“Original Town is the only thing I know” – The Denver Post

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The 76-year-old matriarch sat at her nephew’s dining room table this week, remembering what she affectionately calls “Chavez’s compound,” home to generations who grew up in the same room. block from Original Town Superior, now completely burnt down.

As Elsie Chavez spoke, a parade of visitors – family, neighbors, friends – poured in with slow cookers of food, trash bags full of new and used clothes, gift cards, money and prayers.

No one bothered to knock.

Within hours, countless Colorado residents barged through the front door of Ryan Chavez’s Westminster residence and circled the sprawling family members to a house teeming with ‘je t ‘love’ and kisses on the cheek.

“It’s like someone is dead,” Elsie Chavez said.

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Elsie Chavez, left, and her sister Carmen Aranda take a break for coffee and cake after a long day dealing with insurance companies, banks and other places in Broomfield on January 6, 2022, after having lost their home and all their possessions in the Marshall fire last week.

While no one in the Chavez family was killed in the devastating Marshall Fire in late December, which cremated more than 1,000 homes in unincorporated Boulder County and the suburbs of Superior and Louisville, they are mourning the loss of the enclosure of Chavez, five houses on the same block where generations of this family have built their lives.

The Chavez, like the other mainstays of Original Town, are the descendants of the early families of coal miners whose hard work and determination brought the small town to life, then and now.

Members of this tight-knit family – Grandmother Elsie Chavez, Ted Chavez, Carmen Aranda and Loretta Chavez – sift through the ashes of history in search of anything that connects them to their roots in the original town of Superior. .

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Tyson Chavez inspects the damage on Jan.4, 2022, while sifting through what remains after homes belonging to his family were set on fire the previous week in the Marshall Fire in Superior.

“You bet we have an attitude”

Superior is approximately four square miles of primarily accommodation with a few shops nestled between Boulder and Broomfield. About 14,000 residents called the town home before the fire, the largest contingency living in the sprawling Rock Creek housing estate developed in the late 1980s, said Larry Dorsey, chairman of the Upper Historical Commission.

Coal miners founded Superior in 1896, and by 1900 about 135 people lived in the Coal Creek Valley, which included a general store, a candy and fruit store, several saloons, the Miner’s Trading Company, a boarding house for unmarried minors and a home for “working girls,” Dorsey said.

The mine has been active for about 50 years, he said, and produced nearly 4 million tonnes of coal during its time.

The coal mine closed in 1945, but some of the families descended from the original mining town residents never left, Dorsey said. The neighborhood, declared Original Town by its residents as a reminder that they started it all, is located west of McCaslin Boulevard northbound and south of Marshall Road.

The historic district was ravaged by the Marshall fire.

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Smoke envelops homes and covers the suns of historic downtown Superior as the Marshall Fire burns on December 30, 2021.

The latest damage assessment by Boulder County lists 378 homes in Superior among the total of 1,084 destroyed by the Marshall fire. It is not yet known what percentage of Superior’s losses occurred in Original Town, but Superior Mayor Clint Folsom has said the damage to that neighborhood is catastrophic.

“Just from my own driving over there during the fires and then the next day it’s just devastating,” Folsom said. “There are a few houses left, but the majority of the houses there are gone. “

Over the years, development has exploded around Original Town – planned communities, a mall full of chain restaurants and big box stores.

Age-old tensions between old and new, wealth and its absence, historic and modern have crept in, said Gladys Forshee, a resident of Original Town, who lost her home to the fire.

“We are Original Town and, yes, we have an attitude,” said Forshee, 80. “You bet we have an attitude, and we’re pretty darn proud of it.”

Forshee owned her Original Town property for 50 years and said she didn’t know what to do now that her house had burned down, but members of her rambling community were “like glue” and would understand it as they always have. .

“We understand this is the 21st century,” Forshee said. “We understand that new people are going to come, but don’t come thinking that you are a gift from God to save us because you are not.”

Carmen Aranda hangs on an urn ...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Carmen Aranda hangs onto an urn containing her son’s ashes, which she was able to save along with a few other personal items from the Marshall fire. The Chavez family, of which Carmen is a member, had been on their land in Superior for five generations before the Marshall fire burned down several of their homes.

“The small town began to grow”

Elsie Chavez’s grandfather was a coal miner from Original Town. The 76-year-old grew up in Original Town, raised her children there and now her children are raising their children there.

“The neighbors were part of the family,” said Ted Chavez, son of Elsie Chavez, who spoke during a wait with his insurance company seeking information on how to proceed after the blaze. his Original Town home.

“The neighborhood kids were spanked together. At dinner time, moms were shouting “Time to eat!” Through the door and everyone would come in. We used to play baseball together, and if we hit a ball out of someone’s window they would tell you to come back next weekend and do chores to pay for it. This is how the neighborhood was.

Soon the neighborhood with dirt roads and well water began to change. The roads were paved. City water and sewers have been installed.

“The little town started to grow around us,” said Elsie Chavez.

The Rock Creek subdivision entered the scene in the late 1980s.

“That’s when things really started to change because Original Town and Rock Creek were very different socio-economically,” Dorsey said.

The Chavez family stayed throughout it all, and when new neighbors moved in they said they welcomed them into the Original Town family.

“One of the things that really came to a head before this fire was what was to happen with long-time people whose ownership dates back decades, maybe even to the early 1900s, when the developers came in, bought out. a piece of land, divide it up and put houses in it, “Dorsey said.” The people who live there are pushed to sell and then where are they going? Gentrification was really coming to a head.

The Chavez family had no plans to go anywhere.

Birthday parties, barbecues, vacations, gathering when a neighborhood elder has passed away. The thief-thick neighbors wanted to show newcomers the true spirit of Original Town – a spirit the Chavez family, according to Dorsey and Folsom, could never be touched by flames.

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Elsie Chavez, left, kisses her friend and neighbor Gladys Forshee, 79, right, over their shared fence as they examine the total loss of their homes, which were burnt to the ground in the blaze from Marshall last week, Jan.4, 2022 at Superior. In the background is Forshee’s friend, Kathy LeMay, who was helping her sift through the ashes of her house.

A wish to rebuild

Although the neighborhood remained intact, unfortunately the buildings and properties of Original Town were no match for the rapidly moving suburban forest fires.

Dorsey and Folsom lamented the loss of an original town museum – one of the true mining camp societies houses the Upper Historical Commission and town rulers transformed into an educational and historical space about a year ago. decade.

The museum was transformed into a replica of what the tiny house would have looked like at the time, and an additional basement contained historical artifacts including miner’s clothes and safety gear, coal mining devices and a kitchen table from one of the original residents.

“It’s all gone now,” Dorsey said. “We’re just crushed by it.”

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Tyson Chavez holds a small set of porcelain angels which were among the only remains found on January 4, 2022, in the ashes of a house belonging to his grandmother Elsie Chavez after their homes were reduced to ashes during the Marshall fire last week at Superior.

As the Chavez family returned on Tuesday from assessing the damage to their original homes – a total loss across the board – they infiltrated Ryan Chavez’s home holding tiny treasures they pulled from the rubble.

Loretta Chavez found a necklace she bought for Elsie Chavez’s birthday. Elsie Chavez found a rosary. A few statues of angels were still standing, surrounded by ashes.

Elsie Chavez blames herself for not thinking about grabbing the shelves of photo albums documenting family life at the Chavez compound, but said they only had a few minutes to escape before hot embers started to rain down on them.

“We lost our things that we cannot replace, but we still have our memories,” said Ted Chavez. “We have good friends, neighbors and family. We are each other.

The most devastating wildfire in Colorado history won’t be the end of Original Town, Chavez said.

The family promises to rebuild.

“Original Town is the only thing I know of,” Elsie Chavez said. “I’ll move when the good Lord says it’s time. With this tragedy, I think the neighborhood will come back stronger and support each other. “

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Ted Chavez kneels on the ground on January 4, 2022, seeing his house in Superior, which burned down completely in the Marshall fire last week.


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