Restoration of the 1874 Schoolhouse
The Georgetown Schoolhouse is “the” iconic structure in the Georgetown Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District, a district designated because of its importance in interpreting the 19th century mining boom in the Rocky Mountain West. Located about 45 miles west of Denver in Georgetown, Colorado, the District has over 400 historic resources, but this most central and visible building, built in 1874 when Georgetown was at the center of a bustling mining community, sat in a deteriorated condition for over 60 years. The District could not be considered restored with the “Romanesque rotten apple in its midst”.
Possibly the oldest brick school building in Colorado, it functioned as an active school until 1938 when it was purchased by a private individual who used it for storage and a machine shop, even demolishing part of one side of the building for trucks to drive in. In 2007, the Georgetown Trust for Conservation and Preservation purchased the property and applied for grants to help restore the beauty of the fading landmark.
The restoration on the exterior of the structure began as soon as funding was available. While the character defining exterior-features of the school were plain to see, decisions about the interior were equally critical. Now the building has become the Georgetown Heritage Center, a cultural center, that serves the community in many ways. It houses the local history archive maintained by the Georgetown Library District, a Cultural Arts program including traditional crafts and fine arts, a music and drama performance space and much more.
The restoration project became a learning experience for everyone involved. During the exterior restoration, the Trust engaged the Colorado Mountain College Technical Preservation Program to assess and assist in restoring the 36 large exterior windows. Plans for the reconstructed towers were created by examining historic photographs and proved to be a fascinating exercise. The floors of the old building were worn and had the desk marks of a past life. The challenge became how to save those marks and still create usable space.
Eight years later, generous grant support, over 200 individual donors and a significant participation from the Colorado State Historical Fund helped make this project happen. As the major restoration efforts progressed, the Trust raised funds for the finishing touches for furnishings and the landscape to bring the building inside and out back to life.
The Schoolhouse is once again ‘the pride of Georgetown” as it was called in 1880. It has contributed to raising community consciousness about the importance of preservation and reinvigorated pride in the Landmark District. This endeavor reminded the 1,000 residents how the restored 1874 school could serve as an attraction to the town in a heritage tourism based community. Aligning preservation with economic development has served Georgetown well by creating an authentic destination bringing in visitors to shop, dine, and explore the historic district. The future uses of the schoolhouse will bring new visitors interested in learning about the area’s rich mining heritage and add to the town’s economic vitality.