History grant pays off for Elizabeth

Video, written comments grow from effort to preserve town’s past

Posted 7/9/18

A state historic preservation grant in 2016 funded phase one of a project to research and record the history of the Town of Elizabeth, which is bearing fruit. “History Colorado provided the $21,000 …

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History grant pays off for Elizabeth

Video, written comments grow from effort to preserve town’s past

Posted

A state historic preservation grant in 2016 funded phase one of a project to research and record the history of the Town of Elizabeth, which is bearing fruit.

“History Colorado provided the $21,000 grant so we could look into details about the history of Elizabeth,” said Grace Erickson, town community development director. “We have a lot of town involvement in the process. We asked for volunteers to help us with the research, and a portion of the grant was used to hire professional consultants to conduct some of the research. It took about a year to complete the 100-page study and to make the history video that we have on our website.”

She said it was important to have community involvement, so the town held a 2017 open house at town hall and asked residents to come and share their stories and pictures about Elizabeth history. The written information was scanned in and all the comments were preserved.

The town asked for volunteers to assist with the program. Elizabeth resident Suzy Sadak said while she didn’t know much about the history of the town, she decided to volunteer to work on the project.

“I contacted a few people in town to gather information,” she said. “Actually one of the best interviews I did was with David Wright, an artist who lived in town in the 1970s when Elizabeth was sort of an artist community. I enjoyed helping research the history of our town and I learned a lot about Elizabeth’s past.”

The research gathered was compiled into a report and used to make a short video about town history that is on the Elizabeth website at www.townofelizabeth.org/history.html.

Elizabeth’s video states that about 1881 the depot at milepost 39.4 on the Denver and New Orleans Railroad was named Elizabeth by then-Gov. John Evans in honor of his sister-in-law Elizabeth.

However, the Wikipedia history of the town clarifies that the area that is now Elizabeth was first named Russellville when a sawmill was established by the Weber brothers on Running Creek in 1855, and the name later became Elizabeth about 1881 when Evans named the railroad depot established in the town.

The town grew up around the depot, which served the ranchers who came to ship their cattle and farmers who came to ship their crops to markets in Denver and Pueblo. By 1890 there were 300 residents in the community.

With the growth of the town, businesses were established to serve the residents as well as farmers and ranchers in the surrounding area of Elbert County. One of the main businesses was the Watts and Wortman General Merchandise store that is shown in one of the historic pictures on the video.

In the 1970s, a local newspaper reported there was a family that lived in Elbert County who owned a carnival. The story stated that in the spring the family brought the carnival midway equipment to the Elizabeth depot and loaded it on a train that took it to towns throughout the state until fall, when the family and their carnival returned to Elbert County for the winter.

The town and surrounding area depended on the railroad but the railroad was washed out by the flood of 1935 and never rebuilt.

However, while there was less traffic and some people left, the town remained a supply center for ranchers and farmers in the surrounding area. There was a big spike in population after World War II when a missile base was built near Elizabeth. A lot of houses were left empty when the base closed in 1965.

About 1970, a number of artists were drawn to Elizabeth. David Wright was among the artists, and in a letter he said the artists came to the town because rent was a lot less expensive than in larger communities like Denver and Castle Rock. He wrote that the artists enjoyed the small town with its dirt streets, and often got together for activities like potluck dinners and sharing music.

The town remains a center of businesses serving residents of the community and surrounding area. There is a Safeway supermarket and a Walmart, plus a large number of small businesses, including many that are unique to the town.

As of 2018 there were 1,385 people living in Elizabeth. The residents elect a town council and mayor, and a town manager and staff are hired to oversee the day-to-day operations.

Elizabeth has a police department and fire department, and the schools are part of the Elizabeth School District.

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