We’ve just returned from a visit to Prescott, Arizona, a former mining town south of the Grand Canyon. The town wears its history like a badge.
Besides all the historic markers around the town square, perhaps a third of the houses in the residential area nearby bear handsome bronze plaques, announcing that the U.S. Department of the Interior has placed the property on the National Register of Historic Places.
A land surveyor out marking property lines told me that all those historic markers resulted from a campaign by the town government several decades ago. This set me wondering.
Those well-kept Victorian houses are charming, sure, but they’re no more “historic” than many buildings in Dubois. Why aren’t our old structures on the Register?
It’s easy to check. I looked up the National Register of Historic Places online. Several properties in Dubois are listed, in fact. They include two original guest ranches (the CM Ranch and Brooks Lake Lodge), Welty’s store, and the Twin Pines motel.
But why not the historic Dennison Lodge, which once famously hosted Clark Gable and Carole Lombard? Why not St. Thomas church, built a century ago by some of the same fellows who cut the railroad ties? Why not the little cabin that Tony Dolenc brought down from the tie hack village up Union Pass, after the operations up there closed down and he became manager of the Mercantile?
One answer is obvious, if you read the rulebook. Properties aren’t accepted for the National Register if they have been moved (Dennison, Dolenc cabin) or if they are religious buildings (St. Thomas).
Another answer came to me only yesterday: We actually like to keep quiet about the identity of our favorite historic structures.
I lived here for several years before I learned who the hill west of our house was named after, and what went on in her establishment over the hill, whose only remnant is a stone fireplace. Curiously Jerome, Arizona, does mount historic plaques about establishments like that, but we continue to be fairly discreet about Mabel.
You probably have to go on one of the great hikes sponsored by the Museum, and get breathless climbing some pretty steep slopes, to see what remains of the traps that ancient Shoshones built hundreds of years ago to capture wild sheep.
You also need to take a Museum trek, or find someone who knows about them, to visit our remarkable collection of petroglyphs. The teepee rings on Table Mountain are very difficult to find. I had to ask a friend to take me on the jolting road across the plateau to locate the spot where the Shoshone had fabulous views from their tent flaps. I’d gone up there myself, but I couldn’t find them.
These relics are precious and vulnerable, so we don’t just bandy the locations about.
One of our newest claims to historic fame actually is on the National Register, put there recently by an enthusiastic graduate student in archaeology. High in the wilderness east of town, its discovery inspired a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to designate Dubois as “the epicenter of Rocky Mountain archaeology.”
Nobody’s hosting any guided walking tours to High Rise Village, the first of many ancient Native American occupation sites to be identified at a very high altitude in the Greater Yellowstone region. Until then, nobody suspected that the earliest humans in this area occupied villages at such breathtaking heights.
Because of their location and their age, these sites seem to overturn a favored theory about how humans migrated across North America. This has been of great interest to archaeologists.
It takes several hours on horseback to reach it, and the better part of a day to walk back down. You’d be hard-put to find the site if you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for. Except to trained archaeologists, this very historic place looks like nothing more than a bunch of rocks lying around.
Registered or not, it’s our kind of historic place: Very old, fairly well hidden, quite a treasure.
© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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