Museums of Central Colorado: Buena Vista Heritage

By Kiki Lathrop

Buena Vista is a town steeped in stories, memories and lore. The 139-year-old town has seen its share of the “Wild West” and has watched it be tamed to what it is today. The feeling of walking back in time while visiting downtown draws crowds from around the world. None so much as the 1882 courthouse which acts as the cornerstone between East Main Street and South Main project. The courthouse museum focuses on life in the town of Buena Vista and surrounding areas, telling the tale of how we got here. The museum has been a symbol for the town since it was built as the county courthouse, and in 1936 when the county seat moved to Salida, became the local school. When the last class moved out of the building in the 1970s and it was scheduled to be torn down, Buena Vista Heritage was founded, and made the courthouse its flagship building in the preservation of the local cultural history. Buena Vista Heritage bought the courthouse from the town for $1, and established the building as the Buena Vista Heritage Museum. The museum was opened to the public in 1974, and has been serving the community ever since.

The museum hosts a model train built by the local Model Train Society, which represents 135 miles from the Royal Gorge to Leadville, plus exhibits of local history, and improved hands-on displays for interacting with history. This year features a brand new display of our mining history and a fun fluorescent mineral display in the mine and cave exhibit. We also are rotating out the clothing room display yearly, with clothing from our collection which tell the story of what society was like over the years. This year is a display of “Wedding dresses through time,” with the dresses and early wedding photography.

The historic courthouse has received a makeover this year thanks to the State Historical Fund and History Colorado. The $200,000 grant made it possible to replace the roof this summer, after leaks last summer had rain falling into the courtroom. Now that the roof is fixed we can work on new projects to maintain the structure of the building.

With such a large project on the roof, our collections had to be moved to the basement this year with the help of our wonderful volunteers.

The depot and caboose at the corner of Main Street and Colorado Hwy. 24, are the Buena Vista Heritage Transportation Museum, showing what it was like to travel through the valley via train and stagecoach. Visitors can even go inside the caboose!

Continuing west on Main Street is the historic Turner Farm. This property is one of the homesteads preserved by Buena Vista Heritage, and hosts the annual Apple Fest every September; a living heritage day where guests can step back into what life was like in the early days of our valley, and try their hands at the crafts and trades of yesteryear. The Turner Farm is open more regularly to the public this year, as we are expanding our reach in the community to share its history.

Come visit us at 506 E. Main Street (Courthouse), The Corner of Colo. Hwy. 24 and Main Street (Depot and Caboose Transportation Museum), and 829 W. Main Street (Turner Farm). Also, visit our website: BuenaVistaHeritage.org or like us on Facebook for information on our upcoming events. We are open seasonally from May to October, and open every day Memorial Day to Labor Day. For more information please contact us at buenavistaheritage@msn.com or 719-395-8458.

Kiki Lathrop is the Executive Director of Buena Vista Heritage.