By Laura-Claire Corson, Camera Staff Writer
Wise family shares depiction of life in late 1800s
For more than 135 years, the Wise family has lived on the same lot in Erie. Now, thanks to Sarah Wise – the only remaining family member who lives there – the public can enjoy a piece of the town`s history when the Wise Homestead Museum opens today.
The quaint, white farmhouse started as a family home completed in 1872 on what is now the eastern edge of Erie, just off U.S. 287. It`s now a rich museum filled with family furniture, photos and artifacts.
For Wise, 84, the ribbon-cutting ceremony today will signify the culmination of a project more than 15 years in the making. She first decided to create a museum in the early 1990s.
“I hope people leave the museum with an appreciation of how much work it was for a poor family to live in the 1860s and 1870s, ” she said. “They had no money. … They had to be very resourceful.”
The Wise family first rooted itself in Colorado in 1869, a time when gold prospectors had settled in the area and just eight years after the Colorado Territory was established. The Wise family – Sarah`s great-grandfather O.E. Wise, his wife, Ada, their three children and two cows – moved to Colorado from Wisconsin in search of a drier farming climate because Ada Wise had asthma.
They lived in a log cabin until they built their home.
In 1869, O.E. Wise built a main room and a couple of bedrooms for the family to live in, using newspaper, plaster, animal hair and mud to help insulate the house during the bitter winters. Three years later, a family room, bathroom and three extra rooms were added.
The children painted a rug on the stairs because they didn`t have enough money to own a real one. That, along with the doors, floors and windows, remains from the 1870s.
In three rooms, the wallpaper that adorns the walls and ceilings was re-created to replicate the intricate designs from the 1870s. Mica – a shiny mineral found in rocks – was an important part of the re-creation because it helped reflect light when the only form of light was candles.
“The wallpaper is my favorite part. It`s really beautiful and exciting to have the exact same design, ” said Carol Affleck, a family friend who is head designer and coordinator of the house`s restoration. The detailed wallpaper replication cost about $37,000, Wise said.
The entire project cost about $155,000; the money came from grants and donations. The Colorado Historical Society granted the homestead $105,000 between 2000 and 2006. More than $50,000 was raised in donations, said James Stratus, a historical society employee.
About 60 percent to 70 percent of the house`s artifacts belong to the Wise family. However, a couple of exhibits will feature items donated by the Erie Historical Society.
The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays or by appointment.