c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins
The saddest part of being an historian is, truly, lamenting what is lost. There are those types out there who extend more professionalism towards the loss of a building, a piece of furniture, papers, photographs or some other tangible piece of history that marks where we have been and gives us a timeline of how far we have come. But the true historian, the one who looks after such things like a beloved grandmother, feels that loss deep their heart. The grief is not a fun emotion, but true love of history is what compels us to work harder to save, preserve and enjoy our links to the past.
Saturday night I watched in horror as the Miner’s Union Hall in Victor, Colorado burned practically to the ground. My main newsfeed was Facebook, where my friends posted timely pictures of the fire in progress and what was being done about it (no thanks, by the way, to local newscasters and a certain Colorado Springs newspaper who simply wrote off this landmark event as another old building going down in a sleepy mining town whose history no longer matters to them). Pride in my former home and its people swelled as I read about how they felt about this historic monument going up in smoke, and their efforts to comfort and assist each other.
The destruction of this building, sparked by a simple lightening strike during a typical July thunderstorm, brought back a flood of memories. How many times had I pointed out the bullet holes in the front of the building, inflicted during a skirmish in the tumultuous labor wars of 1903-1904? How many times have I written about this building’s eventual transformation to a movie theater, then to a gymnasium for the school, and finally a mostly-empty shadow of its former self? Mike Moore, who once ran the Victor-Lowell Thomas Museum and is now gone, once took me in there to show me floor-to-ceiling boxes filled with priceless artifacts and two beautiful 1920’s-era automobiles. I marveled over the shiny gym floor and that the antiquated drinking fountains remained intact.
That was in the late 1980’s. Those items had long been cleaned out by last Saturday, but a myriad of new historic events had taken place in between the two times. Indeed, the old Miner’s Union Hall had sat empty for a very long time, it’s white-painted facade waiting patiently for someone to come along and care for it again. By the summer of 2012 efforts had been in place for quite some time to restore this most historic building to its former grandeur. The dream of total restoration and rehabilitation was finally achieved just a few months ago. The people who accomplished this feat not only put a lot of money into the effort. They also put their heart and souls into making sure that this facet of Victor’s amazing history remained intact for all to enjoy, forever.
Not so much. The lightening and ensuing fire on Saturday shocked the hell out of everyone. Those who gathered to watch were mortified. I can only imagine the gamut of emotions running through this tightly-knit community: Sadness that the building was burning. Hope that it could be saved. Relief when the flames died down. Shock when the fire picked up again. Terror when the city ran out of water and the flames began leaning wistfully towards other historic buildings including the grand Victor Hotel. Relief when the Cripple Creek & Victor Mine brought in water trucks. Frustration over the hard work conducted to preserve the building over the last nine years. Grief when it became apparent that 90% of the interior was gone. Anguish over whether what is left of the building can be saved. Sorrow for Barbara McMillan, the building owner who just some weeks before hauled an entire inventory of antiques into the building and was opening a shop. She had yet to be insured due to Colorado’s tricky insurance policies.
It is Tuesday now. Engineers, historic preservationists and architects are laboring over the Union Hall, assessing whether—if at all—it can be saved. Residents are still on boiling orders now that water has been restored. Local businesses continue their on-going efforts to help out. Eventually, cleanup operations will begin as this latest chapter of Victor’s history melds into the books. We will mourn, wish and wonder as the city deals with its grief over this loss in its own way. And we will go on knowing that, like it or not, good or bad, happy or sad, history has once again been made.