Touring Colorado’s Collections: Park County Local History Digital Archive

This post was contributed by students from the LIS program at the University of Denver

Woman feeds cow outside Hayman, Colorado, early 20th century.

The Park County Local History Archive (PCLHA) represents one of the most valuable rural community archives in Colorado. It is currently located in Fairplay in Park County, although in the past it was housed at other county locations. PCLHA primarily serves the community of Park County, which is one of Colorado’s original 17 territorial counties and is known not only for its stunning beauty but also for its rich history of mining, railroads, and ranching. The Archive is dedicated to the acquisition and preservation of materials documenting the cultural and natural history of Park County. It was established by a group of dedicated volunteers in 2001 and is currently maintained by the Park County Department of Heritage, Tourism, & Community Development. The PCLHA collects photographs, manuscripts, maps, books, local newspapers, businesses records, ledgers, oral histories, and a wide range of public records. The archival materials document the region’s history and community resilience, illustrating how residents of Park County dealt with the challenges of pioneer and rural life, high elevation climate, and ups and downs of economic booms and downturns.

Creation of the Digital Archive

The Park County Department of Heritage, Tourism, & Community Development initiated a collaborative project with the Library and Information Science (LIS) program at the University of Denver to digitize selected materials from the Archive. The project has been supported by the University of Denver Public Good Fund. The Community Advisory Board, comprised of the Archive’s volunteers and residents of Park County, provided subject expertise and feedback on the project. Digitization of the Archive has focused on historical photographs and oral histories. This process required digitizing, minimally processing, and creating metadata records for each. Although this project is not complete, the Digital Archive by early 2021 includes over 1,000 photographs and nearly 60 oral histories. This was a collaborative effort, requiring the constant support and feedback of the Park County Director of Heritage and Tourism and his team, as well as community members and volunteers who assisted in directing the focus of the project, revising metadata records, and completing some digitization projects as well. The collection also includes examples of digital exhibitions. These exhibitions focus on a specific aspect of Park County history and their topic areas were suggested by the Archive’s community board. The exhibits were researched, written, and designed by the students in the Digital Libraries’ course at the University of Denver.

The PCLHA was originally hosted by to support online display, but has since migrated to a CVL Collections instance of Omeka hosted by the Colorado State Library in order to facilitate full participation in the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) through the Plains to Peaks Collective. The move was prompted by technical limitations of the platform that prevented collection data from being shared in a way that met the specifications of the DPLA and, further downstream, Wikimedia, which has partnered with the DPLA to make digital objects that are free from copyright restriction available for inclusion in Wikipedia articles.

Highlights from the Collection

Park County represents an area of Colorado rich with history. Whether your interest is in Colorado’s mining, railroad, ranching, or ancient past, Park County has that and more to offer. As a recognized heritage site by the United States government, there are many reasons to take the time to learn about Park County. The Park County Digital Archive seeks to offer a wide audience access to some of this storied past. Through photographs and oral histories collected by the extensive efforts of archive volunteers, there is much to experience.

Take for instance the story of Charlie Dell. In the 1970’s a graduate student named Lori Kennedy conducted an oral history interview with Charlie Dell, a life-long resident of Park County. Charlie Dell grew up in Park County, and after a stint away, chose to return and remained there living in a humble abode in Guffey, Colorado until his death in 1983. Through Kennedy’s efforts we get a glimpse into the rural life of a self-described Colorado cowboy. Included in her research documents are beautiful photographs, oral history tapes digitized from the original 1970’s and 1980’s cassette tapes, and her own rich documentation of the interview. Also unique is a recording of Dell playing his banjo. There’s even this transcription of song lyrics he wrote that captures the unique spirit of the place from his perspective:

I landed in old Guffey
A cowboy for to be
Little dreamin’ of the place that it would be
I worked from early morning
I worked til set of sun.
In the God forsaken place that God forgot.
In this part of Colorado
It might seem all right to some
But I always think their minds have went astray
For someday there’ll be an angel
With a little bunch of keys
Who’ll remove old Guffey from the U.S.A.
Now that silver snow is falling
And that zero weather’s here
And those hungry coyotes howl in my backyard.

Charles Dell singing and playing the banjo at his cabin in Guffey, Colorado in 1980.

The inclusion of Charlie Dell in the Park County Local History Archive provides a unique and personal glimpse into Park County. There’s plenty more to discover, including historic photographs from Como, a historic railroad depot, and the famous Fairplay courthouse, which until recently also housed the physical archive. Many of the photographs are offered context through the oral histories, most of which are of long-time residents who relay their time growing up in Park County, capturing the specific hardships offered by the extreme weather, unique historical events, and how they pass the time.

If you would like to learn more about sharing your organization’s historical collections through CVL Collections, please contact:

Marisa Wood
Collaborative Programming Coordinator
Colorado State Library

Visit the CVL Collections website.