Free and clear

Pikes Peak Historical Society has paid off the mortgage at its museum, which is located at 18033 Teller County Road 1 in Florissant. (Photo courtesy of Pikes Peak Historical  Society)

After 31 years of hard work and dedication, the Pikes Peak Historical Society has hit another milestone: the mortgage on the building at 18033 Teller County Road 1 is paid in full.

Early in 1988, a group of ambitious citizens in and around Florissant got together and formed the Florissant Heritage Foundation, with goals of developing a physical structure for historic preservation and presentation, acquiring and maintaining the historic Florissant Cemetery, and restoring and preserving the Florissant School Complex.

In 1990-91, the restoration of the main school building took place. The school was initially built in 1887 and was used until 1960. The restoration came about after a furnace malfunction, and with the help of volunteers and grants, the furnace was repaired, restrooms were added, and the porch was converted into a kitchen. At the end of 1991, the Teller County District Court named FHF trustee of the Florissant Pioneer Cemetery.

The residence of the school teacher, called a teacherage, was moved to the school in 1900. Some believe it may have been the Florissant Post Office prior to that. The small residence was moved to Woodland Park in 1960 and was used by the middle school.

In 1992, the Woodland Park school superintendent offered to donate the building to the foundation for $1. The Florissant Grange signed a 99-year ground lease for land on which to place the historic teacher residence. The residence was moved back to Florissant to a new foundation, new support beams, new siding, paint, and eventually a new roof. The residence then became the primary museum.

In 2001, the Florissant Heritage Foundation changed their name to the Pikes Peak Historical Society, Inc., and having fulfilled the goals of FHF, they identified new purposes: to encourage and stimulate preservation of the historical integrity of Florissant and the west slope of Pikes Peak and to educate the public regarding the same.

2005 was a very productive year for the PPHS, when it obtained a three-year operating lease at a cost of $20K with option to purchase a building for $240K to create a museum.

The 2220-square-foot building was constructed in 1992 as the Betticoat Junction Restaurant with a real estate office on the west end. In 1996, the building was converted to real estate and insurance company office space.

Officers and board members made a courageous decision to acquire the building, with the expectation that it could be financially feasible. “There were a few panic times along the way, but our fantastic volunteer membership carried us through each crisis,” said John Rakowski, the current PPHS president.

In August, the teacherage was refocused as a school with desks and other pieces after the museum building was acquired. The PPHS museum was formally opened Aug. 12, with a ribbon-cutting in the midst of a thunderstorm, with 200 guests including Mayor (donkey) Paco Bell.

The following year the option to purchase was exercised, with a mortgage of $82K held by Park State Bank. The total value of the building was $240K, and $25K was spent on repairs and upgrades. Community and member cash donations, along with grants, provided the remainder of the purchase.

Among the grantors were Penrose, Boettcher and Pikes Peak Community Foundations, Cowan Matching grant and a prominent donation by the family of Charles Walts, a direct descendant of Count Louis Otto de Pourtales, an early settler.

The parking lot was paved, and other outside improvements were made, at a total cost of $113K from grants and gifts. As of Dec. 12, 2019, the Pike’s Peak Historical Society owns the museum free and clear.

“The payoff was accelerated over the 2015-to-2019 time period because of generous donations from many of our members,” Rakowski said. He continued explaining that over the years, they had superb cooperation from Teller and Park County businesses, individuals and PPHS members in providing attractive donations for the annual auction in October, which helped ensure payments of mortgage principal, interest, and insurance.

PPHS owns and operates two museums: The Pikes Peak Historical Society Museum, at 18033 Teller County Road 1 across from the Florissant Post Office, and the Schoolhouse Museum, located at Teller County Road 31 and Wildhorn Road.

Volunteers serve on various committees to support the local the sites, including a cemetery committee that manages the historic Florissant Pioneer Cemetery on behalf of Teller County, a beautification committee that sponsors an area-wide clean-up each spring along U.S. Highway 24, planting flowers throughout the town of Florissant, a Chautauqua Committee that sponsors free educational programs each month and a Parks and Trails Committee.

The museum hosts a variety of exhibits featuring artifacts and historical moments in the settlement of the area, and development of local natural resources.

On display are a pair of giant four-foot-tall smoky quartz crystals found six miles north of the museum. They are reportedly the largest smoky quartz crystals documented to have been found in North America.

There are also gems and gold ore from the area, in addition to examples of other minerals. The section dedicated to the Ute Indians will soon be expanded. The Utes were the inhabitants who called this area home for many years prior to the arrival of the Spaniards and Europeans.

The interior entrance area is dedicated to Count Louis Otto de Pourtales, who had a homestead here, in addition to information about his cousin James Pourtales, who had the dairy farm which later became the Broadmoor Hotel property in Colorado Springs.

The museum doesn’t have regular open hours from November to March. Regular weekend hours will begin in April. However, they will gladly open upon request. Call 719-748-3861 to schedule a day and time, at least two days in advance. Admission is free.

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