The Elbert County Historical Society evolved from an early “Pioneer’s Picnic” in June of 1956. The picnic far exceeded the expectations of the sponsors, as a crowd of over 200 people -many of whom were descendants of early settlers- gathered at the newly constructed, red brick Kiowa Elementary School. Before the end of the day, the group had decided to organize a county historical society and elect a board of directors, with Jake Kruse being chosen as the first president. Their original vision of preserving the history of Elbert County through photographs and artifacts took shape in the years to follow as collected items were stored in barns and garages across the county, waiting until a museum could be established.
With a sense of historic pride in the mid-1970’s brought on by America’s Bicentennial; interest in the Elbert County Historical Society was rekindled and a younger generation of county residents embarked upon the ambitions of the original group. This second generation actively worked towards building a museum through their diligent fundraising efforts and continued perseverance towards collecting county relics.
The most recent renewal of the Elbert County Historical Society came in the early 1990’s, when it acquired the original Kiowa High School building. The unique design of the Spanish colonial revival style structure seemed to be the ideal location for a county museum and the timing couldn’t have been better. Built in 1921, the building had served its original purpose of educating the youth for 60 plus years, but after being replaced with modern facilities and used as storage for the school district; the structure was in a state of growing disrepair.
After the Society obtained the old school house in 1991, work began on the building and plans were drafted for its first displays. A grant made possible through the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities funded the first permanent exhibit Window to the Past, Door to the Future, which was unveiled in June of 1993 during the official opening ceremonies of the Elbert County Museum.
Today, 60 years later, the resolve of the Elbert County Historical Society remains intact and centered on preserving the county’s history for future generations.
The Elbert County Museum was originally built as the Kiowa High School during an era when one room school districts were consolidating to form larger ones. Kiowa Consolidated School District C2 is believed to have been one of the first in the county to begin consolidation, starting in 1920.
Working with Denver based architect and engineering firm, Gardner & Parry; and building contractor, W. F. Pigg; the Directors of Kiowa C-2 elected to construct a new building on the crest of the hill just east of the newly platted Kruse‘s Addition to the Town of Kiowa. It’s unclear how the Directors came to decide the building’s architectural style in an age where the predominant choice of construction in this area was either stick or frame. Never the less, the Spanish colonial architecture was chosen with its stucco, ornamental brickwork and tile, arched windows and doorways –all examples of a style that does not exist within a 50-mile radius.
By today’s standards, the building was constructed quickly with materials being shipped by train to Elbert; then hauled by team and wagon and automobile from Elbert to Kiowa. When its doors were opened to students in the fall of 1921, the new school house was hailed in the local paper as being entirely modern, complete with electricity, steam heat, indoor restroom facilities and a gymnasium in the basement. Although the gym on the lower level was small, it served its purpose until 1955 when it was replaced by the newly constructed red brick Kiowa Elementary School building next door and was subsequently carved into three classrooms. Over the next three decades the building functioned as the primary high school building until 1985, when the district finally retired the structure for a larger, more modern facility.
The Elbert County Historical Society acquired the building in 1991 and began the long, tedious task of repair and restoration on the old school house—a process that continues to this day. In 1993, the Elbert County Museum officially opened its doors. The building was named an Elbert County Landmark in 2000.