Page 17 - CrestedButteNews

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In the 1940s and ‘50s, door-to-door Sears
salesmen convinced homeowners across
America to upgrade and modernize
with aluminum siding, which supposedly
never needed painting, and huge picture
windows to welcome the outdoors. While
large windows might have been a popular
choice for most of the world, they were
impractical for a dusty coal mining town
at nearly 9,000 feet in altitude with 300
inches of annual snowfall, extended win-
ters and sub-zero temps. Nevertheless,
the house was given that mid-20
ry facelift. By the turn of the millennium
the place had fallen into disrepair and
needed extensive work.
Mary and her beau, local carpenter Steve
Farley, along with Colin, went to work
from the foundation up. When the house
was lifted off the old stone foundation to
make way for a new concrete one, they
discovered old bricks from the coke ovens
of the town’s coal mining days.
Coke is a form of coal that burns much
hotter and brighter and was widely used
in domestic heating because it had few-
er impurities and produced little or no
smoke. To make coal coke, the mines
would essentially bake the coal in large,
domed brick ovens, which in Crested
Butte lined the Bench area where the
skate park and Big Mine Ice Rink are
now. When the coke ovens in town were
taken out of use, many of the bricks
found their way into the houses of locals
to fortify weak foundations or to insulate
or distribute heat from their stoves. The
MacMillan boys recycled the bricks into
their lovely backyard garden.
Colin claims he reminded himself of
the old-time miners after working on the
house daily— except for his ankles and
the lines of his respirator mask, he was
covered in the fine black dust. As with
most, if not all, Crested Butte homes, a
couple of inches of coal dust permeated
and layered everything, from the inner
walls to the dirt under the house. The
family team took out the original wood
and coal burning stove, which was still in
its place from a lifetime of use.
The brothers were especially intrigued
with the local history and its mines so
they were delighted to find a cache of
glass bottles from various eras. While
the backhoe crew was digging out the
alley to run a new gas line, they uncov-
ered a hole with a slab of rock covering
it. It turned out to be an old Prohibition
stash of bottles, one still corked—and the
equipment crew didn’t hesitate to down
its vintage liquid contents (apparently,
they survived).
They also found bottles in the buried
outhouse sites (no one drank from those,
however). It wasn’t that long ago that
outhouses were still in use in Crested
Butte—some of the notorious and his-
toric two-storied ones can still be found
in the back alleys, where the second
story was accessed after the snows bur-
ied the lower door. When an outhouse
was deemed full, the residents would
toss their unwanted items and garbage
into the hole before burying everything
and moving the structure to a freshly
dug hole. As a result, searching for old
outhouse sites is a popular pastime for
treasure hunters.