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For a lot of Coloradans, Clear Creek County is a place that you spend a lot of time while you are on your way somewhere else. Tucked into the valley that I-70 weaves through just west of the Denver Metro area, the towns of Clear Creek are familiar because we’ve whooshed (if we’re lucky) by their names on exit signs – Silver Plume, Downieville, Empire, etc. More likely, we’ve had time to study them as traffic crawls along. From the road Georgetown looks suspended in time – a near perfect mining town movie set, and Idaho Springs is always a relief; you’re either almost home or you’ve finally gotten away. If you are like me, you might vow to finally go to the Indian Hot Springs, but you rarely stop. And that is a shame, because Clear Creek County has a long and rich history. Mines, mining towns, and ghost towns litter the landscape, ‘14ers rise all around, and each town and the families that have called them home for generations have their own unique story to tell.
The Clear Creek County Library District (CCCLD) Local History Archives, located at the Georgetown Heritage Center, has been preserving, organizing, and making materials that highlight the history and culture of Clear Creek County accessible for two years. The collection contains manuscripts, photographs, and ephemera as well as maps, historical newspapers and books, and is available to the public in the Archive’s reading room during business hours. This fall, CCCLD launched a digital repository, making photos and other materials from the collection more broadly available online. Created in partnership with the Colorado State Library’s CVL Collections program, the Clear Creek County Digital Collection currently features over 250 items ranging from images, to live music, to postcards and pamphlets. These items have been shared with the Plains to Peaks Collective and are now discoverable through the Digital Public Library of America, a national platform for digitized historic collections.
With 11 collections and over 250 items currently on offer (and more constantly added), there is a lot to explore. It is no surprise given Clear Creek’s geographic location that a lot of the material is concerned with infrastructure and transportation. For instance, the Reichwien Family Collection features a group of photos from the 1960s taken for the Interstate 70 project, prior to its construction. The Doug Marshall Collection even includes video footage of several blasts into the hillside above Georgetown in preparation for I-70 construction.
Time and progress march on in the Darby O’Rourke Photography Collection, which documents places, events, the people – and their impressive quads, of Clear Creek County in the second half of the twentieth century.
With such a long history, it is unsurprising that many of the images available are much older. A growing Postcard Collection highlights tourism in the early twentieth century, where images of the Georgetown Loop, railroads, summits of ’14ers, lakes, towns, and the county’s many picturesque vistas are featured prominently. The archives holds many 19th-century photographs as well, although they are just beginning to digitize them in collections such as the Christine Bradley Collection.
Beyond documenting the natural grandeur and many infrastructure marvels that we take for granted today, this collection compiles Live Country Music performances by a variety of local musicians that have called Clear Creek home, as well as a collection or Oral Histories from long time residents. In the words of one interviewer:
“If you think you’ve done something or you think you are a halfway interesting person, in Georgetown, you turn around at the cocktail party, or at your job or whatever, and you find the next person is twice as interesting, and twice more experienced than you”
I can’t think of a more compelling invitation to dive into the Clear Creek County Digital Collection!
If you would like to learn more about sharing your organization’s historical collections through CVL Collections, please contact:
Collaborative Programming Coordinator
Colorado State Library