6 Reasons You Should Care About Historic Preservation in Colorado

I’m from Georgia, born and raised a southerner through and through, and I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes, when it comes to historic places, people from the east think they have all the good stuff.  But three decades ago I moved to Colorado and was astounded to find some of the richest, most vibrant historic places I've seen. I still remember my drive up I-70 seeing quaint mountain towns like Georgetown for the first time and being blown away. This place is something special.

You probably already know that Colorado is The Place To Be for entrepreneurs, engineers, technology gurus, brewers, outdoor-lovers, and even athletes. But you probably didn’t know it’s a burgeoning hotspot for something else: historic preservation. And here are six reasons you should care about that.

1. Preservation is in Your Backyard

It’s easy to think that something like historic preservation is important, but doesn’t affect you. We’re all leading busy lives and feel comfortable distancing ourselves from things that feel, well, distant from us. But historic preservation is closer than you think.

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was not designed to control preservation from an ivory tower -- it was designed to manage preservation through a series of local, state, and federal partnerships, but always with the locality’s interests and needs as the focus. At its crux, historic preservation is a local pursuit. That’s why listing a property on the National Register of Historic Places or the Colorado State Register of Historic Places doesn’t dictate what you can or cannot do as a property owner -- but your local historic preservation program might. And this is good news because it means that you have a seat at the table -- know who operates local preservation programs? Ordinary citizens like you! If you don’t like how historic preservation is handled in your community, you have the power to change it.

Are you concerned about planning, zoning, architecture, housing, transportation, or other issues in your community? Preservation can help you make a difference! Visit our website to see if your Colorado community has a historic preservation commission and/or a Certified Local Government.

2. Preservation is Inclusive

Winks Lodge

Winks Lodge at Lincoln Hills is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

History doesn’t always tell the truth, but buildings do. Historic preservation is one of the strongest ways to honor our diverse past. Did you know southeastern Colorado housed Granada Relocation Center, a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II? More than 7,000 Japanese Americans were held at what’s now often called Camp Amache. Today Granada Relocation Center is void of buildings, a seemingly barren landscape. But the building footprints still remain, and archaeological study and historic preservation have allowed us to glean immense amounts of information that help us better understand a dark chapter in US history.

Or consider Lincoln Hills, the nation’s only African-American resort community west of the Mississippi River during segregation in the 1940s. Renown jazz musicians Duke Ellington and Lena Horne, among many others, spent time at Lincoln Hills after playing shows in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. Today Lincoln Hills comprises a small site in Gilpin County. But last year Winks Lodge, Lincoln Hills’ central building, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the research conducted to list the building has shed a gleaming light onto the history of this significant place, which could have otherwise dissolved into the historical ether.

3. Preservation is Good for Your Community and Your Environment

Historic image of the Emerson School in Denver.

Entry way at the Emerson School in Denver, which was rehabilitated to be an energy-efficient building.

The Emerson School building in Denver.

Emerson School today.

Photo courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Historic preservation honors our past, but it also creates our future. A 2011 study found that from 1981 to 2010, historic preservation in Colorado generated more than 34,000 jobs and had a total impact of $2.5 billion on Colorado’s economy. Plus, preservation tax credits make it more affordable than ever for owners to earn incentives for preserving historic properties. Historic preservation is a proven tool to build local economies and revitalize communities.

Beyond its economic benefits, preservation is a sound environmental choice. Each day you teach your kids how to be responsible stewards of our planet by recycling bottles and cans. Imagine how powerful it is, then, to recycle whole buildings! The groundbreaking study The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse shows that reusing an existing building is more environmentally sustainable than building new. As we say in preservation , “the greenest building is the one that already exists.”

4. Colorado is Leading the Nation in Preservation...

The Coca-Cola ghost sign at Angell's Delicatessen in Fort Collins.

The innovative preservation of the Coca-Cola ghost sign at Angell's Delicatessen in Fort Collins was funded by the State Historical Fund.

Colorado is innovative and fresh in a thousand different ways, so why should preservation be any different? Colorado maintains one of the most robust state historic preservation programs in the country, thanks in big part to the State Historical Fund, our preservation grants program, which is managed by History Colorado.

In the last twenty years, the State Historical Fund has awarded more than 4,000 grants to nonprofit organizations and local governments, totaling a more than $273 million investment in preserving historic places in all 64 counties. We are inordinately lucky as Coloradans to have access to resources that can make a difference in what we preserve from our past, and we cannot take this opportunity for granted. The State Historical Fund has led to a booming preservation industry and an ever-increasingly beautiful historic urban and rural landscape.

Historic preservation in Colorado is innovative in many other ways -- see: Fort Collins’ ghost sign restoration, Montrose County’s Hanging Flume reconstruction, or Aspen’s midcentury modern project -- but we can’t overlook the importance of access to funding, without which many communities might not be able to bring preservation projects to fruition.

5. ...And it's a Leader in Archaeology, too. 

Chimney Rock National Monument.

Chimney Rock National Monument.

Archaeology and historic preservation go hand-in-hand, especially in Colorado, where we’ve got some of the most incredible archaeological resources in the country. From Chimney Rock National Monument to incredible arborglyphs from the 1950s to Mesa Verde National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which was the first national park to be designated as such for its cultural significance, not just natural beauty.

Colorado is also the place of major archaeological discoveries, like at the Lindenmeier site near Fort Collins. In 1935 Loren Eisely made a major discovery there that proved humans had lived and hunted here in the Ice Age, about 11,000 years ago. This debunked conventional thought at the time.

Beyond simply our amazing archaeological sites, Colorado also has one of the nation’s strongest reburial and repatriation programs, which returns found human remains and artifacts to their rightful tribal descendants. Tribal heritage is widely studied and honored through archaeology in Colorado, like the Colorado Wickiup Project. Archaeology is far more than digging in the dirt -- it’s our key to understanding who we were before we called ourselves Coloradans.

6. Preservation is Turning 50 Years Old!

The National Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966, which means it’s turning 50 years old in 2016! The NHPA established historic preservation as we know it today in the United States, which includes the creation of National Register Historic Places, our nation’s esteemed list of historic buildings and sites, and the mandate that every state must maintain a State Historic Preservation Office (in Colorado, that’s History Colorado’s Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation). There is no better time to get involved with historic preservation in your community than this landmark year.

December 14 kicks off our celebration as we join the National Park Service in its #50for50 campaign, which highlights preservation in a different state each week on social media.

From December 14 through December 20, the National Park Service will honor historic preservation in Colorado! I urge you to get involved.

Share stories on social media of your favorite historic places in Colorado, especially the ones that need a little TLC, and don’t forget to tag your photos and posts with #50for50 to join the campaign. Follow History Colorado on Facebook in 2016 for information about events and activities for the Preservation 50 celebration. We can't wait to celebrate with you!