A few low concrete and stone structures, fenced off, stand in the middle of rolling green hills. These are the remnants of the Industrial Mine.


Remains of the Day

When the Marshall Fire destroyed parts of Superior, a local historian went back to her memories to reclaim some of the community’s shared past.

A collection of small buildings among some trees in bloom, in Grasso Park.

Grasso Park, Spring 2018.

Photo by Lindsey Flewelling.

The day after the fire, I watched the aerial footage taken from news helicopters over and over, trying to comprehend what happened to my hometown. On the northwest side of town, the camera panned over the flattened and black Sagamore neighborhood, the charred roof of Target, and Original Town, where only a sprinkling of structures survived. After 100 mile-per-hour winds wildly whipped flames indiscriminately through the dry grass and buildings, the landscape left behind was desolate, alien, and devastating. So many families had lost their homes, everything they owned, and a sense of safety in their community, and we didn’t know at the time how many lives might be lost as well. As the camera moved southeast, the site of Asti Park came into view. On the corner, all that remained of Superior’s Historical Museum was a gray smudge of rubble, as if the whole structure had been erased.

As the days passed following the fire and the challenges for the families who lost their homes compounded, many questions arose about the rebuilding of Superior, Louisville, and other impacted areas of Boulder County. What did it mean that residents were now dispersed around the Front Range and that many may not return, selling their land because the exorbitant costs of rebuilding outpaced insurance payouts, or simply wanting to leave this devastation behind them? How would this impact the community’s identity now that the historic objects, places, and repositories of their collective memory were gone? How do you begin to rebuild after that kind of destruction? And if our shared history was destroyed, what remained? 

In 2015, armed with a PhD in History and many questions about future job prospects, I moved back to my hometown of Superior, where my family has lived since 1997. I wasn’t sure what I would be getting into when I began to volunteer with the Superior Historical Commission, a town-appointed board charged with historic preservation, collection of artifacts and archival materials, and outreach. Growing up in Superior, I had a vague idea about the area’s history as a coal mining region. We visited Marshall Mesa and saw the remains of the mining operations there on a sixth grade field trip, and my high school US History teacher, Ron Buffo, regaled us with tales of historic gun fights along the railroad tracks when miners in Louisville were on strike. But despite my love of history, I mostly thought of the town as a quintessential 1990s suburb with new-build houses.

With the Historical Commission, I found a gateway to a vibrant community and a town identity built on historic foundations that I never really thought about before. It helped to spur a true affection for my hometown. The multigenerational commission members were welcoming, kind, and gentle, dedicated to sharing their love of the history of their adopted home. 

Founded by community members in 1999 and later taken on by Superior as a town board, the Historical Commission’s work focused on preserving what remained of the historic town. Working with the commission, I began to see my town in a different light. The way I understood the layout of the streets and the lines of the landscape changed. Knowing the town’s coal mining history, I could suddenly see the evidence of tailings, waste piles, and railroad beds, and recognize the foundations of mining structures in what was now open space and cattle pastures. The built environment of the town and its relationship to its geography instantly made more sense when viewed through a lens of historic development. What’s more, when community members came to the museum or joined us on a historic walk through the Industrial Mine site, which provided the town's central industry into the mid-twentieth century, I could see the light in their eyes as it dawned on them, too, how the modern life intersected with the historic.

A small white building in the middle of a field, with the mountains visible in the background.

Superior Historical Museum in Asti Park, September 2017.

Photo by Lindsay Flewelling.

The histories of Superior, Louisville, and Marshall have been closely tied since the 1860s as part of the sprawling Northern Coal Field. Spanning 87,000 acres, the coal field runs from Broomfield and Marshall in the south to Frederick and Firestone in the north. As farmers began to settle the region in the 1850s and 1860s, they discovered coal outcroppings exposed on the surface in some areas, while in others coal was uncovered through floods or unearthed by chance. Native Americans and early white explorers in the area may have used readily available coal on or near the surface. 

William Kitchens claimed land around an outcropping he called the Washington Lode in 1859, operating a wagon mine and selling coal to his neighbors. He hauled wagon loads to Denver, where he sold coal by the bushel. In 1866, he sold his mine to Joseph Marshall, for whom the town would be named. Marshall eventually established the Marshall Coal Company and developed the Black Diamond and Marshall mines. While Marshall was the first place where coal was systematically mined in the region, Erie was the first town to develop around coal mining. Coal was discovered there in 1866 and a town quickly settled. At first, coal was brought down to Denver by horse and wagon. After the Denver, Utah & Pacific Railroad put in a spur from Brighton to Erie in 1871, shipping of coal became easier and less costly. Several towns developed in the area, and over 195 mines were eventually opened. The mines in Boulder and Weld Counties produced an estimated 100,000,000 tons of coal from 1866 to 1975.

As Louisville historian Carolyn Conarroe points out, the coal mining communities of Louisville, Lafayette, Superior, Marshall, Erie, Frederick, Firestone, and Dacono “had undergone the same mining experiences and their histories are intertwined.” Waves of migrants came to Colorado to work in coal mining towns, often having previously mined in Europe, the eastern United States, or in Colorado’s larger Southern Coal Field. Early immigrants in the mining communities came from England, Wales, Scotland, and Germany. Later, immigrants arrived from southern and eastern Europe and Mexico, at times brought in as strikebreakers by the mining companies, causing resentment and tensions within local communities.

Like other towns in the region, the first white settlers in Louisville were farmers. After coal was discovered in the area, the first mine operation began in 1877, owned by David Kerr, financed by C.C. Welch, and overseen by Louis Nawatny. The Welch Mine attracted new miners to the Louisville area, with the first homes springing up close to the railroad track. Nawatny, a Polish immigrant, recognized the commercial value of his land holdings in the area, and set out the first plots for the city. He named the city after himself.

Louisville was home to many mines with a variety of owners, growing rapidly to 1,288 residents by 1900. From 1884 to 1955, a total of 25,033,000 tons of coal were mined in the Louisville district. Due to its relatively high population, land area, and number of immigrants, Louisville developed ethnic enclaves, including “Frenchtown;” “Kimbertown,” which was populated by descendants of a Cornish miner; a Bulgarian neighborhood; and, most prominently, “Little Italy.” By 1930, first-generation Italians comprised 10 percent of Louisville’s population, and more than 16 percent of the population was second-generation Americans with Italian parents.

Despite their proximity and foundations as farming and coal mining districts, Superior and Louisville would develop differently, in ways that would underpin the patterns of growth and development of the two communities into the twenty-first century.

A few low concrete and stone structures, fenced off, stand in the middle of rolling green hills. These are the remnants of the Industrial Mine.

Industrial Mine Site near Superior, May 2019.

Photo by Lindsey Flewelling.

At the heart of the Superior Historical Commission’s work was a small miner’s house museum that held archival materials and artifacts donated by community members, and displays created by volunteers. You couldn’t help but slam the museum’s wood-frame screen doors, a noise which must have reverberated through the decades. Once part of a tidy row of 24 x 24-foot hipped-roof residences in the mine camp, the museum house was moved to a Broomfield farm when the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company went bankrupt and the Industrial Mine closed in 1945. When the Town of Superior learned that the farm was up for redevelopment in the mid-2000s, the Town approached the property owners and arranged to move the house to a park in Original Town, the local term for the portion of town platted by town founders. After extensive multi-year rehabilitation, guided by memories of people who had grown up in the mine camp, the museum opened in 2010.

On open days, volunteers came into the four-room house and opened all the blinds, pulling back the curtains so light shined on each of the displays. Entering the front door from Asti Park, displays and objects told the story of Superior’s mining past: canary cages and cloth hats equipped with a tiny stub of white candle, battery-packs for lamps on more modern hard hats, flame safety lamps, and lunch pails. A diorama of the Industrial Mine painstakingly created by Ron Keiser showed the tipple, boiler house, fan house, and parts of the mine camp, with the vertical mine shaft emphasizing the long, 185-foot drop from the surface to the horizontal mine shaft below. Tiny mine carts highlighted the processes of bringing coal up from the depths of the mine to be sorted and sized, then moved along the tipple and conveyed into freight cars for its onward journey to be used throughout the Denver region.

Other areas of the museum exhibited life in the mine camp. Chairs crowded around the coal-burning pot-bellied stove in the living room, with a tall Victrola record player cabinet nearby. A baseball uniform and elaborate baseball trophy highlighted social life in the mine camp, where baseball and softball games, picnics, dances, socials, and club meetings were diversions from the dangerous and difficult working conditions of the mine. The museum’s kitchen maintained its original wood floors and wainscotting, and was outfitted with cabinets made from old wooden powder boxes discarded from the mine. In the corner stood a coal-powered stove and a washing machine from the 1930s that would have been used on the porch. A small drop-leaf table flanked one wall, while another wall included one of the house’s bragging points: a pantry. It was said to be the only mine camp house with a pantry, along with a closet in an adjacent bedroom. The faucet in the deep kitchen sink of the mine camp homes had cold running water, unlike the unplumbed houses in the platted Original Town. The interior doorways were covered with cloth sheets, the house too small to accommodate the swinging open of doors.

Some open days, people who had grown up in the time of mining would return with an artifact or two, or to share the museum with family members. Other members of the community would drop by after seeing the “Museum Open” sign along the road, having no idea the town was built on coal mining. The museum was a place for generations to come together, for the gathering of new transplants and long-time locals who had witnessed the drastic changes to the area over the years, for meeting in community with one another.

“Beautiful little village, 10 miles east of Boulder, and 20 miles from Denver, on the line of the Union Pacific, Denver & Gulf Railway. The village is four months old; population, 250; will be 600 inside of two years. The location is elegant, climate delightful, and water pure.”

A historic photo of a small town with the prairie stretching out behind it. The railroad runs parallel to the town.

A view of Superior from the late nineteenth century.

A.E. Dickerson, Denver Public Library Special Collections, X-13749.

So William Hake described Superior in the Boulder County Directory of 1896. While Superior never reached 600 inhabitants during the town’s mining heyday, in the early 1990s—almost five decades after the Industrial Mine closed in 1945—the community bloomed to a population of more than 13,000 as Boulder’s expansive growth rippled outward. The only remnants of its coal mining past were building foundations and tailings piles on Boulder County open space, and, in Original Town, century-old homes that were often unrecognizable because they had been remodeled through the years.

William and Emeline Hake arrived in Coal Creek Valley in 1860, having migrated from Wisconsin. William Hake was a farmer who hoped to provide agricultural supplies to the mining settlements in the area. He established his farm, planting crops and raising livestock. During a spring flood in 1864, he discovered coal exposed on his property but he continued to farm rather than seek to exploit the land’s fuel potential. Finally, in 1892, as coal mining operations grew in Boulder County, Hake contracted with James H. Hood, a newcomer from Kentucky, to sink a shaft. Hood engineered and managed the mine while Hake remained the landowner. The mine was originally known as the Hood Mine, but later took on the name of the Industrial. By 1895, a second mine, the Enterprise, opened nearby, located where US Highway 36 now passes north of the Superior cemetery and Sport Stable.

Hake attempted to attract residents to the area, advertising in regional publications and describing the coal from his mine as “having no superior in the State.” The two hundred people living in Superior in 1896 were mainly mine workers along with a handful of farmers. A mine camp developed around the Industrial, with frame houses, boarding house, bath house, and casino, which hosted roller skating, dances, and card games, as well as sold “near beer” throughout Prohibition. To the north, a separate town was platted by the Hakes where the school buildings, two churches, and other residences were located. The town’s general store was a company store with a post office, and two saloons also operated in town. In addition, the town had a union hall, candy store, and service station.

The town’s depot was north of the mine and connected passengers from Superior to Boulder, Denver, and Louisville through the Denver and Interurban Railroad, part of the Colorado and Southern, until 1926. Superior was incorporated in 1904 with Charles Hake, son of William and Emeline, as its first mayor. Charles Hake sold the Industrial Mine to the Northern Coal and Coke Company around 1900, which was taken over by the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company (RMFC) in 1911. RMFC ran the mine until its closure in 1945. It produced a total of 3,994,741 tons of coal from 1895 onward. Other mines developed in the Superior area included the Crown, Pluto, Gorham, and Monarch No. 1 and No. 2.

Mining was dangerous, precarious, and physically demanding, with the ever-present threats of cave-ins, poisonous gasses, and combustible coal dust, and related respiratory problems. I often walked through Superior and Broomfield open space past the grave marker of Joe C. Jaramillo, who died along with seven other miners at the Monarch No. 2 Mine in the worst explosion in the history of Colorado’s Northern Coal Field. Jaramillo, known as “Mexican Joe” even though he was born in the United States, was the mule driver at the Monarch No. 2 for more than twenty years and lived with his family at the Monarch mine camp. On the morning of January 20, 1936, he and nine other men entered the mine to complete routine preparations before the start of the day shift. Right where two passageways came together, an explosion shook the mine, splintering timbers and triggering rockslides. Two men reached an air shaft and climbed 300 feet to safety. Eight others, including Fire Boss Steve Davis who had been inspecting accumulated coal dust on the mine floor and testing for the presence of methane gas, died in the explosion. Jaramillo was at the center of the rock fall and his body was never recovered. Several months after the explosion, Jaramillo’s grave marker (now relocated) was placed by the National Fuel Company above the site of the mine collapse.

The marker and memorial site offered a glimpse into the often-forgotten coal mining history of the region and the people who gave their lives to mining, now hidden under shopping malls, business campuses, and suburban schools. I could envision the miles and miles of tunnels under my feet, where people and mules had led their working lives, invisible to the modern eye. I started to grasp the interconnectedness of the vast Northern Coal Field, and the lasting ties that bound these historic communities together.

A dilapidated farm building made of wood, among a stand of trees and green fields.

Farmhouse at Grasso Park, May 2019.

Photo by Lindsay Flewelling.

Every year, second graders from the three local elementary schools came to the museum on field trips. They walked over from Town Hall, where they met the mayor and sat in the trustees’s chairs in the boardroom. When the second graders arrived, I often sat outside with Bob Morgan as he explained that, when he was in second grade, he attended school in one of the two classroom buildings on this very site. The kids were enchanted by the model school buildings fashioned by Herb Morrison, who had also attended Superior School. The model included miniature teeter totters, basketball hoops, and outhouses. Bob carefully removed the roofs on the two school buildings and pointed out the tiny cloakrooms and the stage in one of the classrooms, where they held plays and community gatherings. Bob would tell the kids about how at the end of the school year, the entire town would celebrate with a picnic expedition to Lakeside Amusement Park or City Park in Denver.

The town’s two school buildings were in what is now Asti Park, the first built in 1901 and housing the first through sixth grades, and the second built in 1921 where the seventh and eighth grades met. The latter school was known as the “Community Building” and was also home to dances, plays, and other town gatherings. The older school building was eventually torn down and the Community Building purchased by a local resident and moved three blocks west in 1975. (This school building was lost in the fire.) Older school children went to Louisville or Boulder for high school, or went to work on family farms or in the mine.

In the museum, one bedroom was dedicated to Superior School, with graduating eighth grade class photographs, a flour-sack quilt created by schoolchildren during World War II, and memories of a beloved teacher, Miss Edith Oerman. Oerman taught at Superior School for twenty-nine years, from 1930 to 1959. She painted small landscapes for her graduating eighth graders gifted along with a handwritten letter, and these meant so much to her students that a couple survived to be displayed on the museum wall seven decades later. Oerman was a fixture in the community, taking charge of fashioning the town Christmas tree out of tumbleweeds and displaying it at the Community Building each year, and directing summer plays. She was known for her kind deeds for her former students.

Though the second graders toured the museum and the small farmhouse and jail cell at Grasso Park, what seemed to stick with them the most was the lives of schoolchildren during the mining days. Sometimes on open days, second graders would come back to show their parents and siblings what they had seen on their field trips, and again pore over the details of the model school buildings. For a while, one kindergartener was so taken with the idea of the historic school that every month she came to sit in the museum’s small old-fashioned wooden desk and imagine life at the turn of the twentieth century.

Each May, the Historical Commission led walks through the Industrial Mine area, narrated by Bob Morgan, Larry Dorsey, and Wally Waligorski. During that month, the tall grasses of the Boulder County open space were maturing from their springtime green to their summer brown, concealing the remnants of the mine and mine camp. Larry pointed out the former location of the Colorado and Southern railroad depot on the east side of the mine, where coal had been transported throughout the Front Range and passengers were connected to Boulder and Denver through no less than sixteen daily trains along the Kite Route of the Denver and Interurban. The railroad tracks ran parallel to the ridge along which the Industrial Mine was situated.

The coal field underpinned every element of people’s lives in Superior. It wasn’t a particularly high grade of coal and would start to disintegrate if exposed to air, so miners only worked nine months of the year. During the summer, miners had to find alternative employment on farms or other businesses in the local area. Mules were brought up to the surface and spent two weeks regaining their sight before being put out to pasture until the fall.

Bob pointed out the locations of the mine shaft and tipple, rails, the blacksmith shop, and water tank, the boiler room, shower room, and battery house—the buildings that made up the elements of a working mine. The largest remaining concrete structure was the ventilation fan house, where an 8-foot diameter electric fan supplied the air down the shaft. Bob recalled that when they turned it on for the first time, it sounded like a jet engine. It was incredibly loud, but, living in the mine camp, he did eventually manage to get used to it.

Superior was a company town, with the majority of buildings owned by the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company. RMFC had five mines in the Northern Coal Field, and by the time that Bob’s father, a Welsh immigrant, was working at the Industrial, was owned by Josephine Roche. Roche’s career spanned everything from working as Denver’s first woman police officer, serving as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and running the United Mine Workers’s Welfare and Retirement Fund. She promoted workers’s rights, aided immigrants, ran for Colorado governor, supported Progressive Party politics, and fought for social and civic reform.

Roche’s parents died in early 1927 and she inherited her father’s minority holdings of the RMFC. After a strike, violence, and six deaths at the RMFC-owned Columbine Mine in Lafayette, Roche gained majority control of the company. She announced that employee welfare would be a key component in the way the company was run. The first permanent mutual union agreement ever signed by a coal mining company in Colorado was between the RMFC and United Mine Workers in 1928 and was considered a groundbreaking agreement for coal miners’ rights. Roche became known for her concern for her employees and their rights.

On the Industrial Mine site, Bob indicated where the line of mine camp houses sat, showing where the museum house had come from. “And this,” he said proudly, gesturing to a just-visible outline of a former foundation, “was my house.” This was the jumping off point for many adventures swimming in the local irrigation ditches and fishing in Marshall Lake, enjoying treats made of locally grown chokecherries, wild plums, and apples, making homemade toboggans out of sheets of corrugated roofing material for sledding in the wintertime, and traversing Superior on his bike as he delivered The Denver Post to sixty-six homes.

Hearing Bob’s words, combined with my rapidly increasing knowledge of the history of the town, connected history to the landscape. The ridgeline was transformed from dry, grassy, featureless Open Space to something more. I could envision the outlines of the mine camp houses, the shadowy tipple, the noise of the fan and rail cars, and the frenetic energy of the mine. It became a place where daily events played out, where people led whole lives, a place that people cared about and called home.

At the end of one historic walk, a mom had her teenage son posed with Bob for a photograph in front of the museum house. All I could think was, “Bob is honestly a rock star.”

Nothing seemed to bring more pride to the Historical Commission members’ voices than when they spoke of restoring the Town of Superior’s historic fire truck. The 1942 military-issue fire truck had been acquired from Lafayette in the 1970s and used by the all-volunteer fire department until the 1990s. To me, the fire truck was a symbol of the survival of the town in the days after the mine closed.

By the 1940s, demand for coal diminished due to the use of diesel fuel for railroads and natural gas for homes. Josephine Roche had spearheaded efforts to mechanize the mine, replacing mules with loaders, investing in cutting machines—but went heavily into debt to do so. The RMFC declared bankruptcy in 1945, and the Industrial Mine closed. Because Superior was a company town, the buildings in the mine camp were sold, moved, and scattered throughout the region. This was why Superior and Louisville’s development diverged so greatly in the second half of the twentieth century. When mines closed in Louisville, the residences and commercial buildings had been built up separately and were owned by individuals, and so the built environment remained. When Superior’s Industrial Mine closed, not only was the largest employer no longer there, but the mine camp houses and other company-owned structures were removed as well. According to a 2003 architectural survey, just 32 historic structures remained in the town from the mining days, all in the platted Original Town area.

Once the Industrial closed, many miners moved to other mining camps for job opportunities or went to work at Rocky Flats, the US government facility making nuclear weapons components nearby along the foothills. Suddenly half the town was gone. As all remaining local businesses, churches, schools, and community gathering spaces closed, life for the hundred or so remaining residents was quiet and set apart from urban hustle and bustle, but could also be isolated. One commission member told me about how excited they were when Louisville got a 7-11 convenience store so that they had somewhere nearby to get some basic supplies. A group of residents formed the Superior Volunteer Fire Department in 1971 with equipment consisting of two fire carts. The town clerk at the time, Gladys Forshee, helped to spearhead the effort to bring the fire truck from Lafayette to offer greater protection to the town. Women volunteer firefighters, known as the “Flamettes,” were on call to fight fires during the day, while men volunteered on nights and weekends.

The town’s reduced population depended on local wells for water and septic tanks for sewer. By the 1980s, the wells began to go bad and septic systems began to fail. At the same time, development pressures increased in Boulder County, and surrounding municipalities began to gobble up unincorporated land. In 1986, developers offered the residents of Original Town the construction of a town-wide water system in exchange for the construction of Rock Creek Ranch to the south. Residents of Superior voted on and approved the annexation of Rock Creek Ranch in 1987, although this was not without its detractors. Boulder County managed to purchase thousands of acres surrounding the development for open space, and the Town of Superior itself eventually invested in acres of open space, reflecting its residents’ values. Along with the thousands of new homes and residents, the new commercial shopping centers, schools, and continued development transformed the town into something not quite recognizable from the mining days.

The historic fire truck had a gleaming new paint job and gold lettering spelling out “Superior Fire Dept” on the side doors. Commission members rode it at the head of the town’s Fourth of July Parade and in Louisville’s Labor Day Parade. At town events, kids donned plastic firefighter hats and climbed up into the driver’s seat for a photograph. They may have been attracted by the shiny red paint and unfamiliar old-fashioned form of the fire truck, but there was also a spark of curiosity about its history and all that it symbolized as a contrast to the modern day.

Two older farm buildings amongst trees with autumn leaves.

Barn and outhouse at Grasso Park, November 2021.

Photo by Lindsey Flewelling.

After the fire, when we knew that the museum house was no longer standing, I couldn’t stop thinking about the farmhouse and barn in Grasso Park. Built on a corner of the Hake homestead near Coal Creek, the site had been home to Frank and Victoria Grasso, who lived there for almost seventy years after immigrating from Poland in 1907 with their infant son. Frank Grasso sought work in the Colorado Fuel & Iron steel mills in Pueblo before coming north to Superior, where he farmed alfalfa and wheat, and kept dairy cows. He mined coal in the winter and farmed in the summer when the mine was closed. Supported by a State Historical Fund grant, the buildings at Grasso Park were rehabilitated and preserved as a town park in 1995.

The tiny farmhouse had captured my imagination because it was a place that transported me back to a completely different way of life. The two rooms were dark and cramped, and the house was surrounded by a ramshackle barn, two-seater privy, root cellar, woodshed, and donated historic farm equipment. The wood boards of the house looked so fragile that it seemed like the house could have been blown over by the Big Bad Wolf. And yet, when you entered the kitchen, a line high up on the wall indicated where the flood waters of 2013 had left their permanent mark by staining the wood slightly darker.

The torrential rainfall in September 2013 flooded Coal Creek and Rock Creek, usually little more than a dry creek bed, with more than eleven inches of rain. The base of the Second Avenue bridge, the only bridge crossing Coal Creek in Original Town, was damaged and under the threat of collapse, which would cut off residents from the rest of Superior. A portion of the town was placed under a mandatory evacuation order, and several houses sustained flood damage. But somehow the little farmhouse along the banks of Coal Creek withstood the flood waters, as it had weathered countless floods and snowstorms through the years.

There was still evidence of flood damage throughout the community when I joined the Historical Commission in 2015. Gradually the bridge was replaced and trails were repaired. The Grasso Park farmhouse underwent additional rehabilitation work to ensure that the wood siding wouldn’t rot away. The park was an integral stop on the commission’s walking tours and second grade field trips, highlighting the agricultural heritage of the town.

My time with the Superior Historical Commission helped me to understand the power of historic preservation at the local level. Not only are local preservation programs an essential way to offer protections for historic properties, but preservation of the built environment and community memories provides a sense of continuity and identity. Sharing stories about the past and understanding the layers of community history help create meaning, connection, empathy, and understanding. Local communities are also places where the complexities of history can be explored in ways that are directly impactful to everyday lives.

Because of my time with the commission, I decided to turn toward historic preservation as a career field. Knowing how my outlook was changed by being part of Superior’s Historical Commission, I love to work with other local government historic preservation commissions and get a sense of what is important to them about their own communities as they look toward the past, present, and future. These all-volunteer commission members are passionate about history, but also care deeply about the development of their towns, cities, and counties moving forward. They grapple with the issues of the future while maintaining a sense of identity.

When the fire happened, it was devastating to know that the communities of Superior, Louisville, and Boulder County could never be quite the same. The rebuilding of residential areas would be difficult, costly, and time-consuming, and it was hard to grasp what those families would have to go through. Superior’s museum house was lost forever, along with its irreplaceable collections that had acted as a conduit to the past. With the destruction of the built environment as well as of the objects that had once been held dear by those who lived in the mine camp, how would Superior’s history continue to be preserved and told?

After the fire, when Historical Commission Chair Larry Dorsey emailed commission members and volunteers that the Grasso Park farmhouse and barn appeared to have made it through unscathed, I could hardly believe it. Somehow this symbol of endurance had made it through.

Museums are important centers for preserving and sharing a community’s story and collective identity. But our stories are illustrated by artifacts, not bound in them. The stories of Superior’s history will live on through the dedication of volunteers who are generously willing to share their time, skills, and memories. Care, commitment, and openness toward neighbors have been hallmarks of Superior’s ability to be resilient through decades of change, from the early days of coal mining and farming to the sudden loss of population and businesses to times of booming growth, through floods and—now—fire. If the physical reminders of our shared history have been destroyed, what remains? I would say that the enduring building blocks of community connections, experiences, and memories, will be a strong foundation as we create our future.



For Further Reading

For more information about the history of Superior, see Superior: A Folk History (N.P.: Private publication, 1983), Lost Superior: Remembering the Architectural Heritage of a Colorado Coal Mining Town (Boulder: White Sand Lake Press, 2004), and issues of the Superior Historian. Superior’s history after the closure of the Industrial Mine is discussed in Kimberli Turner’s Colorado Hometown Weekly article, “Historic 1942 fire truck back in Superior after stint in storage” (April 9, 2013), and Alan Prendergast’s Westword article, “The Sprawful Truth” (January 14, 1999). Information on Miss Edith Oerman was based on research completed by Allyn Jarrett. Additional information on the history of Superior and the Industrial Mine was taken from presentations by Robert “Bob” Morgan and Larry Dorsey during the 2016 Superior Historical Walk, filmed by the author (June 4, 2016).

You can learn more about the history of coal mining in Boulder County in Phyllis Smith’s, Once a Coal Miner: The Story of Colorado’s Northern Coal Field (Pruett: Boulder, 1989), Carolyn Conarroe’s Coal Mining in Colorado’s Northern Coal Field (Louisville: Conarroe, 2001), and Joanna Simpson’s “Walking Through History on Marshall Mesa” (Boulder: City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, 2008). The Boulder Public Library’s Carnegie Branch Library for Local History has an excellent collection of oral histories related to the history of Boulder County and coal mining, including an interview with Robert “Bob” Morgan by Shirley Steele (June 26, 2002). On the history of Louisville, see Carolyn Conarroe, The Louisville Story (Louisville: Conarroe, 1978) and issues of the Louisville Historian. On the Monarch Mine explosion, see William M. Cohen, “Blast: The 1936 Monarch Mine Explosion” (Louisville: Louisville Historical Museum, 2006). For more on the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company and Josephine Roche, see Elinor McGinn, A Wide-Awake Woman: Josephine Roche in the Era of Reform (Denver: Colorado Historical Society, 2002); Robyn Muncy, Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014); Leigh Campbell-Hale, “Remembering Ludlow but Forgetting the Columbine: The 1927–1928 Colorado Coal Strike” (Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Colorado, 2013); and Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame’s entry on Roche. The papers of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company are held at the Denver Public Library’s Western History and Genealogy Repository, and the papers of Josephine Roche are held by the University of Colorado Libraries Rare and Distinctive Collections.