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MSHS hopes to soon re-open Thompson House

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Last open two years ago

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Carbondale’s “pioneer home museum” has been closed more than it has been open since it was deeded over to the town last year, but those in charge of the facility hope that is about to change.

Officials with the Mt. Sopris Historical Society had hoped to open the Historic Thompson House, a city-owned museum and surrounding grounds that dates back to the 1880s, earlier this summer, said the society’s executive director Beth White.

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But a number of delays got in the way, said White and the president of the society’s board of directors, Lew Ron Thompson (a member of the family that owned and lived in the house for more than a century), meaning the historic facility is likely to remain closed to the general public until sometime in the fall.

The Thompson House was first opened to the public in 2012, and was listed in 2013 on the National Register of Historic Places, according to information on the website, www.mountsoprishistoricalsociety.org.

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“We are in the process of getting it open,” said White this week, explaining that the old house is mostly cleaned up and is nearly “ready to go” now that water service has finally been extended to the facility.

But rather than try to offer public tours on Saturdays, as was the case the last time the Thompson House was open to the public, she and the society’s board hope to open the facility up to special events by nonprofits and other area organizations, perhaps as early as this month.

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“It is probably going to be the most effective (method for re-opening the old house) in terms of introducing the facility to the community,” White said of the special-event route, because word will spread through town, peaking the interest of the general public.

“We want them to know that it’s here, and available for them to use,” she said of both the organizations and the general public.

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The last time the Thompson House was open to the public, for the Saturday tours, was two years ago, she said, and the public has grown unfamiliar with what the facility has to offer.

She acknowledged that, last fall, she had hoped to open the Thompson House this past spring.

But that plan was scotched by delays related to negotiations between developer Frieda Wallison, who is in charge of building the adjacent Thompson Park housing project, and the town, over Wallison’s completion of certain required improvements that were imposed as part of the town’s development approvals.

The building and grounds currently are owned by the town and managed by the historic society, though the society owns all the furnishings and other historic memorabilia inside the house.

One such troublesome issue, said White and Thompson, was the irrigation system for the grounds, and the water line to the historic house itself, which was only finished and hooked up a few weeks ago.

Another difficulty has been the repeated rejection of an application for a $125,000 grant from the state historical society, History Colorado. The society is hoping to hear soon whether the grant, which has now been submitted three times, will be awarded to Carbondale.

The grant money is to be used for a variety of restoration projects, including repairs to a set of “Osgood windows” on the front porch that came from the Cleveholm Manor outside the village of Redstone (now known as the Redstone Castle) early in the 20th century.

White said Hattie Thompson, whose father-in-law built the historic Thompson house for her and her husband in the late 1800s, bought the windows from the third wife and widow of coal and iron baron John C. Osgood, whose Colorado Fuel and Iron company built Redstone and the nearby coal mines in Coal Basin, as well as the manor house.

Hattie Thompson, White explained, was a friend of the Osgoods and, after John C. Osgood died, bought the windows from his widow and had them installed at the Thompson House.

Lew Ron Thompson told The Sopris Sun there are other projects, such as shoring up a foundation wall at one end of the house and finishing a concrete pond on the western side of the house, that also are awaiting funds from the state before they can be completed.

But, he said, there are no serious structural problems outstanding at the house.

He, too, said the society is aiming at opening the house to the public — both for special events by organizations and to the public — as soon as possible in the hope that it will become a popular historic attraction that will bring heritage tourists to Carbondale.

“As more people become aware that the house is open and functioning,” he said, “we hopefully will have more people come (for tours), perhaps on a daily basis.”

Both White and Thompson indicated there is to be a grand opening event in mid-September.

“It’s a great asset for the town,” Thompson remarked, “unique in the scheme of historic homes in the nation, one of the top five, probably.”

Society officials have proudly pointed out that, unlike most historic homes, the furnishings, clothing,  kitchenware and other goods in the house are actually items that were used by those who lived there.

As the society wrestles with the delays and finances involved in running a historic facility, Thompson noted that once it is open there must be a public discussion about how it should be operated and maintained.

“The community owns it,” he declared. “It’s a community discussion now.”

Published in The Sopris Sun on August 4, 2016.

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