Cash-strapped Summit Historical Society sells three historic properties to Breckenridge
THE BRECKENRIDGE PROPERTIES
The Briggle House: Dating back to 1896, was the home of William Briggle — Breckenridge mayor in 1903 and 1905 — and his wife Kathleen. When the SHS acquired it in 1985, the Victorian-style mansion had been used as a private residence. Currently it is part of the National Historic District in Breckenridge.
The Lomax Placer Mine: Donated to the SHS in 1985 by developers of the Christie Heights Subdivision in order to create an interpretive historic park. A placer mine, also known as a surface mine, was used to discover gold. Tours conducted by the BHA allow guests to try their hands at panning for gold.
The Washington Mine: A gold and silver mine in the 1880s — one of Summit’s largest, according to the BHA website. Tours there also include some searching for gold.
From old mining sites and dredges to quaint cabins and sprawling mansions, the history of Summit County lives on through its buildings and sites, reminding tourists and locals of the times and people that have come before. Through continual efforts of town governments, nonprofit organizations and individual volunteers, those properties have been maintained, withstanding the ravages of time and the extremes of High Country weather, and still stand today, serving to educate the public and keep the spirits of the past alive.
On Tuesday, March 17, the Summit Historical Society, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to historic preservation, announced the sale of its three Breckenridge properties — the Briggle House, Lomax Placer Mine and Washington Mine — to the town of Breckenridge for $30,000. The sale includes the properties as well as the artifacts and furnishings within.
“The SHS has been in a financial hole for the last several years,” wrote SHS board president Sandra Mather in an email explaining the reasoning behind the sale.
With the Breckenridge properties sold to the town — to be managed by the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance — the SHS will focus its attention on properties in Dillon, Summit Cove and Montezuma.
While the SHS board and the town of Breckenridge have praised the sale as a successful collaboration, some SHS members have raised concerns over the timing and terms of the transaction.
DEDICATED TO PRESERVING HISTORY
The Summit Historical Society has owned and managed a number of historic buildings and properties in the county since 1966. Other nonprofit organizations with similar preservation missions have come into being in the years since. One of the most recent is the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. Formed by the town in late 2006, the BHA also holds 501(c)3 nonprofit status. Its mission focuses directly on the preservation and promotion of historic resources in Breckenridge.
In 2007, financial and personnel limitations led the SHS to lease the three Breckenridge properties to the town of Breckenridge for an annual sum of $3,000 — with a renewal discussion and agreement each year. The town turned management of the properties over to the BHA, which conducted public tours and education at the sites, as well as performed maintenance, funded by the town. The BHA manages other Breckenridge properties in a similar way for various other organizations.
According to the purchase agreement, the BHA will continue to manage the properties and conduct tours at all three sites.
The idea to sell the Breckenridge properties to the town, rather than continue to lease them, came up in informal discussion between the two nonprofit organizations in the summer of 2013, Mather said.
“Generally, this discussion occurred in the context of discussing the annual renewal of the SHS/BHA lease agreement and the financial difficulty that the Society would incur if it had to operate the properties on its own,” Mather wrote in an email.
Discussion turned to the topic of a sale once again at an SHS board meeting in November 2014.
“There was an open discussion involving all board members. After the many pros and cons were considered, the board made a collective, unanimous decision, with board member Rick Hague abstaining, based on the inability to care properly for the many sites the Society owned,” Mather wrote. “The bylaws of the Society give the board the authority to buy and sell property. Applicable provisions of Colorado statutes give the board the same permission.”
Some SHS members have expressed concern over Hague’s involvement in the sale, as he currently serves on the board of both the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance and the Summit Historical Society.
“I’ve been fully transparent on my conflict of interest and also have abstained in all votes concerning this transaction,” said Hague. “I’ve tried very, very hard to be impartial and objective through this whole thing, and have just guided the process and have not negotiated anything.”
The motivation behind the sale is financial, according to Mather. In its current state, the SHS does not have the funds to maintain all of its properties. Both the Breckenridge sites and the Dillon sites will need costly future repairs and upkeep.
“We exist on dues, book sales, special programs, tours and hikes, fundraisers, gifts from our members — and lots of volunteers,” Mather wrote. “The funds from the sale of the properties will allow the Society to maintain its buildings well into the future.”
There have been several other instances of the SHS selling buildings or sites. The most recent example is in 2014, when the SHS sold the Slate Creek Community Hall to the Friends of the Lower Blue River nonprofit organization.
PUTTING A PRICE ON HISTORY
The town and the SHS board agreed on a price of $30,000 for all three properties and the artifacts within. The price was decided on a 10-year projection of an income stream of $3,000 per year — the amount the town of Breckenridge has paid to lease the properties for all except two years since 2007.
Coming to this decision was a complex, complicated process taken on with much deliberation, Hague said.
Among the aspects taken into consideration were the title restrictions on the properties, which prevent the sites from being sold to any entity with anything other than historic preservation in mind. The Briggle House Historic Preservation and Conservation Easement, for example, states, “The Premises shall not be used or occupied for any residential or commercial purpose, except for use as a publicly accessible museum.”
“I think everybody pretty much agrees that it essentially has no practical financial value,” said Hague. “The historical value is great, of course, but there’s no financial value.”
The sale will not be the first time that the town of Breckenridge has put money toward these properties.
Since leasing the properties out in 2007, the town has invested $127,125 in capital improvements at the three sites, according to Kim Dykstra, director of communications for the town of Breckenridge.
“This does not include ongoing operational expenses such as utilities, tour guide costs, etc., to operate the sites,” she added in an email.
When news of the sale went out, a number of concerns were raised by some SHS members.
One concern addressed the timeliness of the announcement, which reached members less than a week before the sale was finalized.
“I think the concern is that the negotiations have been held without any communication to the public,” said Larry Gilliland, who, along with his wife, local historian Mary Ellen Gilliland, is a longtime member of the SHS.
That concern is linked to another — the fact that the sale includes items and artifacts within the properties.
“I’m concerned that they are selling stuff, materials, that have been entrusted to the Society, and secondly, if they’re getting a fair price for them,” said Karen Musolf, SHS member and volunteer, whose husband, Bill Musolf, previously served as board treasurer.
“I have no objection to (the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance) owning the properties at a fair price, but I do have an objection to them taking over the furnishings and artifacts — and there’s lots of them — on all three properties, without a thorough and exhaustive record search to see if it’s even OK to sell them, without an appraisal,” she said.
According to Mather, before the sale of the properties, Hague conducted an inventory of the artifacts at each location. These items are also part of the sale.
“There’s a protocol,” Mather said, of when an item is donated to the SHS. “Once it is given to us with the agreement, then it is ours to do with as we think is best — should it be saved, should it go into storage, should it go into a display somewhere.”
While some SHS members have raised concern over the fate of loaned artifacts within the properties, Mather said that all those involved in the sale are strictly donated items.
“If there are things that are loaned, then we do not sell them; they are protected and so far we have not come up with any specific items that are loaned,” she said. “If we do, then they will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but the bill of sale says we are only transferring those things we own.”
With the sale of the Breckenridge properties complete, the SHS will be looking to its properties on the other end of the county. This includes completing a restoration of the schoolhouse museum and Myers cabin in Dillon, as well as opening the Rice Barn site in Summit Cove to educational programs and tours.
Meanwhile, BHA tours will continue at the Breckenridge sites, and maintenance will be done on the properties as needed. The roof of the Briggle House, for example, will soon need work.
“It’s good for everybody,” Hague said of the sale. “I think from the Society’s standpoint it’s really good because it’s relieved of all the expense of maintaining these things. And from the town’s perspective it’s good because now it controls the properties and it’s not dishing out tens of thousands of dollars to something it doesn’t own. From the public standpoint, it will be totally transparent. The Alliance is going to continue to operate the properties and the public won’t know the difference one way or another, but it’s good because now you’ve got the solid financial backing of the town to fix things like this roof problem. It’s good for everybody.”
The sale represents a cooperative connection between all involved, according to Mather.
“The SHS, BHA and the town of Breckenridge have the same goals when it comes to historical preservation and interpretation,” she wrote. “This transaction will ensure that the three Breckenridge properties get the care that we could not give them and that our more restricted funding will support our long-range plans for preserving and interpreting the history of Summit County.”
Representatives of the town agree.
“It feels good for us to be able to support the Summit Historical Society,” said Dykstra. “I think it’s a win-win situation.”
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