Summit Historical Society comes to a crossroads as president nears retirement
The president of the Summit Historical Society will be stepping down in August, a departure that will potentially lead to a lull in activity by the group as it continues divesting itself of historic properties to cut down on expenses.
Sandie Mather, one of the county’s most prolific preservationists and namesake of Breckenridge’s Mather Archives, will retire from the society at the conclusion of her four-year term.
“I think we’ve had a very successful four years in every respect,” she said in a phone interview. “But after four years, I’m tired. We always need new ideas and new ways of doing things, and it’s time for that to happen.”
Mather wrote her dissertation on the geography of Summit County in 1982 and has since authored 20 books on the history of the area, often partnering with the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance and Frisco Historic Park and Museum. Mather said more collaboration with those groups was one of her main goals as head of the historical society.
“From the beginning I wanted the three organizations to work together closely, because we’re all in this together” she said. “We have common goals and we care about the history of Summit County.”
Mather said she has plenty to be proud of after her tenure as the society’s president, including high turnout for historic boat and hiking tours, school outreach programming and the society’s summer adventure program.
In 2015, the society partnered with BHA to set up the Dr. Sandra F. Pritchard Mather Archives in Breckenridge, a storehouse of historic documents and items housed in a purpose-built room within the South Branch Library.
“The collection has the potential to be a really fantastic resource for researchers,” Mather said. “We’re really pleased with what’s going on there.”
Mather said she is also excited to explore the Rutledge Collection, a cache of historical items currently stored at the Dillon Schoolhouse Museum. They include clippings from Summit’s oldest newspapers and an unrivaled textile collection, which Mather will continue sorting after she steps down as the society’s president.
It’s unclear what direction the society will go in once Mather is gone. Longtime board member and former president Rick Hague said the activity of the society ebbs and flows depending on whether or not it has a president as active as Mather has been.
“I’ve been around the society long enough to know its ups and downs, and it’ll probably go for a brief downswing until someone else comes along,” he said. “Every now and then an Energizer bunny comes along — Sandie was and I was when I was president — and takes the reins and gets the society breathing again.”
In recent years, the society has been divesting itself of the more than half-dozen properties it used to own, donating them to local governments or other nonprofits on the condition they remain open to the public and available for the society’s programs.
In the most recent deal, the society gave a historic schoolhouse in Montezuma to the town government. Last week, Hague met with the Dillon Town Council to discuss handing over the Dillon Schoolhouse Museum and two nearby cabins to the town.
“The problem is that the historical society is a very, very small organization with very limited resources — both financial and human,” Hague said. “We’re trying to get to a model where the society doesn’t actually own any buildings but occupies and manages them.”
Insurance, utilities and upkeep costs have been a financial drain on the society, which is an all-volunteer group. Often, those expenses would be only marginal to town governments, which can simply add historic buildings to their larger insurance policies and utility portfolios.
For the society, however, the costs can be a huge burden. The group recently had to pay around $40,000 to replace the roof of the Dillon Schoolhouse, wiping out most of the revenue generated from the sale of three historic buildings in Breckenridge.
Hague expects the pattern of divestment to continue, but he said he’s optimistic about the society’s future without Mather and hopeful that some energetic new board members will keep the group busy once they learn the ropes.
They’ll be doing so without the help of Mather, who said she wants to step away from the organization completely and not linger — at least for a year or so.
“I don’t want them to be thinking, ‘What would Sandie do?’ all the time,” she said. “I want them to work on their own and not be looking over their shoulders.”
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