This week, volunteers took to Boettcher Mansion to replace the garden arbors that had been deteriorating there. On Wednesday, I had the chance to drive up to the top of snow-covered Lookout Mountain in Golden, CO and experience the action for myself!
Boettcher Mansion is the mountain retreat house of Charles Boettcher, a wealthy entrepreneur in the hardware business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The house was built for the Boettcher family in 1917, made entirely of locally-resourced materials. The grand house fits in perfectly with its surroundings and is now located within the Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve. The garden arbors were located near the entrance to the house, and by the time I made it, the volunteer crew had already pulled them down and started work on tracing new ones.
As this was my first HistoriCorps project, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I learned fast. Everyone on the project – on any HistoriCorps project – has varying experience, from years of woodworking and construction experience to absolutely none whatsoever (*cough – me…).
One of the things you learn quickly is that that doesn’t matter. No matter how little or how much experience you have, everyone is treated equally. And no matter what age or gender you are, at HistoriCorps it’s a given that you want to learn and you can learn more. More often than not, throughout my day, I continued to hear others saying, “This is fun; I’ve never done this before!” I’m pretty sure that everything I did on Wednesday – using a worm saw, chiseling wood, drilling holes, and using a jigsaw along tracer lines – was completely new to me and yet I felt so accomplished and useful by the end of the day!
Probably what makes a HistoriCorps project so successful and fun are the people you’re working with. There’s nothing like learning the tools and figuring out a construction job to pull a group of strangers together! In just 9 hours on the job, I learned that Bobby likes to teach construction to high schoolers (and he is truly a fantastic teacher!); Preston recently took a woodworking class and mastered the techniques perfectly, if the curved diagonals on the arbor are any indication; Susan is from Massachusetts (with the accent to prove it!) but moved out to Colorado so she wouldn’t be a stranger to her new grandchild; and Chris is an RN who is part of a garden club, and an eager learner. Some of the volunteers have been participating in projects for years now, like Preston and Bobby, and some are brand new, like me and Chris. HistoriCorps welcomes volunteers of all ages, starting at 14, and all experience. The more learned members of the group are only too happy to show off their skills and teach you how to do it all yourself, stepping back to let you make your own mistakes and successes.
From just one day, I learned a ton and met so many amazing people – imagine what will happen when you spend an entire week with a HistoriCorps project! The volunteers who work on HistoriCorps projects are quite special people, and you’ll discover that every day, as soon as you arrive. Give it a try and you’ll experience it too!
By the end of the day, seeing the nearing-completion state of the garden arbor’s crossbeams was such a fantastic thing. Knowing that you contributed to something so cool, and something that visitors are going to see every day, gives you a pretty great feeling.
Future HistoriCorps projects are taking place all across the country this summer – jump on your own project and contribute to the history of some great places ad spaces. Maybe we’ll see each other there!