The Silverton Town Hall, one of several buildings built shortly after the turn of the century, exemplified prosperity and pride of its people. Built primarily of local materials, it was considered a hallmark on the Western Slope of Colorado. Used not only as the seat of town government, it functioned as a meeting place for many groups throughout its long and colorful history.
On November 30, 1992, at approximately 3am, fire struck this magnificent structure. With the efforts of three fire departments, temperatures close to -20 degrees F. and 6 hours of intense fire fighting, it was finally brought under control. With severe damage to the interior and a total loss of its roof, little was saved except the contents of its vault and the exterior sandstone facade. Fortunately, no major injury or life was lost. The fire could not have occurred at a worse time. It was a beginning of a "San Juan Winter". The entire stabilizing project was started and finished under harsh winter conditions, with the last of the temporary roofing installed February 13, 1993.
An entire community awakened on that fateful morning to learn of their great loss. With tears, but armed with that "Mountain Man" determination, the call could clearly be heard, "save what we can and let's rebuild". ~ Zeke Zanoni
The Society also works on projects of properties that we do not own, and we are happy to help local and federal governments with preservation on properties under their jurisdiction.
We have written grant applications for the San Juan County Courthouse that restored its exterior stone work, staircases and clock tower. We wrote the first grant for the Miner's Union Hospital that restored the roof, re-pointed the brick and worked on windows. The grant also paid for re-grading around the foundation for better drainage. We are also working on the facades of two privately owned downtown buildings that were damaged by a 2012 fire.
We serve as the "umbrella" organization for the Blair Street Historic District Association, Silverton Skijoring, and we are proud to be a part of the Red Mountain Task Force. The Red Mountain Project began in 1998 as a regional effort to protect 10,500 acres of scenic and historic landscapes, preserve numerous historic mining and railroad sites, and provide enhanced recreation and interpretive opportunities along the San Juan Skyway.
When the Society obtained the Mayflower Mill, we also got the water rights to Arrastra Creek. We know that in the West, you either use them or you lose them, so we set about figuring out ways to use our water rights. One project came up early-on installing a little hydro-electric plant to make electricity for the Mill. The property includes an existing pipeline which flows down Arrastra Gulch and across the Animas River to supply the water treatment plant at the Mill. The water treatment plant supplies clean drinking water for the Shenandoah-Dives Mill and the small businesses located at the historic Animas Power and Water Substation which was rehabilitated by Society. This pipeline follows the path of the 1900ca. Mears/Wilfley (Otto Mears and Arthur Redmond Wilfley) pipeline which brought tailings down from Silver Lake to the Mears/Wilfley Mill. Remnants of the pipeline are still visible.
The present pipeline was installed in 1929, but significant portions of it had been replaced by more modern materials through the years while the mill was in operation. In addition, the Society made repairs to the bridge which brings the pipeline across the Animas River from Arrastra Gulch to the mill in 2008, when the support on the west side of the river failed.
The project included the repair of the existing intake in Arrastra Gulch in order to increase water flow; repairs to leaks in the pipeline; installation of a powerhouse adjacent to the Mears/Wilfley Mill ruins; and installation of a 8kw micro-hydro turbine.
In order to determine the feasibility of the micro hydro-electric project, the San Juan County Historical Society submitted a grant application in October of 2008 to the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development (CWRPDA) requesting funding to complete a feasibility assessment. The analysis indicated that structural repairs to the intake could provide a year-round flow of at least 1.25CFS into the pipeline, available excess flow and pressure would be able to support installation of an 8kw micro-hydro turbine while still providing sufficient water to supply the water treatment plant at the Mill. We then applied for and received the first "sustainability" grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund to install the hydro plant.
The project was built by local Silverton contractors Fullmer Construction and Silverton Electric. The project was highly successful until we started the FERC permitting process, and we found that we had to jump through all the hoops that a new Boulder Dam would have to. We became the poster child in getting the only bi-partisan legislation passed in the last six years in Congress.
A bill was introduced in the House called the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act. The bill¶s main focuswas to clear much of the red tape associated with permitting small hydroelectric power projects, mainly those generating less than 5-megawatts of electricity. It passed the house 422 to 0.
A bipartisan bill called the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 to encourage expanded hydropower production in the United States was introduced in the Senate. The bill removed licensing barriers for smaller hydropower development and would require a study on a streamlined permitting process at existing dams and pumped storage products. It passed the Senate in 2014. The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act created a 'regulatory off-ramp" from FERC permitting requirements for non-controversial hydro projects on existing conduits such as pipelines and canals which are less than 5-megawatts. Per the language in the bill, the San Juan County Historical Society sent the first application for an exemption in the State and it was approved.
Now the plant is up and running and making power which we are getting credit for every time we get our bill. Having been through this adventure, we feel that we have been a part of the history of the hydro-power industry in the San Juans by helping to make this really huge change in the law, in this, the cradle of AC power history.
Through the years, the society has received many grants from the Ballantine Family foundation. These grants usually range in the $1,000-$2,500 amounts. The first grant that we received was one for an index to early newspapers which was done by Archivist Allen Nossaman.
In the ensuing years we have gotten grants to buy new computers and office furniture for the archive, and for the rebuilding of our Website. One year we received funding for map cases for the vault.
The Silverton Standard and the Miner has also received grants from the Ballantine Family Fund for a new computer, camera and a new police scanner.
After purchasing the weekly Durango News and the daily Durango Herald-Democrat, Morley and Arthur Ballantine immediately merged the two to create The Durango Herald-News and then, the Durango Herald in 1960. They established the Ballantine Family Fund in 1957 to award grants to any non-profits that they felt would enhance life in Southwest Colorado. The Ballantine Family Fund is headquartered in Durango, CO.
MORE COMING! Check back to learn more about the San Juan County Historical Society's Preservation accomplishments.