By Nel Burkett
The Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum (CBMHM) is located in the historic Crested Butte Hardware, affectionately known as “Tony’s Conoco,” on Elk Avenue and Fourth Street. The Crested Butte Hardware was the longest running business in Crested Butte, beginning as a blacksmith shop in 1883 and later becoming a garage, hardware store and gas station before closing in 1996. From 1939 until 1996, the building was known as Tony’s Conoco, and was owned and operated by A.J. Tony Mihelich and his family. During this time, the business became an accidental visitor’s center and community gathering place. Locals would hang around the pot-belly stove in the winter and on benches out front during the summer, sharing news and stories about the community. As a gas station and hardware store, Tony’s Conoco was often the first place visitors would stop in town, picking up fishing licenses and filling up the tank, often making Tony the first person in Crested Butte visitors would meet.
In 2001, the CBMHM outgrew its home in the historic Spritzer House on Sopris and Second Street. Board members with a love for Crested Butte’s past and a vision for the Museum’s future developed a plan to purchase and preserve Tony’s Conoco, a beloved local landmark, while also getting the Museum the space it needed. Museum fans rallied around the idea and raised $1.2 million in 11 months to buy the building and turn it into a museum. In 2003 the Museum opened the rehabilitated building to the community. The garage was converted into the main exhibits space and the front hardware was left to represent the store Tony had run for over 50 years.
Now the building is undergoing another round of rehabilitation after 15 years of harsh weather. With support from the community and a $200,000 grant from the History Colorado – State Historical Fund, the CBMHM has completed Phase I of a two-phased building rehabilitation that included a new roof, heating system and entry way rehab allowing ADA accessibility. Phase II is scheduled to take place in the fall of 2018 and will focus on rehabilitating windows, doors and floors.
This winter, the CBMHM will be hosting the Firth Annual Miner’s Ball on February 10 featuring food from local chefs, local spirits, a polka dance and living history characters. For weekend visitors, the Museum offers historic walking tours of Crested Butte on several Saturdays throughout the winter, providing visitors with the opportunity to gain an in-depth look at the development of the community while enjoying a nice stroll down Elk Avenue. Finally, shop in the Museum Store to support the continued conservation and presentation of Crested Butte history. Our mission is to preserve and share the uniquely diverse cultural heritage of the Gunnison Valley. We make the past a living part of the future. For more information visit crestedbuttemuseum.com or give us a call at 970-349-1880.
Nel Burkett is the Curator of the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum.