At first glance, the town of Avon may not appear to have the physical relics of history that other mountain communities have.
“We never had the big downtown, the cool old downtowns like Aspen or Breckenridge or Crested Butte, or any of those other mountain towns that have real, meaningful infrastructure that survived from that era,” said Avon Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes. “Because we were primarily a herding and farming community, we really didn’t have a lot of structures and because there wasn’t a population to see the value of those structures, most of those structures ended up disappearing as Avon grew.”
On closer inspection, however, you can find historical remnants in the names of streets, trails, and parks as well as small infrastructure throughout the city, revealing all the stories of those that came before it.
This little-known story is what the municipality wishes to elucidate with its historical landmark project.
“It’s really hard to hold on to Avon’s history — to grab it and hold on to it,” said Kathy Heicher, president of the Eagle County Historic Society. “So it was really smart of them to go with this project; it gives people looking for a community in Avon, or a sense of place, to take a look at these signs and learn a little more about the community they live in.
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Installed at the end of this year, nine signs around the city now tell the story of Avon over the years – beginning with the history of the Utes in the area to the stories of early settlers and ranchers, to to developments along the way – drawing attention to some of the structures, families and stories that have made Avon what it is today.
Depending on who you ask, the impetus for the project can be attributed to several things; whether it’s a desire to better maintain history (especially after the failure to preserve the Hahnewald barn in 2019), a marker installed in 2018 at the powerhouse and waterwheel of Nottingham, or the city’s ongoing work to create a more walkable urban core through arts and cultural amenities.
“For those of us who want to preserve the story of what Avon was, we really wanted to be able to tell people – both locals and visitors – the story of Avon,” said Smith Hymes.
While the signs were installed in the town this year, the project has been underway for several years, led primarily by Smith Hymes, Tamra Nottingham Underwood council member Heicher and the town’s director of community development Matt Pielsticker.
That doesn’t mean it was easy. In fact, Avon’s story was somewhat “hard to find,” Heicher said.
However, by leveraging local resources from the Eagle Library Archives, the Colorado Historical Journal website, the Denver Public Library Photo Archive, and the Nottingham Family History, written by Mauri Nottingham, the group was able to find the “essential bits of the story”. that we wanted this story to tell,” said Smith Hymes.
Each panel focuses on one of these pivotal rooms or moments, giving residents and guests a brief history of that topic, some even uncovering some interesting tidbits that surprised even Smith Hymes and Heicher.
For Heicher, she was thrilled to learn more about Metcalf Road’s namesake — a road she used daily for work — and the role the family played in the town’s early history. Specifically, tracing John Conrad Metcalf’s impact on history, the panel details Metcalf’s homesteading efforts in Avon in the early 1880s through to his role as one of the first county commissioners when Eagle County was established in 1883 until its ultimate demise in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896.
“It’s a bit of a tragedy, but the family name really lives on,” Heicher said.
Other signs give insight into other founding families and namesakes of many things in the city, including the Nottingham family, Albert Hahnewald, the legend behind the name of nearby Battle Mountain, and much more. However, the signs also give insight into how more regional and federal efforts — including the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, the Homestead Act and more — laid the foundation for the city and how it evolved over time. years.
It’s for these reasons that Heicher called the project “cutting-edge” and “worthy” of the city of Avon, something she wanted all cities in the valley to undertake.
“Our experience at the Historical Society is that if people know a little bit about the roots of the community, they just take a little bit more pride and get a little invested in the community,” Heicher said. “It really gives people a sense of community and a sense of belonging to that community.”
Smith-Hymes said the project revealed many “interesting facts” about the city. For her, this included learning about the evolution of how people crossed the Eagle River as well as the former existence of a small conglomeration of vital municipal buildings at the base of Beaver Creek, which served for many years of assembly area for the breeders of the region. .
Overall, Smith Hymes found the project not only unveiled the city’s history, but also gave him an opportunity to reflect on Avon’s future. Specifically, she noticed that some of the issues facing the community in 2022 are the same ones ranchers identified many years ago, she said.
“The ranchers here 70, 80, 90 years ago, they recognized the impact of mining on water quality and how that was going to affect their ability to use the water for purposes beneficial to their livestock and farming,” said Smith Hymes. “The problems we face today were problems decades ago. The sooner we can recognize the problems we face and find solutions, it will be easier for our future generations to be able to live here, protect the environment and have water to drink.
The hope for those who spearheaded the project is that it will give locals and guests an opportunity to connect with the Avon community as well as reflect on the past and the future.
“I think it’s important for everyone to remember what happened before and that Avon didn’t start when the ski areas opened; there was a whole community that preceded us and what they did made it possible for us to be here and what we do will impact the kind of future community that develops here,” said Smith Hymes. “I think reflecting on the past can only indicate where we should go in the future.”