Thursday, November 4, 2010

A behind-the-scenes tour of the Pioneers Museum, part I

Posted By on Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 5:05 PM

From our view out the front door, we’ve been watching the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum's outdoor restoration with neighborly interest. Upon seeing the freshly painted white balustrades and columns in the tower, we asked museum director Matt Mayberry for a tour of the restorations — which, in all honesty, was a thinly veiled solicitation to get into the tower.

Mayberry was happy to oblige, but what he showed Matthew Schniper and I went way beyond anything we expected. In two posts (with the second coming tomorrow), I'll show you what we found.

To start, the restorations are nearly all to the exterior. “Always with any historic structure, the roof is the first thing to be fixed,” says Mayberry.

The four (or more likely five) phases will restore the roof, stone façade, exterior metal elements, some electrical problems and leaking issues. In the first phase, fixes to discolored and rusting exterior metals and leakages are the top priorities.

Water caught in the porch-like structure above the front door was re-roofed to stop leaking.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The porch-like structure above the front door has long collected rainwater; it's now been covered to prevent leaking.

An example of water damage inside.

Mayberry says the restoration will cost around $1 million, and the problems could have been fixed all at once if the museum had the money up front. Instead, phase one costs $205,000, and funded through private donations as well as matching grants from the Colorado Historical Society, which collects a portion of taxes earned from gambling towns such as Central City and Cripple Creek.

A masonry repair for later.

In the basement, Mayberry showed us more examples of water leakages damaging the building, being fixed through a separate project. That’s were we started getting sidetracked. While we were there, we saw a few artifacts.

This is a cornerstone from back when Palmer High School was Colorado Springs High School.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • This is a cornerstone from back when Palmer High School was Colorado Springs High School.

Newer, is this sign affixed to a nearby wall.

In the 60’s, the building served as a public fallout shelter for up to 295 people. Two other downtown locations held shelters, including one that Mayberry says is still extant in the Robert M. Isaac Municipal Court Building.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • In the ’60s, the building served as a public fallout shelter for up to 295 people. Two other downtown locations held shelters, including one that Mayberry says is still extant in the Robert M. Isaac Municipal Court Building.

Most striking is the museum’s collection of safes, including the tall one on the left that belonged to Winfield Scott Stratton. Beautiful as they are, Mayberry says they cannot be displayed in the public galleries upstairs, as they are too heavy and could damage the floors or possibly fall right through. Weighing in at a few tons each, they serve as storage for museum artifacts.

The Stratton safe was opened in 1996 after a master locksmith spent a month working to unlock it. Inside were samples of gold ore from Stratton's mines.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Stratton safe was opened in 1996 after a master locksmith spent a month working to unlock it. Inside were samples of gold ore from Stratton's mines.

The doors on this safe are about a foot thick.

The museum is seeking donations for the next phases of the restoration. For ways to donate, call 385-5990 or visit cspm.org.

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