the end of October to secure the grant in this cycle.
“Obviously, the faster we can do it the cheaper it is, because of inflation,” Kuklin said.
In addition to the museum’s regularly scheduled fundraising, including events like the upcoming Apple Fest and continuing productions of ‘The Madams of Central Colorado,” Kuklin hopes that Buena Vistans will commit more than “good intentions and a love of history.”
“It’s the anchor of Main Street,” Kuklin said.
Heritage tourism is a growing industry. The museum brought in 1,700 paid admissions in 2016, up 40 percent from the previous year, Kuklin said.
In the view of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation, “Salida’s going to be the arts district, we’re going to be the history district,” he said.
After Salida became the county seat and the location of the county courthouse in 1932, the building became the town schoolhouse and remained as such until 1972, Kuklin said.
He hopes that the population of Buena Vista and the surrounding area who may have gone to school in the building will invest in keeping the museum alive.
While it’s great to have generous benefactors with deep pockets, “if we could get just $10 per household, we’d be in great shape,” Kuklin said. “A pile of 10 dollar bills would go a long way.”
“If we do it right, it’s good for another 100 years,” he said.
Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $1 for children 5-18, and $10 for families. The museum closes Oct. 2 for the season.
BV Heritage “always needs volunteers,” Kuklin said. You can apply to be a volunteer at www.buenavistaheritage.org