A $48,777 grant awarded to Historic St. Elmo & Chalk Creek Canyon, Inc. was among the 40 grants awarded Feb. 1 by the History Colorado State Historical Fund.
The money is earmarked for preservation and stabilization of the American House Hotel parlor building in St. Elmo.
Melanie Roth, president of HSE & CCC, said the plan is to totally stabilize and preserve the building.
The work would include adding a true foundation, which the building currently lacks, replacing the flooring and stabilizing the sagging west wall. The group hopes to be able to repair the damaged roof but still use the current tin roofing material over the modern repairs. The front exterior will be preserved, but not painted, to preserve the historical appearance of the building.
Roth said HSE & CCC plans to have interpretive exhibits housed in the building, similar to those in the reconstructed St. Elmo Town Hall, and it will eventually be open for visitors to learn more about the mining and railroad heritage of the area. Plans are in the works to apply for grant money for the installations.
The two-story American House Hotel was built in 1880 by E.P. Whitney, a former hotel proprietor from Maine. In 1882 he completed a two-story addition with a store and a parlor on the first level and additional rooms on the second level.
Whitney’s widow ran the hotel form 1882 to 1892, when it was sold to Emma Launder, who ran it for another 20 years.
Daniel and Herman Clark purchased the hotel in 1912 and operated it for only a short time.
By 1941 when the Stark family acquired the building, years of neglect had taken their toll on the property. The second floor had collapsed. The Starks dismantled most of the building but retained the store and parlor to house salvaged building materials. Remnants of hotel wallpaper can still be seen at the top of the walls in the building.
The goal of the preservation work is not to restore the building to its former glory as a hotel parlor, but as it was in 1941 when the rest of the building was dismantled.
That the American House Hotel parlor and other historically significant buildings in St. Elmo survive at all is due in large part to the Stark family, who after the mines shut down and the railroad was abandoned believed that one day the town would be viable again. The family bought the empty buildings and protected them.
When the last member of the family, Annabelle, died in 1958, she left the buildings to Marie Skogsberg.
During Skogsberg’s ownership many of the cabins were kept in good repair and rented out, but the commercial buildings remained boarded up, vacant, and became the target of vandalism and theft.
Following Skogsberg’s death, the property came into the possession of her daughter, Betty Milam, who with her family began to preserve and repair the buildings.
Several buildings were destroyed in a fire that started in the original Town Hall in 2002. The Town Hall was rebuilt, but the other buildings were lost.
The Skogsberg/Milam family donated several buildings, including the American House Hotel parlor building to HSE & CCC in 2012 to continue the effort to preserve them.
Roth, a member of the Milam family, said the hope is that the project will be completed by summer 2017.
Mike Perschbacher of Older Than Dirt Construction is slated to oversee the work.
Perschbacher has extensive experience in historic preservation and has worked on other buildings in St. Elmo, including preservation of the St. Elmo schoolhouse and reconstruction of the Town Hall. Older Than Dirt will also work on the Pushor and Cash-Criss buildings and the Home Comfort Hotel and Stark Bros. Store, which were the subjects of State Historical Fund grants awarded in early December.
Some of the workforce for the planned preservation work may come from HistoriCorps, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works with federal, state and local agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, to “save and sustain our nation’s special places while providing educational and outdoor experiences.”
The volunteer organization is based in the Rocky Mountain region, but works on projects nationwide.
Another resource might be students from Lamar Community College, who would gain real-world experience in historical preservation.
As with writing the grants, raising money and keeping projects on track is a team effort. Roth said it’s not just her: “There are lots of other people working on this.”
The HSE & CCC’s next hurdle will be raising the matching funds needed for the project. The group needs approximately $18,000 to fulfill the obligation for the American House Hotel parlor project and the other three previously approved grants.
Roth said Chalk Creek Canyon is a special place and the people who enjoy it need to be its caretakers. “It’s an area that essentially belongs to all of us in the county.”
Community members who wish to contribute to the preservation work may make donations payable to HSE & CCC and mailed to P.O. Box 282, Nathrop, CO 81236.