Hotchkiss Pioneer Barn Restoration

Nov 1, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Features, History

Community Members Work to Save 126-year-old Brick Pioneer Barn and the Original Home of the Hotchkiss Fair

“I believe this project will become the catalyst for historic preservation awareness in this county,” says Chris Miller. “People are so quick to tear something down or demolish it without consideration of what our younger kids are going to interpret in a hundred years. They’re going to look back and never see these old school houses, never see these old barns, and I just think it’s time that we start paying more attention.”

The project is the Hotchkiss Barn, which dates back to the town’s earliest days in the late 19th century. On August 19, 2010, a microburst powered through the town of Hotchkiss, uprooting enormous trees from one end of town to the other, and wrecking the south end of the barn. Now a dedicated group including young art students at the Creamery, a Forest Service archaeologist, and an accomplished architect, are working hard to raise money to restore this unique historic landmark.

Miller is director, grant writer, and field worker, i.e., the entire paid staff of the Western Colorado Interpretive Association (WCIA), a non-profit working in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service on the Grand Mesa-Uncompaghre-Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest. Founded in 1988, WCIA’s original mission was to provide educational material in visitor center bookstores. Now, they provide signs and on-site interpretation on five scenic byways, plus historic sites on public and private land in counties surrounding GMUG.

“We don’t have a plan in place to manage historic parcels on public lands,” says Miller, so a big part of her job is getting grants for preservation and interpretive projects. Among other projects, she’s trying to preserve three historic sites in the Escalante Canyon that are beginning to fall apart.

“They are literally being dismantled piece by piece,” she says. Chris is passionate about creating awareness of historic structures. I ask her to tell me why.

“It matters because it gives a sense of place. Enos Hotchkiss came into the North Fork Valley and looked over the area and said ‘This is where I want my farm to be.’ The first thing he did was build that new barn, and he put roots down. You start tearing these structures down and they get forgotten, you know, why we’re here, why he put roots down.”

In this digital age where everything is global and instantaneous, I press Chris, why does a sense of place, some grounding in a physical reality, matter to a 21st Century child?

“It changes our way of thinking,” she answers. “We’ve become a disposal society, so it’s easy to throw away things and it’s easy to tear down things. We need to reverse that process and start looking at things with a different vision.”

She points to the after photo of the barn. “Oh my gosh, this barn has been here 126 years, and the only thing that damaged it was this microburst.

It wasn’t because it wasn’t built correctly. It’s a message we need to get to the kids that these things matter because somebody built them for the long haul, not the short term. They need to understand the value of that.”

A couple from Olathe comes to buy raffle tickets for a quarter of a grass-fed Princess Beef. Three of these quarter beeves are being raffled, $5 for 3 tickets, $2 for one ticket.

“Your best buy is the five dollars,” Chris counsels.

“Is this what it looks like now?” they ask. Yes, says Chris, and points down the table to the before photo. “And this is what it looked like then. Can you imagine coming into this valley and seeing that? Look at that pole fence! I mean he put a lot of work into that pole fence.”

Architect Bob McHugh, also on duty at the Delta County Fair booth, walks me through a slideshow starting with the arrival of Enos Hotchkiss in the valley in 1881. In 1885, mason Harry Bopp began to make bricks on site. Four years and 100,000 bricks later, the barn was being used for livestock, hay storage, shearing sheep, implement storage, and barn dances.

“Also,” adds McHugh, “the fair started there. They had a family fair, then it became the Hotchkiss town fair, and in 1918 it became the Delta County Fair.”

McHugh approached the Hotchkiss family the day after the microburst. Before too long, archaeologist Leanne Hunt from the Forest Service volunteered to help get the barn placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the restoration project was born.

Last June, WCIA was awarded a Survey and Planning grant to find the most reasonable and economical way to restore the barn. The study will cost $37,000 and the grant covers half of that. The rest must be matched by the community.

Fundraising efforts included a silent auction of many wonderful representations of the barn by children in Suki Strong’s class at the Creamery Arts Center. Winning bids on the art as well as winners of the three quarter beeves were announced Friday, September 14, at the Creamery’s monthly show opening. Thursday August 23, a Casino Night at the Hotchkiss Elks gave all proceeds to saving the barn, with the last quarter beef the grand prize. The Kids’ Pasta Project on October 15 at Scenic Mesa Ranch rounded out efforts to raise funds for Phase One.


“There are some other brick barns in Colorado,” McHugh says, explaining why this particular barn is special, “but not many. It has a transverse timber frame, and the columns were hand-hewn; the cross-beams and other beams have been sawn.”

The three Hotchkiss brothers, who came from Pennsylvania where brick barns are common, were into building mills, says McHugh. “They built flour mills and they built lumber mills. They were pretty adept at it, but it appears they didn’t have the mill set up until they got halfway through the barn because the columns were hand-hewn. All the joints are mortice and tenon, with wood pegs and a steel strap. Those are techniques that carpenters don’t use anymore.”


The Save the Barn campaign is well on its way to matching the grant funds. Then they can get the assessment done this fall and begin planning for Phase Two, the bricks and mortar phase.


“Part of that restoration will be an educational component,” says Chris Miller. “We’re going to try to bring in a mason that will work with a team of kids or young people that want to learn how to do that, and that is really important.”

Miller waxes enthusiastic about more historic structures she has set her sights on. “There are a lot of hidden treasures out here in these unincorporated areas of our counties that need to be assessed and documented. They’re noteworthy.”

To contribute to the campaign: Checks payable to “Save the Hotchkiss Barn” can be mailed to First State Bank of Colorado, P.O. Box 38, Hotchkiss, 81419.



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