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A group of Colorado State University graduate students recently gained professional experience in the art of going back in time by performing a historical analysis of churches and a sugar-beet factory in the town of Windsor.
Adam Thomas, an instructor in the Department of History who had previously done a historical analysis of downtown Windsor, turned to the students in his graduate seminar on state and local history when town officials asked for additional services.
Each student took on a different church in town, and a team of three tackled the remains of the sugar-beet factory, interviewing property owners and scouring archives over the course of the fall semester. They compiled reports, photos, maps and other materials about the architectural history of each structure — and the cultural history of the churches’ congregations.
“It was like a historical treasure hunt,” said grad student Hailey Groo. “You felt like Indiana Jones, digging into old newspapers and jumping up and down when you found a particular photo you were looking for.”
They publicly presented their findings to the Windsor town board and historic preservation commission on Dec. 5. The session was preceded by an open house/poster session that allowed local residents to talk with the students about their findings.
“It’s been great working with the CSU students,” said Windsor Senior Planner Josh Olhava. “It gives you so much experience, presenting to the town board and not just working behind the scenes. The students have been very professional and were able to uncover a lot of stuff we didn’t have before.”
For instance, he said, one of the students got a rare glimpse inside the tunnel system that runs underneath the sugar-beet factory.
“They are now the authorities on these properties,” Olhava said. “Hearing what they were able to do and see, I was a little jealous!”
“Our careers will be spent performing this type of work, so it was good to get out of the classroom and get real-world experience doing it,” said Groo, who filled a 33-year-gap in the First Christian Church of Windsor’s record of previous pastors, extending the list of names back to 1898.
In addition to documenting each building’s physical change — in some cases going back more than a century — the grad students chronicled histories of congregations moving, merging and splintering over the years, as well as the culture and traditions of church members, many of whom are descendants of the German-Russian immigrants who settled in the area.
Olhava said the town is obligated by the state to document the history of its properties, and he plans to post all of the CSU students’ findings on the town website next spring, perhaps in the form of a digital walking tour.
In addition to Groo, the participating students were Kaitlyn Cherry, Dustin Clark, Beth Hodgell, Jedediah Jackman, Maggie Moss Jones, Bennett Lee, Katherine Oldberg, Dylan Perry, Ray Sumner and Natalie Walker.
“I think it was great for us to be able to get these resources ourselves,” Jones said. “We were there for every piece in compiling this history. There’s something really valuable about that.”
“They all did a fantastic job,” Thomas said of his class. “I was really proud of them, and CSU’s history department shined through.”