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Thursday, July 09, 2015
Breckenridge debuts only sawmill museum in the Rockies
Courtesy Breckenridge Heritage Alliance
Without sawmills, Breckenridge and other frontier mining towns in the West would never have developed beyond small log cabins.
A sawmill turns logs into lumber, and the noisy operations were instrumental in the construction of underground mines as well as homes and commercial buildings, said Robin Theobald, a fifth-generation Breckenridge resident who spearheaded the construction of the Breckenridge Sawmill Museum.
“The logs around here are so small that 20-by-20 is about as big as you could get a building,” he said, which would be too small for schools, churches, banks, fraternity buildings, saloons and other structures. “So having sawmills was really a necessary ingredient in building a community.”
The museum is now the only sawmill museum in Colorado and surrounding states.
The Breckenridge Heritage Alliance will celebrate the newest addition to the town’s historic tourism offerings with a ribbon-cutting event on Saturday, July 11, at 11 a.m.
The sawmill museum was built up Boreas Pass Road, about a half-mile east of the Stephen C. West Ice Arena, on the site of a portable sawmill in operation for about 30 years in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.
“Before World War II around here, the sawmills moved to the trees, rather than bringing the trees to the sawmill,” Theobald said.
This sawmill was operated in the summers by a man named Marian Wakefield, Theobald said, recalling childhood memories.
“I remember that Wakefield took stove wood to little old ladies,” he said. “They were appreciative of that.”
He added that another sawmill run by a man named Jacot operated nearby in the 1890s and early 1900s.
Theobald is a board member of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, which he said went through a three-process to construct the first phase of the museum that included land annexation, planning, zoning, material sourcing and construction.
The town of Breckenridge contributed the most financially to the project with roughly $150,000. The museum also received significant funding from Freeport McMoRan, the parent company of the Climax Molybdenum mine, and the Summit Historical Society, which set aside donations in honor of longtime local Jim Nicholls.
The museum includes an open-air structure with six pieces of machinery made and used before 1930. The machines were collected from Theobald and a Park County resident and set up so they could operate, and the pole-barn structure was made with the old roof of the Breckenridge Building Center and telephone poles from the area.
“The building was sized to hold the amount of equipment that a relatively sophisticated sawmill here would have had,” Theobald said. “We went through a lot of trouble to make this building look as old as possible and like it had been there a while.”
The site is also home to a historic cabin restored by the town that will soon house an indoor exhibit and an original steam engine from Leadville.
For now, the museum will be open to self-guided tours that visitors can enjoy using a numbered brochure. In the future, docents will give people access to the cabin and give more of the backstory behind the sawmill.
The museum wouldn’t exist without the help of many local residents who donated their time, labor and materials, Theobald said. “There’s a big community of people that have a part in bringing this to fruition.”