The Sopris Sun

Town takes ownership of historic Thompson House

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Correspondent

The historic Thompson House located along Highway 133, hereafter to be known as the Thompson House Museum, now belongs to the town and citizens of Carbondale, but it won’t be open to the public until some time next year.

The reason, according to officials of the town and the Mount Sopris Historical Society (MSHS), is that the grounds around the museum and the gravel road leading to it will be occupied by a variety of earthmoving and digging machines in the months to come.

During that time, developer Frieda Wallison’s contractors will install the utilities and other infrastructure that will serve the new Thompson Park residential subdivision on land surrounding the museum, as well as the equally new Ross Montessori School on an adjacent site.

Town Manager Jay Harrington told The Sopris Sun that the infrastructure work probably will not be finished until the fall, perhaps in October.

But the main thing, for the historical society, is that the old house, which was donated by the Thompson family as a memorial to their standing as one of the original homesteading ranch families in the area, is now in public hands.

“At least that part of it is secured,” said Lew Ron Thompson, whose great-aunt Hattie Thompson Holland lived for more than six decades in the house that was built for her and her husband, Oscar Holland, when they were newlyweds. Hattie Thompson died childless in 1944, Lew Ron told the Sopris Sun for a 2012 interview and story, and passed the property on to her relatives.

The couple’s personal furnishings, photos, documents and other antiquities were donated to the MSHS in 2009 by Lew Ron, his brother and two sisters.

Lew Ron Thompson, who lived for much of his young life in the Thompson House, is president of the MSHS board of directors. He noted with satisfaction, during an interview this week, that a process that began eight years ago has finally born fruit.

He had high praise for Wallison, whom he and his family approached eight years ago with a plan to sell her the house and the land around it for her development project.

In return, Wallison, who lives in Old Snowmass, has worked hard with the town and the MSHS to preserve the building and about an acre and a quarter of land surrounding the structure for posterity.

History

The historic structure was built in 1885 by Myron Thompson, patriarch and pioneer, who is remembered as the first white man who came to the Crystal River Valley to live among the Ute Indians. Myron Thompson, for whom Thompson Creek and the Thompson Divide area were named, established the Pleasant Valley Ranch to supply beef and other staples to the mining communities in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.

Prior to moving to Colorado, according to Lew Ron, Myron Thompson had been a carpenter and a farmer in Missouri, and fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union Army. He was captured at one point and placed in the notorious prison camp in Georgia, a severely overcrowded facility in which 13,000 Union soldiers are said to have died from the abject conditions.

Somehow, Myron Thompson survived, and came west to seek his fortune as a prospector in the 1870s.

Failing to find the mineral wealth he sought, he turned to ranching, a livelihood that his descendants kept up through most of the following century.

Public ownership

With the ownership of the Thompson House now in public hands, MSHS Executive Director Beth White said the task now is to get it ready for the public.

Among the society’s objectives, she said, is the planting of a “heritage garden” on a section of the museum grounds, the care for some remaining heritage fruit trees and the planting of more, and the creation of historical exhibits inside the house for what White said would be interpretive explorations of the life of Hattie Thompson.

“It’s a big life, and it’s pretty wild,” White said with a laugh, explaining that any story of Hattie Thompson’s life would necessarily incorporate such divergent matters as geography, history, gardening and other domestic issues.

She noted that the house already is featured on websites that focus on what is known as “heritage tourism,” which is an increasingly valuable aspect of tourism throughout Colorado, such as the site of the Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage organization (www.nwcoloradoheritagetravel.org).

Cultural heritage tourism, White said, is among the state’s fastest-growing sectors of the tourism market.

White predicted that the Thompson House, once it is open to the public, will provide a boost to Carbondale’s already healthy tourism economy.

But before work can be done on the grounds or the house, the MSHS must finish up negotiations with the town for a lease of the property, negotiations that got under way late last year.

Although the infrastructure work for the Thompson Park development is scheduled for completion in the fall, White said, the house itself probably will remain closed until early 2016.

The MSHS has applied for grants to “stabilize” the historic structure and fix up some exterior features, such as rickety window frames, and install a set of shades to prevent further damage to the interior furnishings by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

“It is our hope and intent that we can continue to make this unique asset available to the community, ongoing,” White declared, explaining that the society already has been conducting tours and holding events on the property.

The uniqueness, she said, comes from the fact that the building is filled with the personal effects of the family that lived there, rather than with an accumulated assortment of items collected from other sources and placed in the house to give it a historical feel.

This “pairing” of artifacts with the house, White said, can be found in only a select few “house museums” across the county, such as The Hermitage, a museum in the historic home of President Andrew Jackson in Nashville, Tenn.

While the Thompson House Museum will not reopen to the public until next year, White said the MSHS annual fundraising party, called The Shindig, will be held on Aug. 9 at The Barn in River Valley Ranch, a building that was part of the original Thompson family ranch then moved to its current location.

As part of that event, White said, the MSHS will hand out the second of its annual Hattie Thompson awards, which celebrate women who had a notable impact on the community.

The first Hattie Thompson Award, White said, went to the late Ruth “Ditty” Perry, who died earlier this year but who also lived an eventful life as part of an early ranching family in the Carbondale area.


Published in The Sopris Sun on May 28, 2015.