By Kathleen Spring
The Lyons railroad depot was severely damaged during the Flood of 2013, and Christina Wells became the Project Director for its restoration. During the annual May Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month Awards Ceremony in Boulder county, last night. Christina received the Heritage Roundtable Local History and Preservation Honor Award.
The sandstone depot was built in 1885. The railroad first served the quarry industry, but later also became a provider of popular weekend trips to the mountains.
Visitors could picnic in Meadow Park and catch a Stanley Steamer to Estes Park. The deport received some updating when it was converted into the town's community library in 1973. Forty years later, the slowly deteriorating building got its final blow when the Flood of 2013 brought several inches of flood water in and around the structure, making it unusable. It took approximately three years and $600,000 in grants to restore the building to its old glory. During the Open House last spring, visitors could appreciate the beaded ceiling, wood floors, the freight door with original hardware, the ticket window and more. Even some workers' graffiti on the stone wall was preserved.
Christina Wells was on the Library Advisory Commission, when she stepped up to help with the restoration. With the encouragement of the Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen and Town Board of Trustees, and some assistance from Lyons Volunteers and the Town's maintenance staff, Christina found herself taking on the enormous job of running the project. Mark Browning, who was on Library Advisory Board at the time, joined the Town's Task Force after the flood, and coordinated the Lyons Volunteers in doing demolition. He credits Christina with doing a superb job as Project Manager, stating that she gathered the historical information, worked with the architects, the contractor and the Town, and monitored the construction from start to finish.
While an insurance-provided remediation company was brought in to remove the moldy interior, they went too far and also removed interior finishes including historic wood wainscot and flooring, damaging plaster and other historic finishes in the process. The joist system under the floors in the stone Depot was resting in mud and rotted, thus the majority of the joists were removed leaving interior walls hanging.
Christina did extensive research into the building's history and brought it to State Historic Foundation's Historic Preservation Specialist, Estella Cole. Estella highlighted the significance of the building and the need for additional assistance to the SHF, and got grant funds. Including the crucial additional funds requested later, the total came to $210,000.
Insurance funding for repair did not cover historic preservation. FEMA funding was complicated and would not address secondary flood damage or overdue repairs. Therefore, Christina had to seek out other grants to cover the costs. In addition to the SHF, the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) gave $319,000. The Lyons Community Foundation, Longmont Community Foundation, St Vrain Flood Relief Fund, and Town of Lyons gave matching funds to complete the project. The Lyons Volunteers were essential to getting the job done. Not only did they remove flooring, dug out dirt, removed paneling that was not historic, stacked the brick pavers, thinned weeds, and more, but they moved out the thousands of books to a temporary location.
Beyond the funding, the people involved in conducting a proper historic restoration are equally important. Christina credits architect Tim Stroh with providing invaluable guidance and support by leading development of the scope of work and helping coordinate and prioritize with Estella Cole, of SHF. Bryan Construction did a thorough job. including all new electrical wiring, and brand new ADA restrooms. Library patrons well remember the single toilet that would only sometimes work. Local interior color consultant, Cathy Rivers, Colorworks, took cues from old paint chips found during demolition for inspiration. Meeting the building standards required strict professional oversight, resulting in a strong sense of architectural history being painstakingly retained.
The Lyons Historical Society was formed in 1973 in order to save the abandoned depot from being removed or destroyed. The building was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. In November 1975, after a prolonged legal battle, the title for the building passed to the Town of Lyons. With the aid of grants, scores of volunteers and donors pooled their efforts to restore the building and turn it into a library. Voters gave 1 mill for the Library's support. The Lyons Depot-Library was opened in November 1977. The Depot building is included in the Lyons Historic District, as of 1980, which includes fifteen historic sites, all built of native sandstone in the 1800s.
In 2016, the restored depot was selected as the winner of Downtown Colorado, Inc.’s (DCI) 2016 Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence, for Best Adaptive Reuse or Rehabilitation in a Small Community Category. The judges from the panel appreciated the efforts saying, “This project shows how a community can work together to save an important historic building... They did a great job of keeping it clearly a depot and retaining the important features.”
The restoration and opening of the depot was considered a Mile Stone event in healing the community after the flood. The Lyons Regional Library did not move back into the building. The Regional Library is located on Main Street, and its board hopes to build a new structure for the library on the current RTD parking lot property. The Town has expanded its office and meeting space into the depot building. The restored depot will remain a significant part of the town's early quarry history. Lyons Historical Society members LaVern Johnson and Kathleen Spring have compiled a history of the depot and the restoration into a free brochure, available at the Lyons Redstone Museum.
The annual Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month Awards Ceremony in Boulder County has awarded approximately seven honors to Lyons historians over the years. The Historical Society director, LaVern Johnson, stated at the ceremony, "We are very proud of the Depot, now restored in its glory. We certainly thank Mark Browning and the many Lyons Volunteers for all their work. And thanks to Christina Wells for the many hours spent on its restoration. And, the Town and the Lyons Historical Society for saving the building in 1977, and designating it as a Historic Site."
The museum is open weekends in May, and daily from Memorial Day to October 1. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and opening at 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is free or by donation. It is the depository of Lyons history, and multiple new exhibits open each year.