Elbert County, named for Governor of the Territory of Colorado Samuel Hitt Elbert, was created in February of 1874 from eastern portions of Douglas County. To set the scene: “In March of this same year, Elbert County commissioners met with Douglas county commissioners and divided property. Elbert County got three pairs of handcuffs; Douglas county got one pair of handcuffs and one set of shackles. Other properties to be divided were eighteen chairs, two stoves, and a safe” (“Page from booklet – picture of Duncan Matheson”). From humble beginnings, Elbert County has retained much of its original character, where horses graze in wide-open pastures, picket fences run along the roadside and people still tip their hats to you as they pass.
This summer, Pines & Plains Libraries (P&PL), which serves Elbert County with locations in Kiowa, Elbert, Elizabeth, and Simla, launched a Digital Collection chronicling the area’s agricultural past from the beginning of the 20th century, to the relative bustle of the early and mid-century, brought by the arrival of the Rock Island Railroad line and the industry that followed.
According to Pines & Plains Libraries director Tim Miller:
“This project is an ongoing effort, which seeks to identify and digitize historical artifacts for the area in and immediately around Elbert County, Colorado. P&PL libraries in Elbert, Elizabeth, Kiowa, and Simla have served as repositories for rare books, other written pieces, and a limited amount of physical artifacts associated with the county and its communities. In 2012, after the formation of the Simla Library spearheaded the effort to establish the Simla Historical Society, P&PL became aware that no entity or citizen(s) had prioritized the preservation and dissemination of the county’s history through digitization. On a limited, volunteer basis, the Simla Library and the historical society’s leadership began to collect both more physical and digital artifacts. The library district’s website was limited in storage and scope, as was that of Elbert County Historical Society. Therefore, Facebook became a sort of default space, in which the library and its partners shared basic digital artifacts. In 2020, P&PL administration became aware of the Colorado State Library’s CVL Collections program, which assists local organizations in digitization and preservation through implementation of individual instances of Omeka. Since then, the District has been working with the State Library to create a collection on the internet, which anyone can visit to learn about Elbert County area history.”
The collection has now been shared with the Plains to Peaks Collective, and its items are discoverable through the Digital Public Library of America, a national platform for digitized historic collections.
Simla & Matheson Areas
Currently composed of over 20 items organized geographically into collections devoted to the Simla and Matheson areas, P&PL’s digital archive depicts several decades of life in the region primarily through images, but also includes a robust oral history with life-long Simla resident Donald Lemley, who shared his story. When asked what the greatest change to the town had been during his lifetime he said:
“The decline of the town. That’s really been the main thing. Agriculture got bigger and of course, at that time a lot of folks were trying to make it on 160 acres. And, that worked for a little while, while the ground was new, and it produced more, and it seems like they had more moisture then….. Then the war came along…. And everybody was farming everything, and the town was just booming at that time… but, it just wasn’t meant to be farmed, really.”
Lemley’s family operated a ranch northeast of Simla, but he eventually sold the cattle to pursue aircraft mechanics and worked for Beech Aircraft for the remainder of his career. His message to future generations that might listen to his words remained, “it’s a good place to live.” See why and watch the collection grow by visiting: https://pplibraries.cvlcollections.org. Per Tim Miller, “as time goes on, more volunteers are trained, and more artifacts are procured and entered into the collections, it will grow to be a rich and robust archive for the preservation of local history and culture.”
If you would like to learn more about sharing your organization’s historical collections through CVL-Collections, please contact:
Collaborative Programming Coordinator
Colorado State Library