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Museums of Central Colorado: The Salida Museum

By Susan Jesuroga

In 1953, Harriet Alexander took office as the first woman ever to serve on the Salida City Council. A proponent of creating a museum in Salida, she became chairman of a city committee charged with establishing one. With the help of Byrd Fuqua, they opened the first museum in the front part of the Salida Hot Springs Building in 1954. It included items from Harriet’s personal collection, Byrd’s Native American artifacts and loans and donations from the public. By 1955, they had collected enough artifacts to fill three rooms, and the museum became home to a Porter railroad engine, displayed outside the pool building. The “Yard Goat” engine had been used to push railroad ties in and out of the Koppers Creosote treating plant.

All through the 1950s and 60s, the community discussed building a separate facility and finally gained the traction to build a new building in the 1970s with money left to the museum by Alexander’s estate. The Salida Museum Association formed in November 1973 to move the building plans along, and Alexander’s donation, along with money from the Colorado Centennial-Bicentennial Commission, Chaffee County and private donors, allowed the building to come to fruition in 1976.

[InContentAdTwo] The museum’s mission focuses on the history of Salida and surrounding area. In the last four years we have rearranged exhibits to emphasize the stories of the colorful characters and events that bring our artifacts to life. From the watch that saved Baxter Stingley from a bad guy’s bullet to Wilbur Foshay’s fur-bearing trout, these artifacts and their back stories give us a glimpse into bygone years. Railroad, mining, ranching and medical artifacts, arrowheads and Native American tools and every-day objects have been arranged to tell visitors the unique stories of the people and events that made Salida what it is today.

Earlier this year, we moved the mining and railroad exhibits to the front of the museum, to highlight their importance in early Salida history. Visitors can find out more about the mining districts in Chaffee County, or just how dangerous link-and-pin couplers were to early railroad men. And let me just add that the Knights of Pythias members dressed in some pretty colorful garb for their secret-handshake meetings.

We invite you to check out the museum for free on May 12 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. during our Annual Open House. Take a selfie with the Porter Engine, enjoy a talk by Melanie Roth about the St. Elmo mining district and browse the new exhibits telling the stories of Salida’s past. We are located at 406½ W. Highway 50, next to the Salida Pool, just behind the Chamber of Commerce.

Currently our hours are Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Starting Memorial Day weekend, we will open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Labor Day, subject to the availability of our volunteers. Stop by – we’d love to tell you a story or two!

Susan Jesuroga is the president of Salida Museum Association Board.