Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Experiencing History

Walking tours with the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum

By Nel Burkett, Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum Curator

The buildings and landscape of Crested Butte tell many stories. From the “No. 58” painted high on the building at 311 Elk Avenue, to the Big Mine Ice Rink, and the concrete pillar at Peanut Lake lovingly known as the “Gronk,” history can be seen everywhere in and around Crested Butte. Much of it can be experienced by walking through town and reading the gold plaques on the façades of Elk Avenue historic buildings and businesses.

For more in-depth stories like the Princess Theater, the Knights of Pythias, Butch Cassidy at Kochevar’s Saloon and our 154 coke ovens, join the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum (CBMHM) on a guided walking tour or pick up our self-guided tour pamphlets.

There is a unique and enduring spirit that thrives within the Crested Butte community. The town was founded in 1880 on Ute Territory. While it is fun to know interesting historical facts, an awareness of the people and decisions that established this community provides a rich foundation for understanding the present. Through museum-guided walking tours, participants leave the experience with a deeper understanding of the threads of history that inform the decisions our community members and leaders make today.

For example, the museum makes its home in the former Hardware Store/Tony’s Conoco. The building began operating as a hardware store in 1883, and it was the town’s first gas station. Inside is a potbelly stove that warmed the store from its beginnings. A.J. “Tony” Mihelich operated the store from 1939 until his death in 1996. Martha Sporcich, Tony’s stepdaughter, and her family helped him with the store for more than 35 years. Many locals have vivid memories of filling up their trucks from the pumps that still sit outside.

The Princess Theatre, now home to the Princess Wine Bar, was originally the site of the Colorado Supply Store owned by C. F. & I. Mine. Fire destroyed that building and the Colorado Supply Store moved to the Company Store. The theatre first opened in 1918 when silent films became popular. It was part of a large chain of Princess Theatres sprinkled throughout the Western Slope. Although other businesses were in the building, it showed movies there until 1988 when it was renovated into a ballroom and then renovated again in 1993. The stone walls of the Princess are original.

For more stories like these, the museum’s walking tours take place every Saturday at 3 p.m. throughout the summer and fall. Tours begin in front of the Museum and travel up Elk Avenue, stopping in front of historic structures where participants not only learn about our history, but also enjoy the views from around town. After an hour’s leisurely stroll with benches for rest along the way, the group returns to the museum to tour the exhibits.

Private tours for three or more can also be scheduled directly through the museum at your convenience. The CBMHM also offers a self-guided tour pamphlet for $1 at the Museum Store. If you return the tour pamphlet to the store, you receive $1 off your entry to the museum exhibits.

The full self-guided walking tour can also be found on gunnisoncrestedbutte.com under the explore/activities tab. To find out more about tours and history of the Gunnison Valley, visit crestedbuttemuseum.com or call (970) 349-1880.

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