It has long been said that “children should be seen but not heard.” As children grew up across the American frontier and became adults, they left their children’s things behind, which have been collected at several museums on the Western Slope of Colorado.
One of the first and most notable pieces of clothing I found was at the Animas Museum in Durango. It dates from 1922 and belonged to a child of the Ute Indian Tribe, who were chased out of this area around 1859 when white people discovered gold. The front of the vest is completely covered in ‘lazy stitch’ beadwork, a technique where short strands of beads are laid across a surface rather than each bead being sold down individually. The back of the vest is green velvet, and it is lined with red and white striped men’s shirting material.
The Animas Museum is housed in a schoolhouse where children grades K-10 learned their lessons from 1905-1967. It was the largest building built in Durango at the time, so it also hosted community events, and stood double duty as an election polling and some government offices. It replaced the one-room log cabin that served as the first school in Animas County in 1876, which I’m told was also the very first building built here.
Education focused on preparing children for everyday life, and included lessons on how to run a mercantile and how to estimate lumber needs. Most children ended their educations at the end of the 8th grade. The classroom is pictured at top (the hat and bag on the desk are mine).
Women age 16 who had graduated from the 8th grade, could teach. They earned $54.40 per month (male teachers earned $71.40). The teacher’s desk displayed a list of rules from 1915 that women teachers had to abide by, with no mention if the same rules applied to their male counterparts:
School lunches sometimes included items the students brought, that would be added to a communal soup pot the teacher would cook on the woodstove in the classroom. The woodstove also thawed the student’s lunches that had frozen en-route during the winter.
The Paragon Schoolhouse at the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison started as a log cabin in 1889 and was replaced by a larger clapboard building in 1905. It was built by John B. Outalt, a ship designer, who built the school library windows to duplicate a tugboat, and the bell tower to imitate a lighthouse. It was the place of learning for grades 1-8 until 1950. This is the view I saw from the teacher’s desk.
The Museum of the Mountain West in Montrose also includes the Jutten School in their collection of buildings, but I missed it during my too-short visit here. The school was built in 1889 and opened a year later for 26 students grades 1-8. A teacherage, which I also missed, is adjacent to the school. You can learn more about the school and teacherage at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ga86lXCAuaw.
Among the 30+ buildings that comprise the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison is the Gray House, built in the 1920s and housing a collection of clothing and personal items. In the nursery I found a collection of toys. Shown here is a Jack-in-the-Box missing its lid, dating from 1945-55, a buckleback catcher’s mitt from the 1920s, and a pair of tin kaleidoscopes, possibly designed in the early to mid 1800s and reproduced by the Schylling Company starting in 1970.
I saw three toy stoves in this room. This is a 1930s Girard Electric Range, fully functional and measuring about a 12-16” wide by 10-12” tall, with its fabric wrapped 2-prong cord. The other one in this room is dated to the 1920s and was stocked with bakeware that had been used, and with what looked like ash remnants in its little oven. Signs indicated that children were supervised while using these items. I found additional child-size bakeware which I believed dated to the 1940s-50s in a separate building.
There was a child-size rolltop desk in the corner, possibly dating to the 1920s-30s, the first child’s desk I had seen outside of a classroom. So just like today, kids had homework before playtime.
The Animas Museum in Durango is located at 3065 West 2nd Ave (Corner of 31st and West 2nd Ave), about an hour’s walk from downtown, or a 10-minute trip by car or The Trolley (fare is $1 and runs every 20 minutes). It is in a residential neighborhood with street parking. There is also a log cabin and the 1880s Peterson home on this site as well, ask the docent to unlock them for you. Plan to spend 2-3 hours here, depending on how talkative the docent is. Hours are Tues., Thurs. and Sat. from 10 AM-4 PM, and Wed. from 1-7 PM. Admission is free.
The Pioneer Museum in Gunnison is located at 803 E. Tomichi Ave, just off Highway 50. There is onsite parking. Museum is open May 15 to September 30 from 9 AM – 5 PM, 7 days a week including holidays. Admission is $10. There are 30+ buildings on a 16-acre site. Golf carts are available. I spent about 10 hours here over two days and wish I had spent another two days. Peruse their library in the Main Building. This museum also houses newspaper stacks dating to the late 1800s which are accessible at https://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org/.
The Museum of the Mountain West in Montrose is located at 68169 Miami Road where it intersects with US Highway 50. Summer hours (April 1-Nov 14) are Mon.-Sat. from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM, check their website for winter hours. Self-guided tours are $12.50, but you want to take the guided tour for $15 which gets you inside the buildings. Admission for youths 6-18 is $5 for either tour. The website says to allow 2 hours here, but you will want to double that if you land a talkative docent. There are 28 buildings on this 6-acre property but they are condensed and the site is easily walkable. There is a small gift shop in the main building.
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Heather Daveno hails from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught textile artisan by night. In her spare time she is a “hobby historian” and is currently researching the female side of her family history for a book she plans to write, titled: “The Matriarch Diaries.”
You can see her current textile projects at August Phoenix Mercantile and her travels at Daveno Travels.