At first glance, the open space in southeastern Weld County may not show progress, but significant work continues to rebuild a former black community long lost to its historic past.
Dearfield, the site of the 50-60 acre town dating back to the early 20th century, is progressing to a higher national profile. According to a University of Northern Colorado professor who has been involved in preservation and restoration efforts for more than a decade, the journey to earning National Historic Landmark designation within the National Park Service will take time.
With the help of grants and the advocacy of two US representatives from Colorado, Dearfield could achieve NPS designation within the next four to six years. A National Historic Landmark is a form of National Historic Landmark illustrating the heritage of the United States, according to the NPS website. There are over 2,600 National Historic Landmarks in the form of buildings, structures, objects, and districts.
“I think we’re doing everything we can to make this happen,” said Bob Brunswig, professor emeritus of anthropology at UNC. “I can’t guarantee it, but it looks good.”
In 1995, Dearfield’s owner, the Black American West Museum in Denver, listed Dearfield on the National Register of Historic Places. The register is a list of historic places worthy of preservation, the NPS website says. The Park Service also lists Dearfield as a National Historic District and includes the town in Homestead National Historic Park.
Dearfield’s significance was its status as Colorado’s largest black settler colony. The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed anyone over the age of 21 or the head of the family to apply for free federal land with two stipulations: be a U.S. citizen or legally declare an intention to become a citizen; and did not fight the United States or aid its enemies, according to the National Park Service website. Nearly 4 million settlers colonized land in 30 states over 123 years.
Earlier this month, Brunswig and the University of Northern Colorado — a partner in Dearfield’s effort — secured a $49,216 grant to fund an architect’s plan to assess the work needed and the costs associated with bringing the interiors of Dearfield’s buildings up to historic preservation standards.
The grant was awarded by History Colorado, a nonprofit organization and a division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. History Colorado operates historic museums and sites and the History Colorado State Historical Fund, which was the source of the Dearfield Grant and is the largest such preservation program in the nation, according to the History Colorado website. The organization is defined as the “memory of the State”.
Obtaining funding from History Colorado, along with ongoing exterior building work and site exploration and excavation, should enable Dearfield funders to pursue another step in the National Historic Site process. in 2024 – the conversion of the buildings into restored historic structures with meeting and education space, according to Brunswig.
“We will prepare the property for designation,” Brunswig said. “Once we get the designation, it will be administered by the National Park Service. It’s progressive. »
Last year, an NPS program awarded UNC nearly $498,000 for restoration and preservation work in Dearfield. The NPS African-American Civil Rights Grant Program awarded UNC $497,776 for the Dearfield Dream Project, a collaborative research effort including Brunswig and Africana studies professor George Junne.
Earlier this year, US Representatives Ken Buck and Joe Neguse introduced the Dearfield Study Act for the US Department of the Interior and the NPS to determine Dearfield’s significance for inclusion in the NPS system.
The Dearfield Dream Project was created 10 years ago as a long term plan or vision for the Dearfield site. In 2008, former Weld County Commissioner Bill Garcia established the Dearfield Committee as an advisory group to the Black American West Museum region, Brunswig said.
The $497,000 grant will be used to stabilize one of the buildings on the city site, remove hazardous materials and restore the exteriors of the former gas station and a building that once belonged to the founder of Dearfield, OT Jackson.
Brunswig hosted volunteers in Dearfield the last weekend in June to help with excavation and groundwork. Among the volunteers were Elias Quinonez and Reymundo Chapa from Colorado State University. Quinonez and Chapa visited Dearfield for the first time, and they worked in and around a collapsed building known as the attic where they were joined by other volunteers to survey the site and document and record the finds.
Quinonez, a UNC graduate, is the student life and diversity officer at CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Chapa, an archaeologist and anthropologist by training, is pursuing a doctorate in archeology at the University of Wyoming.
Chapa is the executive director of the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands at CSU. The center is headquartered at the university and is a service unit of the Warner College of Natural Resources.
Quinonez said he learned about Dearfield through Junne, who spoke to CSU about Dearfield in February. Interested in diversity in agriculture, Quinonez said he wanted to learn more about Dearfield and asked Chapa to come along for a weekend volunteer experience.
“It’s keeping the story relevant that marginalized identities have influence in agriculture,” Quinonez said. “It’s a story that I don’t see in higher education. In my efforts to validate this or to encourage this, here is our proof. It’s 60 miles away.
Chapa said while he was aware of Dearfield, he did not know it was the site of active searches. With his background in archeology and anthropology, Chapa said he appreciates and understands the extensive research or “fundamental work” over the years that has brought Brunswig and his colleagues to today – where they can ask more questions. wide and wider on Dearfield.
Chapa is also interested in diversity in his field. Any information he can learn to help him with his studies and future work will benefit him. Both men have said they want to maintain their relationship with Dearfield.
“As a Colorado resident, I want to tell stories of minorities coming west,” Chapa said. “I want to be part of the discussion about the minorities who helped make the West. It is a collaboration between minorities to tell all the stories.