September
16th 2008
Dearfield Colony restoration update

Posted under: American history, local news, race

A volunteer cleaning up the Dearfield Colony. Photo by the Denver Post.

I wrote about the Dearfield Colony last summer, and current efforts by various local organizations and citizens to preserve what’s left of an important site for African American history in the west.  There’s an article today in the Denver Post containing an update on Dearfield, and on a recent site clean-up.  Dearfield was founded by Oliver Toussaint “O.T.” Jackson in 1908, and a handful of householders broke ground there in 1910.  “Early residents lived in tents, dugouts and even caves.  But in 10 years, Dearfield had grown to 700 people and boasted a church, schoolhouse, filling station, lunchroom and dance pavilion.”  The Dust Bowl put an end to this lively experiment, and the colony was abandoned in 1948.

Says La Wanna Larson, executive director of the Black American West Museum in Denver, “This town is in huge peril.  It will not stand another winter.”  The Greeley Museums, the Black American West Museum, and Weld county Commissioner Bill Garcia are working together to save the site and erect a monument to commemorate the centennial of the colony’s founding this year.

The Post also notes 100th anniversary celebration events:

The Friends of Dearfield will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the community with a celebration from 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 28.

The Black American West Museum will host a series of afternoon teas, lectures, tours, festivals and programs featuring the history and accomplishments of the settlers of Dearfield throughout the year. Participants also will be given the opportunity to tour Dearfield. For more information, call 303-482-2242.

Sounds like it’s time to plan a field trip!

7 Comments »

7 Responses to “Dearfield Colony restoration update”

  1. greg on 16 Sep 2008 at 8:57 am #

    The gentleman in the photo is George Junne who teaches Africana Studies at UNC and has been a hard worker in the fight to preserve Dearfield.

  2. Historiann on 16 Sep 2008 at 8:58 am #

    Thanks, Greg–that’s right. The Denver Post in the linked article identified him, but I didn’t in my caption.

  3. Rose on 16 Sep 2008 at 9:11 am #

    I’m so glad to hear that work on Dearfield is continuing, *and* to hear that the Greeley Museums are on board. Hope they’re able to preserve what’s left. There are so many remarkable little old towns out on the Plains that are literally eroding.

  4. Historiann on 16 Sep 2008 at 9:23 am #

    Thanks, Rose–I hope to get out for the celebration on the 28th, and perhaps I can take some pictures and write more about the work in progress.

  5. Indyanna on 16 Sep 2008 at 10:37 am #

    Wow, I totally wish it was July 7 again! I missed that part of that post, probably because I was still in major jet-lag from Down Under. It would be interesting to learn more about these little “colonies” within states and territories, esp. for those of us seaboard types who are in cognitive thrall to what might be called the “standard model,” wherein you had to have a parchment from some ancient monarch. Speaking of standard models, I think that the Dust Bowl is so heavily associated with a small part of the American West that many of us don’t think of its other and perhaps somewhat outlying manifestations.

  6. Tom on 16 Sep 2008 at 3:52 pm #

    What I always found most remarkable about Dearfield was both how much out in the middle of nowhere it is, and how quickly one passes it by at highway speed. It could, once upon a time, be a destination, when even automobile travel was necessarily slower, but now I fear it will be very hard to preserve it–precisely because it will be virtually impossible to turn it into a destination now–cars go by too fast, and Dearfield might always be between two places you want to be–rather than actually being one of the places you want to be. It’s true of other Colorado plains towns, too, though (I’m thinking of Keota, and maybe even New Raymer or Grover–though the rodeo in Grover can make it a destination one week a year). Highway travel, and the American obsession with cars more generally, is probably as much to blame for the disappearance of towns like Dearfield and Keota, I think, as the dust bowl–but it’s a lot more comforting (and I’m not pointing the finger at you, Historiann, but at our culture more generally) to identify the culprit as an act of God. If Dearfield was a whistle stop on the train line, people might still be living there.

  7. Historiann on 16 Sep 2008 at 4:34 pm #

    Tom–you make a very interesting point. But, from what I understand, the auto travelers’ services at Dearfield–the filling station and lunch counter–were actually a high point in the economic development of the colony. I still take your larger point about the style of car travel today, in any case–although it may be more due to the high speeds we can travel today, versus the more modest pace of travel in the 1930s and 1940s.

    The timeline in the Rocky Mountain News article here suggests that the high point of the colony was 1920-25, when the market for agricultural products dropped and a lot of the colonists were in debt because of the new machinery they had purchased. The depression started early for them, but it sounds like the dust bowl and the eventual death of O.T. Jackson finished it off by the mid-1940s. So, you’re right–it wasn’t an act of God. It was the slow strangulation of small agricultural towns in the 1920s and 1930s–which is very much a man-made disaster. (But, I’m sure the Dust Bowl was the icing on the cake for many holdouts in those small towns across the plains.)

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