No historic site in Delta County has ever been named to the state’s list of Most Endangered Places. But at last week’s “Saving Places” conference in Denver, both the Hotchkiss Barn and three historic sites in Escalante Canyon — bundled into one application — were named among the top five.
“This is really exciting because this is first time we’ve listed anything in Delta County, and we did it with quite a bang,” said Rachel Parris, director of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places program.
The program is administered by Colorado Preservation, Inc., a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and providing advocacy and preservation technical assistance to historic resources across the state. Perris said many people would not be aware of sites such as the Hotchkiss Barn if they weren’t on the list. Designation also helps bring together partnerships with a common goal of preserving the unique sites.
More than 30 historic sites were nominated for the 2013 list. Chris Miller, executive director of the Western Colorado Interpretive Association, spearheaded the application process for Capt. Smith’s Cabin, the Walker Cabin and the water wheel, all in Escalante Canyon, as well as the Hotchkiss Barn. The three other sites selected were the Cranmer Park/Sundial Plaza in Denver, Fort Lyon in Las Animas and the Kennedy/Mancos Grain Elevator in Montezuma County.
“We have selected five diverse but very significant sites this year that need special help,” Parris said. “Demolition, neglect, natural forces, land value fluctuation, and unsympathetic owners are the forces that typically threaten historic buildings and significantly increase the danger to the unique places that link us to Colorado’s past. These are the special places that define our communities and form the foundation for our collective identity as Coloradans in the future. Colorado Preservation, Inc. devotes staff time and resources to raise funds and rally concerned citizens so that listed sites can be saved.”
Although the Hotchkiss Barn is located on private property, Parris said the selection committee had no reservations about adding the barn to the Endangered Places list. “We really look for the public benefit, and the Hotchkiss Barn has such a strong connection to the town’s history and its name.” In addition, there is a potential for historical tours, workshops and educational events open to apprentice bricklayers, schoolchildren, FFA students and the public.
The barn is currently owned by Richard “Dick” Hotchkiss, the great-grandson of Enos T. Hotchkiss, the man who built the structure in 1886. Dick and his wife Janice have put their 143-acre property in a conservation easement to preserve the agricultural tradition of the Hotchkiss homestead.
To them, the barn is an integral part of that homestead, a direct — and highly visible — tie to the land that has supported their family through the generations.
The barn was seriously damaged in a macrobrust that swept through Hotchkiss in August 2010. High winds tore the roof off the west side of the structure; bricks collapsed and support beams fell. A gaping hole at the southwest end leaves the remainder of the building susceptible to further damage from rain, wind and snowstorms. The wythes of the remaining brick walls have separated and are in danger of collapse.
The homesteading sites in Escalante Canyon are also at risk, but the threat there comes from vandalism.
One of the first steps will be pursuing a property exchange from Colorado Parks & Wildlife to the Bureau of Land Management.
“BLM has a policy of preserving historic structures,” Miller explained. “We are very fortunate that the Walker Cabin has survived this long without a clear management plan.”
The same applies to Capt. Smith’s Cabin, a popular attraction in Escalante Canyon. Because it is so accessible to the public, vandalism is an ongoing concern. In addition, the elements have taken a toll. Mini landslides in the interior walls have moved rubble into the main floor of the cabin. Major cracks in the exterior wall continue to expand. Again, Miller proposes a property exchange with the BLM, coupled with a site management plan to address the continued vandalism and a restoration budget to take care of damages to the structure.
The water wheel is accessible only by the river and a foot trail from the original road into Escalante Canyon, so public visitation has been limited. As a result, the water wheel is in fairly good condition, considering its age.
All three sites are situated on Colorado Parks & Wildlife property. A trade makes sense, said Renzo Delpiccolo, area wildlife manager in Montrose. Colorado Parks & Wildlife has a pretty narrow focus, he said, and it doesn’t include historic preservation.
“For years we have had a desire to do some kind of trade with the BLM,” he said. “They’re interested, we’re just interested.”
The “new level of interest” arising from the Endangered Places list creates a good opportunity to resume the effort. Delpiccolo said some language was included in the bill that created the Dominguez-Escalante Canyon National Conservation Area to make a trade easier, but federal legislative approval will still be needed to finalize any deal.
Colorado’s Most Endangered Places Program involves, to date, 96 historic resources across the state. Thirty-two have been designated as saved, 41 are in progress, 18 remain in alert and five sites have been lost.