By Don Benjamin
Thousands of the dearly-departed repose in Cedaredge Cemetery. And some of their stories will come to light this autumn as members of the Surface Creek Valley Historical Society (SCVHS) prepare for the group’s first annual “Buried History.” The event is scheduled to take place at the cemetery at 205 S.E. Independence Ave. in the late afternoon of Oct. 24, the Saturday prior to Halloween. It’s a come-and-go affair which begins at 4:30 p.m. and ends at 6:30 p.m. The event is free but participants are encouraged to sign up at: pioneertown.org
During the Buried History event, actors and researchers will be stationed graveside to relate the backstories of several of the area’s early settlers, as well as more contemporary personalities. Some names will be familiar such as the Stolte family associated with Cedaredge’s huge apple-sorting shed, which serves as a community gathering place. The Stolte Shed and several other historic buildings are on display in Pioneer Town, a vintage village site operated by the SCVHS.
As for other luminaries, a nearby headstone marks the final resting place of Chas States who operated the States Mine and discovered dinosaur tracks therein. Not far away is the grave of Lewis Dolph, who served as the town’s first marshal.
Other names are less well-known, but their stories are compelling.
Twenty-six-year-old Alta Leona Frost, a young mother, was first to be buried in the new cemetery when she passed away in 1906. She left behind a grieving husband and three young children ranging in age from 1 to 5 years. In an echo of the current pandemic, Alta died of typhoid fever in a year which saw over 13,000 typhoid deaths nationwide. Hope Waibel is researching Alta’s story as well as the background of Lester Raymond Helland, who also died young. At age 16, Helland enlisted to fight in World War I. He lied about his age and was training at Fort Riley, Kansas, when he died of influenza.
“Here,” said Jerry McHugh, vice president of the SCVHS, “is a young man who wanted to do something, but never got the chance.”
McHugh is researching stories of his McHugh ancestors whose graves occupy considerable real estate in the southern reaches of the cemetery. Other researchers involved in the Buried History project include Sheri McFadden, Gary Zmerslicker and Greg Hart.
Another deceased subject is Ernst Stolte (1842-1922). One night the 80-year-old tragically stumbled in the dark and drowned in Surface Creek Ditch (known now as The Big Ditch). A contemporary newspaper account reported: “It is assumed that in crossing the ditch he lost his balance and fell into the swift water and did not have the strength to save himself.”
Otto Peterson (1854-1915) was a 1-year-old infant when he crossed the Great Plains during the Mormon migration into Utah. Otto made the arduous journey in a handcart pushed by his widowed mother who also shepherded several other children.
Alpha Brewer (1886-1985) was the wife of Clyde Brewer who published “The Surface Creek Champion” which appeared weekly from 1904-43. Alpha’s story is particularly significant because the pages of The Champion provided many backstories for individuals whose lives will be highlighted in the October Buried History.
And, thanks to the efforts of the SCVHS, The Champion is now available in digital format, allowing easy access for anyone wishing to conduct research. To explore old issues of the Surface Creek newspaper, go to coloradohistoricnewspapers.org then browse by title, select The Champion and enter search terms.
Frank Fickes (1867-1938) was a miner who tried his hand as a merchant when he built the Coalby Store in 1906. The enterprise opened on a chilly day in January 1907 and operated until 1912, when Fickes’ wife passed away. The Coalby Store is now part of SCVHS’ Pioneer Town.
As for Pioneer Town itself, the vintage village is just a few blocks away from the cemetery. Located along Highway 65, the site will host several additional events in the coming months. All activities will operate under COVID-19 restrictions, with masks and social distancing required.
First up on the Pioneer Town agenda is the Antique and Classic Car Show. Scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26, the show is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A $2 admission charge allows visitors to view as many as 50 memorable vehicles. Trophies will be awarded at 2:30 p.m. Next comes a series of “Halloween Nights” on Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 29-31. Beginning around 4 p.m. on those evenings, the site will be transformed into a haunted town. Finally, in December, the historic town will be converted into a nostalgic Victorian village complete with vendors. For updated information, visit the organization’s website: pioneertown.org
Volunteers and Contributions Needed
The Surface Creek Valley Historical Society is an all-volunteer organization. The group welcomes new members. Volunteers and monetary donations are needed to help with the Buried History and other events planned for this autumn and winter. To volunteer, email PioneerTownMuseum@gmail.com or phone 970-856-7554. Contributions can be sent directly to Pioneer Town, P.O. Box 906, Cedaredge, CO 81413. Please make checks payable to “SCVHS.”