Sanford History Museum spotlights businesses

Photo by Diane Drekmann Warren Crowther shared the story of his family's dairy farm in Sanford. Crowther's Dairy was an institution in the San Luis Valley.

SANFORD — The Sanford History Museum put a "spotlight" on its history April 15, featuring local people who shared their memories growing up in Sanford.

Sanford History Museum was started in 1995 by Mary June Miller, who wrote a number of books about local history, Madge Perko and Gary Bailey.

"The building was built in 1937 as a WPA project, and has been a town office, library, kids held band practice, and it acted as school after the school burned down,” said Frankie Colton, president of the museum’s board of director.

The Sanford History Museum is run by volunteers and managed by the board of directors. Volunteer Kimberly Christensen was happy to share the exciting events coming to the museum. She began the spotlight program to focus on different aspects of Sanford history. The program started in February and runs every other month.

For April, Warren Crowther shared the story of his family's dairy farm. Crowther's Dairy was an institution in the San Luis Valley. Generations of children grew up on the milk from Crowther's Dairy.

Warren's grandfather started Crowther Dairy in 1949. He had been a sheepherder. Sold his sheep and started milking cows.

"We were the first dairy,” Warren said. “Now, we are the last."

He remembered a time when there were half a dozen dairies.

"People got their milk delivered door to door in glass bottles,” Warren said. “They would leave a ticket telling how much milk they wanted. They put the milk in a panel truck and delivered it from Fox Creek to Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge to La Jara and Mogote."

They supplied milk to the schools and community. Warren Crowther recalls, "The dairy gave employment, used local supplies. Kids would come for a tour."

The dairy, like others, homogenized and pasteurized their own milk for 15 years. Then the government required their milk to be transported in refrigerated trucks. No longer could the dairies process their milk in San Luis Valley. Meadow Gold bought Crowther's Dairy and sold their milk for 20 years, but now the milk went 300 miles to Colorado Springs to get homogenized and pasteurized.

Dairy farms became bigger and more expensive to maintain. That led to the decline in local family dairies.

“Everyone is old. Kids don't want to continue the tradition. People don't want to miss family time because of the business," Warren said.

Life on a dairy farm is hard. The cows need to be milked 2-3 times a day around the clock. Crowther's Dairy currently has 175 cows.

"That used to considered a medium size herd. Now 1,000 cows is a small farm. The trend is everything is getting bigger," Warren said.

Sharlene Barr-Gowdy, another lifelong resident of Sanford, shared her memories of growing up in Sanford. Her parents owned a successful store that saw a similar fate.

Eugene and Gladys Barr (Jim and Sis) owned Barr's. Her father was a sheepherder, and master butcher.

"He cut everything up with his cleaver," Sharlene said. Her father would be gone six months out of the year while the family ran the store. Kit Carson's grandson had a store in Sanford, and he sold the Barrs his inventory, but not the building for a flock of sheep. They moved into the Peterson building.

"It was a grocery and also sold dry goods and clothes. It was a department store," Sharlene said.

She loved that store, taking care of customers. They used to bring the customers' things home and put them away.

"The cash register had a marble top,” she said. “That was a counterfeit measure. Silver pennies made a ping. You knew that was a good coin. Lead pennies made a thud, therefore knew it was counterfeit."

They also used a particular fluid to check for counterfeit, like a process used today. Although some robbery occurred when an inmate escaped from Canon City prison, generally people used the honor system.

"There was no need to steal,” Sharlene said. “There was a party line. If someone attempted to shoplift, everyone would know right away. Your word was golden."

Sharlene wanted to buy the store after her parents retired, but her father would not let her.

"He said, ‘You'll never make it. The big stores are coming in’," she said.

Indeed, as Alamosa grew, businesses went there, and her dad's words were prophetically true. Sharlene remembered Sanford had something for everyone.

"Sanford had everything here,” she said. “There was no need to go anywhere. There was a bakery, doughnut shop. A popular dance club called Tivoli (named after the Danish settlers who came to San Luis Valley.)”

The museum has pieces of the Tivoli floor, which had springs in it for a bouncy experience.

"Kids used to get together from surrounding La Jara and Manassa for bare-knuckle fighting,” Sharlene said. “Schools, businesses, the town did stuff together. Everyone was accepting of everyone. If a kid got lost, everyone would stop what they were doing and help look for the kid. It was fun times. It was a good place to grow up."

Later, when looking at her senior class of 1967, Sharlene remarked, “half of my classmates are gone."

Scott Kreps, a volunteer at the Sanford History Museum recalled, "playing in the swamps of Frogland," another name for Manassa. Before the dams and reservoirs, Manassa was always flooded. Kreps grew up on a dairy farm with all the milk he could drink. Then his family moved to Las Alamos for the school year and later moved back to the family farm. His daughter, Trudy, owns the only store left in Sanford — the Sanford Country store, which has been operating for 40 years.

Kimberly Christensen, although not raised in San Luis, returned to Sanford, and works at the Sanford History Museum to learn more about her family's history there. She has organized a logo contest; the deadline is May 31. More information is available on the Sanford History Museum Facebook page.

The Sanford History Museum in June will spotlight the history of Sanford School from Superintendent Kevin Edgar, who will be retiring in July. Because the museum is run by volunteers, there are no regular hours. For more information, call Colton at 719-580-4114.