Sunday, September 14, 2014
Dee Breitenfeld: It was all about the history
Many years ago, I think I first encountered Dee Breitenfeld at the first meeting of the Teller County Centennial Committee, way back before the most-recent turn of the century, in the fall of 1998.
Liz Hook, working for the County at the time, pulled together a ragtag group of local notables that included, among others, Dee, Greg Winkler, Ed and Jeanette Zupancic, and several others, including myself. Our mission, should we decide to accept it, was to mark, and call attention to, the county's 100-year birthday.
Within, a few moments of that first meeting, I recognized one self-evident truth.
Dee Breitenfeld, in all her years with the Ute Pass Historical Society and other organizations, her residency in Teller all of her life, and an innate understanding of the area —was markedly more valuable in this endeavor than any three to five, of the rest of us.
Marion Vance recalls Breitenfeld's energy for preserving history, as a member various coalitions, the Ute Pass Historical Society, Teller County Historic Advisory Board and the county's Centennial Committee.
“In so many ways Dee was the heart of the volunteer community,” Vance said. “She really had a long-term creative vision.”
Breitenfeld's take on history was somewhat like Winston Churchill's, only without the arrogance.
“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it,” Churchill said at one point.
Dee efforts were similarly driven, but without the selfish bend and concern about her place in that history. She wanted to get all down — it was important — no vital — but she didn't suffer a lick from self-importance.
Tiring of having to go all the way to Colorado Springs to register land, mining, and other official documents, and seeing their tax dollars travel down the hill, mine owners and others pushed hard for the creation of Teller County is the 1890s. Teller County was created out of western El Paso County and the Northeastern tip of Freemont on March 23, 1899.
The property where the Courthouse now rests, at 101-105 West Bennett Avenue, was at one time owned by the Stanely brothers who sold it to Stewart McDougall shortly after the fires of 1896 destroyed wood structures that once resided there, according to Brian Levine’s book “Cripple Creek: City of Influence.” Levine was Historic Preservation Director for Cripple Creek at the time of writing the 1994 book.McDougall built a 100-foot wide, two-story brick building that the Palace Hotel leased and after Teller County was established, county offices resided.
In 1900, the county purchased the property and proceeded on plans to build a grand courthouse building. Architect A.J. Smith of Colorado Springs designed the building and general contractor J.E. Devy was hired to build.
After being finished in 1904 at a cost of $60,000, the Courthouse proudly displayed the following features: gilt chandeliers, oak paneling with mahogany trims, skylights, gold standing electric fixtures (the building originally required 400 electric lamps to light it), standpipes with hose nozzle attachments, public drinking fountains, two 75-horse power boilers for steam heat, a Skinner high-speed engine with 110-volt dynamo for electricity, hardwood floors, and marble counters.
Teller County, right from the start, developed a proud vision of what it was to become. Dee, of course, understood that.
By March of 1999, 100 years after the creation of this county, we stood on out there on a windy hill in Cripple Creek at a dedication ceremony one Saturday, and with Breitenfeld's uncomplaining guidance, knowledge and understanding of importance, marked the notable passage of time.
But to her credit, and garnering all of respect possible from such a group of people, it was never, for an instant, about her. Despite having lived a great part of it, recorded it for years, listened intently to family and friends talk about and tell stories about it, with Dee, it was all about the history.
History will be kind to someone like her, who managed such great effort to preserve it.