The mountain town I live in—Georgetown, Colorado—is part of the Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District. A mouthful, I know, but it means that it’s been recognized as a place to preserve, to care for, and to last in its natural state for decades and even centuries to come. Historic preservation is a way of life, a way of keeping this town vibrant and its one-thousand people purposeful.
During the eight years I lived abroad, an important and challenging project was taking place. The 1874 schoolhouse, an imposing structure, believed to be the oldest red brick schoolhouse in Colorado, once called “the pride of Georgetown” back in the days when the silver boom brought a much larger population, had been in a state of disrepair and dilapidation, rapidly approaching a point beyond rescue. Closed as a school in 1939, it was purchased by a private person who filled it with whatever he collected and didn’t maintain the building. Cracks split the outside wall where he had bulldozed a garage-sized hole and removed a supporting floor in order to drive his trucks inside; the roof leaked and eaves sagged; explosives were found in the basement along with other mining equipment; the surrounding grounds were littered with rusted and broken machinery. After the owner’s death, the Georgetown Trust for Conservation and Preservation, Inc. was able, with generous donations and grants, to purchase and painstakingly restore it over many years, a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Surveys suggested uses for the building: a museum (there were already several museums in this town and a schoolhouse museum in neighboring Silver Plume), rent the classrooms to businesses for income, or use it for something that the community could participate in. The latter sparked interest and won out. The building was dubbed the Georgetown Heritage Center; the library rented one of the classrooms for their local history archives; and the Cultural Arts Program was born. Rooms would be available to rent for seminars and meetings when not booked for events. Forty-five minutes from Denver, the way to enjoy cultural events had been to drive down to the city, pay for parking, dinner somewhere, pricey show or concert tickets, and a long, late drive up the mountain in the dark. We could create culture right here; it was worth a try.
Around the time I returned to town, a board was established and I was invited to join because of my interest in arts. We commissioned and modified a plan and opened in September of 2015. The dynamic and capable woman, a friend, who had spearheaded the restoration (as well as founding and directing many other local historic projects) retired, saying “No, I’m not going to run it.” And guess who ended up stepping in to keep the project alive? I have been the chair of the program, with a small board of idea people and promoters, and a handful of staff and event volunteers, for five years.
We’ve hosted regular concerts—classical, opera, jazz, bluegrass/folk, eclectic, in both romantic cabaret style and full one-hundred-seaters; fine art festivals, traditional craft and art classes, and exhibits; lectures, book signings, writers’ conferences, film series, gardening workshops, beer tastings, cooking classes, children’s programs, and more, partnering with other groups for many of these events. My head spins to think of all we’ve pulled off. What a joy to hear a string quartet, jazz ensemble, or classical guitar in that spacious second-floor concert hall, with its first-class grand piano and amazing acoustics, while sipping a glass of wine, transported to a peaceful place in my mind, floating in the music like a leaf in the breeze. At some point during each event, I have found myself looking around in grateful awe, eyes tearing.
Lacking any significant financial patronage, we are always on the edge, but we are still going. With the backing of the Georgetown Trust, of which we are a part, and its enthusiastically supportive albeit small staff, I am thankfully no longer having to set up chairs and tables and design and print posters for events, but am still very much involved in the planning stages, working with some of the artists and musicians, putting up those posters, and sharing on social media.
In this challenging year of 2020, while we had hoped to be on stronger footing, we are holding virtual concerts; any donation is welcome and our partnerships help to support local first responders and restaurants. Join us at GeorgetownHeritageCenter.org. In a virtual platform, we’re not restricted by geography—you can join from anywhere in the world! Events are often posted without much advance notice, so put your name on the mailing list or find us on social media to follow us.
We are gearing up for one of my favorite events, Georgetown Plein Air, our third annual. About twenty artists for each of the past two years painted the town’s charming historic buildings and stunning mountain landscapes in watercolor, acrylic, oils, pastels. It’s our only physical event not canceled since coronavirus swept in. If you’re in the area, come watch them paint July 31st and August 1st. The opening reception on Saturday August first will be held outdoors. Works will be on exhibit and for sale in the Heritage Center for another two weeks, with, of course, social distancing, masks required, and restrictions in place. Enjoy a few scenes from Georgetown’s last year Plein Air celebration.