Friday night marks Frisco museum’s 25th anniversary
special to the daily
FRISCO ” At first glance, it looks like a pioneer schoolhouse ” the kind you see on any Colorado road trip, dotted along the fields as a reminder of our Wild West heritage. Lodged on Frisco’s Main Street, this Victorian structure boasts the definitive trademark of any authentic pioneer schoolhouse ” a distinctive bell tower, spiraling at a modest height into the Rocky Mountain sky.
But underneath that bell tower is housed a 2,000 square-foot storage space, crammed with vintage documents, maps, clothing and historic artifacts ” and that’s only the stuff that hasn’t been put on display yet.
The Frisco Schoolhouse museum, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, sits adjacent to Frisco’s Historic Park, where visitors can take a stroll through the town’s colorful past. The Frisco Historic Park is home to 13 original local structures, including the Ruth House, Bill’s Ranch House, an outhouse and well houses, and even one cabin that has been designed to authentically replicate a Frisco jailhouse. The park is topped by a gazebo, built in 1996, which hosts daily casual visits as well as parties and lunchtime town meetings.
According to museum manager Simone Belz, the idea of converting the old schoolhouse into a museum came from longtime residents Susan Chamberlain, Helen Foote and Susan Thompson ” who, with the help of Frisco’s then-mayor Doug Jones, approached the Town of Frisco with the idea of creating a historic park.
These three ladies formed the nucleus of the Frisco Historic Society, and it’s thanks to them that we have the park and its original structures today.
“They were history buffs, and they came up with the concept of not only turning the schoolhouse into a museum, but also bringing in other buildings ” that were slated for destruction ” onto the site for preservation,” Belz said.
The Frisco Schoolhouse Museum opened on July 2, 1983, and in January 1984 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But it may be surprising to some locals to find out that the schoolhouse actually started off as something that might be considered, from society’s standpoint, it’s polar opposite ” a saloon.
“We’re not sure that the saloon ever even opened,” Belz said. “We did find some beer bottles down in the cellar, so it may have been in operation for only a very brief time ” or maybe the workers started drinking the inventory,” she said with a laugh.
“That’s why the building is as large as it is,” Belz added. “The interior was designed to have a back bar, and the stained glass windows are an example of just what a saloon looked like back then.”
The original saloon structure was built in 1899, and the building was sold to the school district and converted into a local schoolhouse for Frisco in 1901. To make the conversion complete, a bell tower was brought in from a schoolhouse being torn down in Breckenridge.
Belz said that, over the past century, the schoolhouse has been subjected to additions that weren’t part of the original architecture. But when it was renovated to become a museum, structural changes were made to bring it back to its original architectural plan.
After the Schoolhouse Museum opened in 1983, the Historical Society received 501c3 status, which enabled them to get funding to bring a number of historic buildings onto the adjacent dirt lot. These buildings, mostly log cabins belonging to the most prominent residents of the town in its founding years during the 1870s and 1880s, have continued to be brought onto the site over the last two decades.
As you step inside the Schoolhouse Museum, you feel the intimacy of the past surrounding you, represented in imaginative displays of mining ephemera, maps and documents, personal belongings of Frisco’s pioneers, and even a few animal friends preserved for posterity. Near the entrance is an elaborate interactive model train diorama of Frisco and the Ten Mile Canyon, circa 1900, recently constructed by Frisco residents Tom, Sharon and Scott Randolph, and installed in 2006 ” the same year that brought Belz in as museum director.
Belz works with a staff of two part-time employees, as well as a dozen active volunteers. She is also proud of the corps of regular groups that come in periodically, such as the Girl Scouts, who help every year with the Halloween decorations.
Belz said that at the present time, donations aren’t being actively solicited because museum staff is in the process of cataloguing its extensive inventory.
“The material we have ” and what it represents ” is pretty substantial, and I can’t imagine what other gold nuggets might be out there, but I know there’s always something,” Belz said. “And if something really fabulous with a great historical value comes in, we’ll make an exception,” she added.
Belz admits that her favorite artifact in the collection is probably a circa-1873 map of Colorado, with a detailed rendering of the Summit County region.
“It’s very tattered and in poor shape, but it gives you goosebumps,” she said. “It’s a great example of how our area has changed since the mining era.”
Belz says that the museum has a large amount of mining artifacts, books, maps, clothing and other artifacts still in storage under the bell tower. Some of the clothing is now also being displayed inside the cabins that grace the Historic Park. Belz hopes that the entire collection will be documented, photographed and catalogued by 2009.
The Frisco Schoolhouse Museum was given a signal honor this year, when it was chosen as one of 111 institutions to participate in an assessment program offered through the American Association of Museums. As part of the program, this June a professional consultant will visit the museum and offer insights on improvements that can be made in management, operations and presentation.
According to Belz, the museum has around 26,000 visitors a year ” and that’s not even counting the number of people who come just to stroll through the Historic Park outside. Belz hopes to continue to increase the numbers ” not just of tourists, but of locals who may not know about the historic gem located in the middle of Main Street.
“We want to educate the public that there is this really cool educational asset here, and we want others to know and love the Historic Park the way we do,” she said.
The Night at the Museum celebration slated for this Friday is actually the first of a series of three museum open house celebrations for Summit County, all scheduled between 5-8 p.m. The second one takes place at the Barney Ford House on May 16, while the third, for the Summit Historical Society, takes place at the Dillon Schoolhouse on May 23.
Night at the Museum will be held at the Frisco Schoolhouse Museum on Friday with an open house from 5-8 p.m. A cash bar (with one complimentary cocktail) and appetizers will be provided.
Hours of operation for the Frisco Museum are Tuesday-Saturday, 9-5, and Sunday 9-3. Admission is free to the public. The museum is closed Mondays. For more information, call (970) 668-3428
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