Lost, and then Found, in the Rubble: Taylor Hall renovations unearth some interesting historical finds
Sept. 23, 2010 (by Matt Smith, Gunnison Country Times) -- About eight weeks ago construction crews stumbled upon an old Hershey’s candy bar wrapper while working on renovations to Taylor Hall on the Western State campus.
Items found on the south end of Taylor Hall included old newspaper clippings, Hershey's wrappers and mail -- all from the 1920s seen here. Photo by Matt Smith.
When they took a closer look, it became apparent just how old the wrapper was. Dating back to 1927, it’s possible that some absent minded kid dropped it in the back of class while attending the original Gunnison County High School.
A few days later, the crew struck historical gold. Scattered throughout the bottom of a chase, that has been enclosed by masonry walls since the south portion of the building was erected in 1921, were various documents in relatively good condition from an era long since passed.
“They started (demolishing) at the top and when they got to about the last five to ten feet (of the chase) was when they found all these papers,” said Andy McGarrity, project superintendent with Nunn Construction. “The odd thing was, they were just loosely dropped in the chase.”
As the 11-month reformation of the Western’s oldest building unfolds, small pieces of the past have been uncovered for the first time in decades. The stories provided by these excerpts of history have painted a picture of a rich cultural heritage that is not all that different from modern day life in the Gunnison Valley.
Among the heaping pile of paper that was gathered from the chase was one newspaper clippings that has a striking resemblance to the present day. To add to the paradox, it was in readable condition after 90 years of sitting in an air vent.
“What I think happened is that there was probably an open air register that either this stuff was dumped into or kind of fell down into,” said Ben White, a construction management consultant for WSC. “Historically, Taylor was heated by large masonry walls on the interior of the building and that’s kind of where the cavity was.”
The cartoon on the front the Oct. 30, 1920, edition of the Denver Post depicts a political figure credited as “Farmer Collins.” Beneath the cartoon, the caption reads: “Oh no! Collins isn’t a socialist — He’s a Democrat!”
Another interesting find came in an envelope postmarked Nov. 18, 1922, and addressed to Mr. Buell Crawford, which Western’s present day Crawford Hall is named after. Crawford also had signed off on a couple of $1 checks from the Gunnison Bank & Trust to the payment of “T. Oleary.”
On a small note card — dated Nov. 18, 1922 — Captain M.L. Blackburn of the 157th infantry informed members of his company about an impending inspection. All officers were to clean out their lockers immediately.
“It was very impressive,” said McGarrity, who delivered the box to college administrators. “For some of these documents to be as well preserved as they are, without the paper fading, is quite remarkable.”
The heart of Taylor
What is known as Taylor Hall today began as “Normal Hall” and was then named “North Hall.” After it was opened in 1911, a “South Hall” was built in 1921, which became Gunnison County High.
That same year, the first floor of “Central Hall” was erected, incorporating the three buildings into one structure. By 1929, the infrastructure for all four floors of the modern day building was established.
Now back to its bare bones, traces of the original construction reveal the many changes Taylor has gone through over the years. Locally harvested stone rubble and roughshod brick masonry are at the building’s heart.
“For Gunnison at that time, it was probably a really terrific chunk of architecture,” said White. “Having stood three massive remodels is really a testament to its original constructors.”
Historical architecture has been uncovered in the building from bottom to the top. A skylight found at the top of the building was added during renovations made in 1932, but the addition of a new roof in 1965 has concealed the window since then.
Plans to incorporate some of these historical elements of architecture are in place for the new Taylor Hall. Included in the remodel is replacing 235 windows with new energy efficient ones that are the same style and color as the building’s original windows.
The cornerstone of WSC
An article from the Oct. 28, 1910 edition of the Gunnison News-Champion recounts the day the State Normal School was dedicated.
“After dinner on Tuesday as the thousand or more spectators walked up toward the beautiful and imposing State
Normal School building now approaching completion at Gunnison, everything seemed to combine to render the exercises long to be remembered in the history of the city,” the story reads.
It also recounts the placement of the school’s cornerstone on the northwest corner of the building. Inside the cornerstone exists a time capsule, including reports from the board of trustees dated 1903 and 1910, “various pennies, nickels and dimes,” photos of town and other documents.
According to Julie Feier, associate vice president for finance and administration, there has been some talk about burying another time capsule when the school turns 100 in 2011. Feier could not confirm whether there are plans to dig up the old time capsule, but history has proven that it isn’t going anywhere.
Renovations on Taylor Hall are scheduled to be completed sometime next summer. Then another chapter to the building’s long tradition will begin.