There are two new opportunities to soak up some Pine River Valley history this spring. But if you're hoping for a nostalgic trip back in time to the good ol' days, think again.
Our early pioneer ranchers and farmers rode horses and walked and drove wagons pulled by oxen. They needed to build their own roads and bridges over rivers and mountains to get to the valley. And once Mill Street's first buildings were hammered together, fires frequently gutted the town's early commercial artery.
Thanks to the Pine River Valley Heritage Society's Museum, you can see for yourself and read all about our past. A new photographic collection showcasing early Bayfield will be on display at the Pine River Library in May. The display features photos from the early 1900s. Many of the buildings pictured are gone, leveled by fires. The stone firewall that still stands on Mill Street was built in the early 1900s after a fire destroyed much of the town on the southwest side of the street. The wall went up in hopes of preventing future fire damage.
Anne Schrier, the history museum's assistant director, has been retracing early settlers' treks to the valley and interviewing their descendants.
"Large families often joined together to make these long journeys," she said. "Everyone had to pitch in to make it work, often lowering wagons over cliffs to find water and feed for their animals."
Her ambitious project features lists with dates, pinpointing when families arrived here - plus maps of Europe and the United States - with stick pins and strings that show where they started their journeys. Family history cards amplify the stories.
Schrier unveiled her project to an enthusiastic response recently at the Pine River Senior Center in Bayfield. The heritage display will be shown through May 2 at First National Bank of Durango in Bayfield, then might go back to the Pine River Library. The pioneer roots display will have a special grand opening on Thursday, May 18, when the Pine River Valley Heritage Museum will open for the first Bayfield Block Party from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The museum opens for the season on June 3, with regular hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Once again, the all-volunteer museum will be free to the public through September. Schrier said she realizes some early families' history were omitted, but she tried to focus on families with descendants still living, ranching, farming and working in the Pine River Valley.
"These families were happy that someone invested the time to keep our heritage alive," said Schrier, who has collected the stories into books that museum visitors can read, study and enjoy.
Curt Brown is president of the Pine River Valley Heritage Society Museum.