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The Saguache County Museum

By Connie Rapalski

The Saguache County Museum began as an idea that grew into a huge community project. At the time, all Colorado communities were asked to join in the 1976 Centennial celebration of the Rush to the Rockies, which brought miners and other pioneers to Colorado. Several clubs including the Saguache Women’s Club along with the Community Council started a movement to Save Our Jail. A museum was chosen because the jail and the old Jailer’s Home were scheduled to be torn down. The museum was originally to be located there for only a year, but now, 59 years later it remains in the same location.

The old jail was built in 1908, and the 1870s residence was built by Otto Mears. Neither building was in good shape. It took a lot of volunteers and donations to turn the house and yard into something suitable to hold a collection.

Unsolicited, people from Villa Grove, Center, Crestone, Hooper and Saguache began donating items. The museum started with a Nutmeg Grinder and two broken show cases.

In 1972, the Memorial Room was added, thanks to donations. In 2004, the museum secured $170,000 in grants and used it to add on the Virginia Sutherland Room. Originally, Sutherland headed up the museum committee for her club. She served as Chairman of the Museum for 56 years, and today continues on the Board of Directors as Chairman Emeritus. 

Photo by Mike Rosso

Today, the Saguache County Museum is called the best little museum in Colorado. A visit to this museum is like taking a trip back to the pioneering era. Each room has a unique theme and contains much more than what can be listed here.

The star of the Parlor is an 1893 Reed Pipe Clariona, which still plays beautiful music. Learn about the Fainting Couch and the crystal smelling salts holder.

Next enter the Wesley DeCamp Room, better known as the Cowboy Room. The highlights of this room are the collections of spurs, branding irons, and guns.

Find out which minerals glow the brightest in the Mineral Room. The Schoolroom is sure to bring back memories and the Indian/Spanish Room contains artifacts from those two cultures.

Check out what’s cookin’ in the Kitchen. There is a combination high chair/stroller from 1897, along with dishes from the old Saguache Hotel.

In the Memorial Room, see Dr. Shippey’s (1873-1942) medical and dental instruments. This year the Memorial Case honors late local rancher Jim Coleman. Find collections of arrowheads, rifles and barbed wire.

In the Virginia Sutherland Room, you will find a player piano, a military display, a tribute to Virginia, and information and pictures of Saguache County founder John Lawrence, and Ute Chief Ouray.

The gift shop offers a large selection of books, local crafts, T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts and caps.

The museum just published Volume VII of the Images of the Past, Places and People series. Concerned that much of early settler histories, records of events, places and people of the area may be lost forever, an effort is being made to compile and publish, in no chronological or alphabetical order, some of the more interesting materials they possess.

On several Sunday afternoons during the summer, historical lectures are scheduled at 1:30 p.m. Programs are free. Refreshments are served. Donations are welcome. Call the museum at 719-655-2557 to find out what the next program will be.

The Saguache County Museum is located in Saguache on U.S. Hwy. 285. It is open from the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend through mid-September, 9-4. Adults: $7.00. Children 12 and under $1.00. ?

Connie Rapalski a volunteer and board member with the Saguache County Museum. Most of what she does is when the museum is open during the summer months. She writes weekly articles for The Saguache Crescent and the Center Post Dispatch and contacts speakers for the Sunday afternoon programs.