Historical Society celebrates center’s 10th year with open house Nov. 3

       Commemorating the History Center's first 10 years, the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) invites the public to an open house Saturday, Nov. 3 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The History Center at Pikes Peak Avenue and 24th Street, shown on a recent morning, was converted in 1997 from 
what was originally the First Baptist Church in 1900. 
Westside Pioneer photo
       The center is at 1 S. 24th St., at the corner of Pikes Peak Avenue, in a former Baptist church that scores of OCCHS members pitched in to purchase, restore and transform into a Westside history museum.
       Visitors will be greeted by OCCHS members in period costume, ready to “share OCC and Westside history and answer questions,” according to Joanne Karlson, an OCCHS board member who is helping organize the event. Society member Don Ellis will portray Luther McKnight, a life-long Westsider whose bequest gave the museum-creation effort a major boost.
       “We are most interested in meeting more of our 'neighbors' and learning about the histories of their families that relate to early OCC and the Westside,” she said. “We are always looking for additions to our archives and research library.
       “This is a great opportunity to bring children to visit...and of course, the open house is free.”
       During its 10-year span, the History Center has evolved into a free, volunteer-run facility that offers revolving displays of artifacts, a book store specializing in local and Colorado history and various speakers/presentations/events. The museum especially focuses on the years 1859-1917 - the era between the founding of Colorado City and its annexation into Colorado Springs.
       The center's grand opening was Aug. 13, 1997, but the OCCHS had started more than 15 years before that. In an article he wrote for the society's West Word newsletter (the grand opening's “Pioneer Edition”), long-time society treasurer Dave Hughes mentioned an initial meeting around 1980 that also included his daughter Becky and merchants Gene Brent and Vera Chambon. Hughes has also served as society president, helped with grants and developed the center's computer room.
       The group gradually grew in numbers (260 nowadays), meeting more regularly and hoping one day to afford a building. It was upon his death in 1986 that McKnight left his life savings (nearly $100,000) and sizeable collection of memorabilia and photographs to the OCCHS.
       “Luther McKnight knew milk at five cents a quart, streetcars, a fire bell announcing curfew nightly at 9, the poll tax, wooden sidewalks and muddy streets, the Midland Band, School District #1, spectacular fires and train wrecks, rock quarries, paint factory and glassworks,” reads an article in the “Pioneer Edition” by Ralph Conner, who published the West Word for many years and paid the rental costs to store McKnight's things in the pre-center years.
       The McKnight bequest made possible the building purchase in 1992. There followed five more years of fundraising for the roughly $200,000 needed to renovate the building. This included grant-writing, personal donations and various enterprising efforts by society members.
       The renovation contractor was Murphy Constructors, working closely with the OCCHS and then-President Lucille Cunningham. She and her son Mark of the West One Group also handled the complicated building purchase and the historical designation (so that property taxes would not have to be paid on it). Lucille would in 1999 become the first and (so far) only recipient of the Luther McKnight Award for contributions to the History Center, an honor which, she recalled this week, “brought tears to my eyes.”
       Based on the “Pioneer Edition,” the list of society members who volunteered in different ways to make the museum possible would go on for pages, but other principal contributors included presidents Raymon Castillo, Agnes Johnson, John Keller and Joyce Johns and grant-writers Jan and Sandy Knox.
       “This is a wonderful example of how volunteers with a similar passion can pull together,” Karlson said.

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