The community has rallied around an effort to restore the Hotchkiss Barn, a landmark in the community that is named for Enos T. Hotchkiss. Hotchkiss built the structure in 1886.
The barn was seriously damaged in a macroburst 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 barn is currently owned by Richard "Dick" Hotchkiss (Enos's great-grandson) and his wife Janice. They have put their 143-acre property in a conservation easement to preserve the agricultural tradition of the Hotchkiss homestead.
Enos T. Hotchkiss arrived in western Colorado in 1881, when Indians still roamed the land. After the Utes were removed to reservations and Enos had laid claim to the land, he built the 40x100-foot barn, a structure he felt was more important than a house to get his farming operation off the ground.
Like Samuel Wade, Enos brought fruit trees to the North Fork Valley. But he wasn't as successful as Samuel Wade, so he got into the cattle business for a while. He was also instrumental in the construction of the ditches that still carry irrigation water to local farms and ranches. He was paid off in sheep, and that's how the Hotchkiss family began a long tradition of raising sheep. The barn was set up to accommodate several sheep shearers at a time. It's likely that mules and horses also occupied the barn, and that it was used to store grain, hay and farm equipment.
Today Dick and his two sons, Ted and Zach, raise cattle. With the conservation easement in place, the family intends to continue its ranching tradition for generations to come.
If the restoration of the barn moves forward, they are also open to the idea of hosting historical tours, workshops and educational events open to apprentice bricklayers, schoolchildren, FFA students and the public.
They have also made a sizable donation to the effort to raise matching funds for a survey and planning grant from the Colorado State Historic Society. The effort is being spearheaded by the "Save The Hotchkiss Barn" committee, in conjunction with Western Colorado Interpretive Association.
Robert McHugh, a Paonia architect who is a member of the "Save The Barn Committee" explains the barn's significance. First, it was the first permanent structure in the North Fork Valley, and is now the oldest pioneer structure remaining in the valley.
Second, it has served as an icon/landmark to the community for the last 126 years. Its cupola stands high and is visible from many points. The barn's design is impressive, with massive three-layer pioneer brick walls. Barns with brick walls are rarely seen in western Colorado, McHugh said. It was a standard practice to use three layers of bricks when erecting high walls. Because of the wind damage, and patches made in previous years, the walls will have to be taken down and rebuilt. McHugh estimates at least a third of the 100,000 bricks used to construct the barn will be unusable. An engineer is examining the remaining bricks to determine if they are sound.
The custom-made bricks used in the barn are not the same size as new bricks, so they'll either have to locate used bricks, arrange for some type of replica to be made specially for the project, or use concrete between the inner and outer layers, McHugh said.
The barn's timber frame roof represents an evolution of carpentry skills carried here with pioneers of the westward expansion. It was built during a period of transition from transverse frame construction to the balloon framing techniques of the next century.
In spite of decades of wear and tear, and the economic uncertainties of family farms, the barn has a high degree of integrity. It represents the agrarian values of the people of the area and their heritage.
When the barn was completed, McHugh said, a barn dance was held. The Hotckisses also held a family fair. After about 12 years, the fair was moved uptown and it became known as the Hotchkiss Town Fair and finally, in 1918, as a county fair. The fairgrounds were part of the Hotchkiss ranch at one time.
The first year following the barn's damage, McHugh and Leigh-Ann Hunt, an archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service, got the barn listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so it would be eligible for grant funding.
"In the process we discovered this is the third building that Enos T. Hotchkiss has on the National Register of Historic Places," McHugh explained. The Hotchkiss Hotel in the center of town and a grist mill in Saguache have also been named to the national register.
On the ranch itself, the homestead cabin was the site of the first Hotchkiss post office. The home was built immediately after the barn, using the same type of brick. The entire homestead has been designated a Colorado Centennial Farm because it has remained in the same family for more than 100 years.
"This structure is so well known, and of such historic importance locally, that when speaking to a local, one need not give an address when referring to this unique brick structure — it is truly a local landmark," said Nathan Sponseller, president of the Hotchkiss Community Chamber of Commerce. The chamber wrote a letter of support for the planning grant because members believe the barn increases the community's appeal to visitors and to those considering relocation to the area.
"This is not just an old building or barn," said Jim Wetzel, director of the Delta County Museum, in his letter of support. "It is unique to this area, not only for the manner of construction, but for the historical elements attached to it. Not only did a master brick mason build the barn, but he created his own brickyard to supply the brick for the project.
"Clearly, a professional assessment is needed to determine all aspects of the repair project, for 'replacement parts' are not available off the shelf. Even though the barn is privately owned, it remains a community resource and focal point which local citizens can relate to their local history. That relationship builds pride in the community."
The planning grant will be used to determine the most economical and reasonable way to restore the barn, McHugh explained.
"We feel this is a community project even though it's on private property," he said. "The emphasis really ought to be on the barn and not who owns it," he continued, justifying the grant and the request for donations. And the community has stepped up.
"We are so close to raising the $18,500 matching grant to get us through Phase 1," explained Chris Miller, executive director of the Western Colorado Interpretive Association. WCIA is the non-profit organization that will be administering the grant funds for the project.
The planning grant will produce a set of plans and specifications that can be used to apply for a brick and mortar grant. Initial estimates place the cost of renovation at $300,000; the plans and specifications will help finetune that number.