Historical Research & Writing


Boulder County History –– Pettem

I’ve been writing for the Boulder Daily Camera since 1977, starting with historical features, as well as a food column. From 1984 to 1988, I wrote historical features for the Longmont Times-Call. From 1996-1998, I wrote a history column for the Boulder Planet. During this time, I also contributed to the Coloradan (the University of Colorado's alumni magazine) and have freelanced for a number of national and international publications from the California Mining Journal and Evidence Technology Magazine to the British magazine Cornish World.

In 1998, I returned to the Camera as history columnist. Compilations of some of my history columns are in my books Only in Boulder: The County’s Colorful Characters and Boulder: A Sense of Time and Place Revisited (see Books page). I still write a history column for the Camera, sharing the position with long-time friend and colleague Carol Taylor.

Below are links to a few of my recent history columns.

Catherine Long Gates, iris farner, was 1-year-old when this photo was taken. (Courtesy Catherine Long Gates)

Long’s Gardens retains its agricultural roots

Camera, September 22, 2019

In 1916, when J. D. Long purchased three acres of land east of 12th Street (now Broadway) and south of what is now Iris Avenue, Boulder was just beginning to spread north from its downtown core. In the decades to come, residential subdivisions would replace most of North Boulder’s farm and ranch lands.

Long’s Gardens, at 3240 Broadway, has been a working farm for more than a century. Today, with 25 acres, it’s the largest agriculturally zoned property within the city limits. A lot of people want to see it retain its roots, and one of them is J. D.’s granddaughter, Catherine Long Gates, who runs the farm today. … Read more

Long’s Gardens

In 2010, the original gravestone for “Jane Doe” was combined with a new stone for Dorothy Gay Howard.

Caring community led to "Jane Doe’s" identity

Camera, April 7, 2019

In 1954, Boulder community members pooled their resources in order to show respect to a murder victim –– an unidentified young woman dumped down an embankment in Boulder Canyon. Contributors raised funds to buy “Jane Doe” a plot, as well as a gravestone, in Columbia Cemetery, on 9th Street.

The generosity of these average citizens made it possible, more than a half-century later, to identify the victim and put her real name on her grave.Read more

Jane Doe Identity

Geologist Matt Silverman, left, and retired attorney Karl Anuta recently visited the McKenzie well and discussed its significance.

McKenzie Well still significant despite encroaching deveopment

Camera, June, 30, 2018

Drivers on the Diagonal (Colorado Highway 119) northeast of Boulder may be familiar with the surface equipment of an oil well that sits west of the highway’s northbound lane near its intersection with Independence Road. The pumpjack and dark green tank (dating from the mid-20th century) mark the site of the McKenzie Well, one of the earliest oil discoveries in the Rocky Mountain West.

Boulder petroleum geologist Matt Silverman has often called the site the “oil field next door.” Now, dwarfed by the construction of multiple three-story apartment buildings, it literally is just that.... Read more

McKenzie Oil Well

This undated photo (likely from the 1950s) shows Mary Webster’s gravestone in the Caribou Cemetery. Carnegie Library for Local History, Museum of Boulder Collection.

Cornish lives remembered on Caribou’s 150th anniversary

Camera, July 27, 2018

In 1869, a lone prospector staked a mining claim high in the mountains of western Boulder County. The mine, named the Caribou, was rich in silver and set off Colorado Territory’s first major silver rush. The community of Caribou (west of Nederland) grew up near the mine and became a boom town almost overnight, then a devastating fire signaled the beginning of its decline a decade later.

This year marks Caribou’s 150th anniversary –– a time to reflect on and remember the hardy Cornish immigrants who lived and died on the American frontier.

When mines in Caribou were being developed in the 1870s, they opened up opportunities for skilled underground miners. Meanwhile, tin and copper mines in faraway Cornwall, England were laying off their workers. Some, like Joseph Webster, uprooted their families and traveled by ship and then overland by wagon or stagecoach to start new lives in a new world.

Joseph, with wife Mary and three children, initially found work in an iron mine in Morris County, New Jersey. Then, in the mid-1870s, after the birth of two more children, the family made their way to Caribou. Other families relocated directly from their snug seaside homes in Cornwall to log cabins at 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.

At Caribou, the work environment for Joseph and the other underground miners was not much different from that which they had left behind. But, above ground, their surroundings were vastly different. Adapting was more of a culture shock for the women.

Both men and women, however, compensated by bringing their culture and customs with them. Cornish immigrants were known for their brass bands and were in demand in Caribou and other mining towns, even traveling to Boulder to play for dances and weddings.

Lives of married women, such as Mary, centered around activities in the community’s one-room school as well as the church, whose mostly Methodist congregation was regularly visited by a circuit-riding preacher. Likely, his message touched on the community’s biggest fears –– mine accidents, disease, and fire.

Disease came first to the Webster family. Mary died on July 1, 1879 at the age of 39, during an epidemic of diphtheria. The Samuel Richards’ family, also in Caribou, lost three children a few days later. They and more than a dozen or two others are buried in the Caribou Cemetery.

In September 1879, the first of three big fires to hit Caribou swept in from the west and destroyed more than 40 dwellings, prompting many discouraged families to move away. Fortunately, no one was killed.

Joseph moved his children to Central City where he and his sons found work in the district’s gold mines. But, the family left a vestige of Mary’s heritage behind. In addition to her name and dates, they proudly stated that she was born in Cornwall, England. Mary’s stone also includes a frequently used epitaph beginning with, “Remember friends as you pass by, as you are now so once was I.”

Tragically, many gravestones, including Mary’s have been vandalized. But, whoever stopped by Mary’s grave years ago and took a photo (now in Boulder’s Carnegie Library for Local History) of her stone preserved her memory, allowing us to remember her, too.

The circa-1898 dress is decorated with hand-painted landscape and railroad scenes, as well as the railway company's logo. (Carnegie Library, Boulder Historical Society collection)

Switzerland Trail dress remains a mystery

Camera, July 1, 2018
In 1898, when the Colorado & Northwestern Railway began an ambitious advertising campaign and asked the public's help with a name (or brand) for its new narrow-gauge railroad into the mountains west of Boulder, J. E. Snook came up with "The Switzerland Trail."

The C&NW added "of America." Promotional literature promised flatlanders (limited at the time by horse-drawn vehicles) a chance to experience unsurpassed mountain scenery only a few hours from home.

The company's brochures and photographs still exist today and are well-known collectors' items. But one obscure artifact -- a dress -- has railroad fans baffled. Read more

Switzerland Trail Dress

This photo of the Willard Building (see name on top) was taken in 1975 when the Aristocrat Steakhouse occupied the corner retail space. Courtesy Carnegie Library

Women’s Temperance leader held in high esteem in Boulder

, October 20, 2019

In 1898, after the death of Frances Willard, the founder and the national president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, two Boulder men named their new downtown commercial building in her honor. Much has changed in Boulder in the past 121 years. But, back then, the well-known-anti-liquor advocate was held in high esteem.

So high, in fact, that “Willard” was engraved in stone on the pediment above the roofline of the turreted building on the southwest corner of Broadway and Spruce Street. Her name is still clearly visible today.... Read more

Willard Building

John B. Schoolland and a group of Boy Scouts pose by locomotive "No. 30" in Boulder's Central Park in 1957. Carnegie Library, Boulder

Engine “No. 30” is Boulder’s Link to its Railroad Past

Camera, March 10, 2019

More than a century ago, an intricate web of railroad lines ran into and out of Boulder, providing the city with a sense of place. One line that captured the hearts of many was the Colorado & Northwestern Railway, commonly called the Switzerland Trail of America.

Long after the C&N's only surviving steam locomotive was retired, it was brought back to Boulder, where it remained for 51 years, next to the Boulder Bandshell in Central Park. Although it's no longer on display in Boulder, railroad historians still visit "No. 30" at the Colorado Railroad Museum, in Golden, where it's on loan.Owned by the City of Boulder, the locomotive is the best artifact to connect Boulder County with its railroad past.. ..…. Read more

Engine “No.30” is Boulder’s Link to its Railroad Past

Edward Baker’s grave has finally has been recognized, as documented in the Buffalo Soldier story. Below, in the first row, are a few photos from October 11, 2016 when members of the Buffalo Soldier Organization assisted Jack Box in setting the stone.

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Long-term missing persons
Unidentified remains
Cold case homicides
Boulder County, Colorado, history