Summit Historical Society celebrates 50 year anniversary |

Summit Historical Society celebrates 50 year anniversary

Saved from the original townsite of Dillon, the 1883 Schoolhouse still operates as a museum for the Summit Historical Society, now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Special to the Daily |

This summer, the Summit Historical Society (SHS) is celebrating 50 years since its creation, an anniversary commemorated on Aug. 24 with cake and festivities in the old Dillon Schoolhouse.

The idea for the society was born in the early 1960s, when plans were under way to convert the valley where the old town of Dillon was located into a reservoir. As buildings were picked up and moved or destroyed, many residents felt that history was being hauled away as the townsite became a lake bed.

“That drama touched us and intensified our feelings that we needed to find some vehicle to preserve what was left, to record what was remembered, and to archive what could be collected and preserved,” wrote Nanci Ammer Campbell in the introduction to the book “Windows to the Past” by Rick Hague and Sandra Mather. The book was penned over the past year in order to commemorate the historical society’s 50th anniversary.

In July of 1965, the first water went over the spillway and into what would soon be Lake Dillon. In the months that followed, historically inclined community members would meet at the relocated old town hall or in someone’s home to explore the path to formalizing a historical preservation system.

This group of founders included John Bailey, a former soldier of the 10th Mountain Division and mayor of the old town of Dillon and its successor, County Commissioner Ray Hill, Susan Ray, Leland Sharp, Marilyn “Stoney” Younger, Howard Giberson and Nanci Ammer.

These founders merged with a like-minded group of history lovers from Breckenridge to form the society, aided by the Colorado Historical Society.

The first project of the Summit Historical Society, one which continues today, was to collect old photographs of Summit County. The photos were then delivered to Verna Sharp of Montezuma who compiled the research to accompany the pictures. In 1971, the town of Dillon offered a long-term lease on the Dillon Schoolhouse, built in 1883, to the Summit Historical Society.

Early events included presentations, displays of home and sporting goods and other paraphernalia, the publication of historical articles in the Summit County Journal and an informational newsletter for members.

In those early days, membership fees were a mild $1 per year, or $5 per year for businesses. Lifetime memberships were available for $100.

When the Frisco Historic Park and Museum was founded in 1983 and the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance (BHA) was created in 2006, the Summit Historical Society encountered new competition that initially generated some animosity. Now, however, the three organizations collaborate on many projects. The BHA houses many of the Summit Historical Society’s archival collections in the Dr. Sandra F. Pritchard Mather Archive, named for Sandra Mather, Ph.D, who has been involved in the society since the 1970s and who is its current president. “Windows to the Past” is also a collaboration between the BHA and SHS; Rick Hague is the secretary of the BHA and cowrote the book with Sandra Mather.

There are many new projects on the horizon for the Summit Historical Society. One of the biggest is an oral history project that is a collaboration with the town of Silverthorne and Friends of the Lower Blue. The Summit Historical Society also has many old cassette tapes, including some from John Bailey documenting the founding of the new town of Dillon, that need to be transcribed and compiled to form a more complete history of the last few decades in Summit County.

Other projects on the horizon include a display of authentic costumes and textiles from Summit County’s history, a Christmas Bazaar on Nov. 18 and 19, an evening of Ute culture and dance on Jan. 29, and a celebration of Women’s History Month on March 11. The historical society is also hosting a new event next July 6 called Suds at the Summit, in which the Bakers’ Brewery and Angry James Brewery of Silverthorne will offer beer tastings to accompany a historical presentation on brewing and saloons in Summit County. This will be the first year in the society’s history in which events will run through the winter.

In spite of the busy docket of events the historical society is planning, they are still in need of funding and volunteers to help them continue providing the programing that they have cultivated for the past thirty years.

“We need financial stability and we need people power. Those are the two things that every nonprofit across the country needs, and we’re not unique,” said Mather.

The society’s greatest need is for partnerships to help them maintain their historical buildings, many of which are at risk of falling into disrepair. The society has already transferred the ownership of three of its buildings to the town of Breckenridge because the upkeep was beyond the resources of SHS. Mather feels that the society needs partners to take care of the historical structures so that the society can focus on its original goal of historical education.

“Our mission is programming,” said Mather. “That’s what we should be doing.”

The society also needs volunteers to help keep this programming going, from guides to lead boat tours and hikes, to people to manage marketing, advertising and social media. A collections manager, board members, fundraising managers and grant writers are also in demand.

However, Mather is not pessimistic about the future of the society. “When you think of everything we do with no money, we’re doing a good job,” she said.

The mission of the society that was founded 50 years ago was to identify, preserve, interpret and teach Summit County’s history. Mather, who has been involved in the history of the community since her first ski vacation to Dillon in 1974, wrote in a statement, “the Society endeavors to preserve the past, inform the present, and promote Summit County’s shared legacy in the future.” With luck and help from the community, perhaps the society can continue to further its mission for another 50 years.

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