Monday, March 8, 2010

Lyons, Colorado: In the Footsteps Of Donald And Mary

The continuation of “Finding Donald and Mary Livingston(e)”

Waking up in the hometown of Donald and Mary Livingstone after coming in the night before in the dark, on this impulsive journey to find my family history, I was clueless as to what the town of Lyons, Colorado would look like. Since it was listed as my Great-Great Grandfather Donald’s home where he died, instead of returning home from a business trip to Denver, I rented a car from the Denver airport and drove to Lyons on a Friday night in March.

My view from my window Saturday morning showed a bright sunny day that still had that sharp deceptively cold glint to it. It was obviously a very small town.

My boss called at 7:00am and so I was awake way too early to start calling the on people who’s numbers I’d gotten the night before from Andrea the kind owner of Andrea’s Homestead Cafe, an authentic German restaurant in Lyons where I had lighted the night before and gleaned a wealth of information from Andrea and Randy over some single malt. I started a pot of coffee, provided in my ancient kitchenette, took a shower and started planning my day warming my hands around the old dappled cream ceramic mug.

I killed time until 8:30 and headed to Andrea’s for some ham & cheese crepes and eggs. Andrea got hung up at home and so I started calling the names on my list. Bill Boone, quarry owner, no answer, Mrs. Laverne (everyone called her Mrs. LaVern even though LaVern was her first name), no answer, another quarry owner, no answer. I finished my coffee and headed to the library.

Merlin, the librarian was an interesting person. She gathered all the quarry books she could find and we looked through the indexes for Livingston(e)s. None. Not a one in any book. I was starting to think I was definitely going to be on the evening flight home.

Sitting talking to Merlin about another possibility, the Carnegie Library in Boulder and the amazing local event of a mule giving birth on the mountain (mules are mostly sterile so this was quite and event and six months later was still being talked about all over town), I cracked open one of the quarry books and left it open on my lap. As we were talking, I glanced down at the open page to see “June 21, 1916 Donald Livingstone my Brother-in-law died in Lyons, Colo. Was taken to Denver for burial. Age 53 years. “ I shouted HOLY COW! I did not get shushed.

The page was towards the end of the Diary of James L. and Rosina Lowe. After reading a bit I knew several things. Mary’s maiden name was Lowe. I had wondered what drew them to Colorado and now I knew that they moved to Colorado because her family was there and working in a quarry. Donald and James owned or leased a quarry of their own but in those days $20 would get you a quarter acre of quarry land and you could “Own your own quarry”. You couldn’t make enough money from it to support a family so the quarrymen all in town worked for Murphy’s Quarry, a huge quarry to the north. The Murphy became the Brodie and the Brodie was owned by the Boone family. I needed to buy this book. “A history of the Lyons Sandstone Quarries by Alfred C. Pace”. Merlin called Al to see if we could speak but he didn’t answer. She said he works nights so I should try later.

I walked out of the library and headed to my little white rental car. I needed to know where that quarry was and where the cemetery was as according to Mr. Pace’s book James and Rosina Lowe were buried in the town cemetery. I spied a guy who looked local. I asked if he lived here and he said yes. I asked if he knew where the cemetery was. He said lived across the street from it in the pink house and pointed the way. We talked a little about my quest. He said I really needed to talk to Mrs. LaVern and pointed down the street “She lives a couple blocks down over there. Would you like me to walk you down and introduce you to her?” “Uhmmm… sure but she didn’t answer her phone this morning.” “We’ll go anyway.” Dan says, and off we went. He told me more about town history and how Mrs. LaVern single handedly won every battle she entered on the town’s behalf and you surely didn’t ever want to cross her. I had not planned too, so I felt okay. We rang her bell but she wasn’t home. “You know, her husband’s name was also Laverne.” He says as he trys knocking on the old wooden door. Interesting, a man named Laverne. Dan and I walked as far as the Post Office together talking about the town and parted ways with assurances that if I needed anything I would come knock on his door. I was instructed to go ask at the Barking Dog for the book. “Even though they are closed and moving if they have one they’ll get it for you.”

I walked back to my car parked in front of the library and found Andrea. We talked for a few minutes and she said if I didn’t find the book in town she would bring me hers tonight and she would buy a new one. I saw this black creature run on top of a rock pile. “Andrea, that is not a cat and not a skunk. It looks like a black squirrel.” I said. “Yes. We have black squirrels everywhere. They have tufted ears.” Cool, I really want to see one up close for a photo opportunity.I turns out black squirrels are extremely uncooperative in that area and I never did get a picture of them. (I borrowed this one.) Andrea and I parted with the understanding that I would come to dinner later.

I leave my car at the library and walk the one block north to the shopping district. I find the Barking Dog which is just an empty shell with nothing but a nice blue tile floor and two men sweeping. I am really hesitant to ask but I do anyway. One of the guys thinks for a minute and says he doesn’t have any left but if he did he would have sent someone to get one for me and suggests I go to the drug store across the street. Both men are genuinely nice and I thoroughly believed that he would have sent someone to his house to get me a $15 book had he had it.

I go to the drug store. It is approximately the size of my livingroom and I can tell in under two minutes they do not have the book. I was planning on going to the antique store across the street when the sight of a cute dog lures me over to a bench in front of the Red Canyon Gallery. The stuff in the windows of the Red Canyon lures me inside. I begin talking to Mary who owns the place, while deciding on a stunning handmade copper barrette of The Rockies as my official souvenir of Lyons. I tell her what my real goal is and she says ‘Oh I have those”. She does. She has ALL the books I am looking for and the town postcard I had seen but had yet to find for sale. Mary also tells me that Mrs. LaVern is living with her son at the moment because she broke her leg last summer and is still recovering. “Her husband was also named Laverne you know.” I know. We look up Mrs. LaVern’s son’s number in the phone book. Mary’s phone rings and she takes the call. I hear her say. “You know there is a lady in here right now looking for more information on her Great-Great Grandfather that is in Al’s book “ and hands me the phone. It’s the author of the other book on quarries and town history I have in my hand. I offer to call her back on my own phone and not tie up the shop phone and Mary says “Oh this is Lyons. No one cares, talk as long as you like.” Which we did. She gave me the number of several other people in town that would be useful, the number to the author of the other book I purchased and the coordinates to the cemetery plot where the Lowe’s were buried. I was starting to feel a little like Cinderella.

Since I now had book in hand and several more goals in mind, I went back to my car and called Mrs. LaVern’s son’s number. Mrs. LaVern answered. Mrs. LaVern had been a personal friend of Rosina Lowe and was very glad to speak with me.

We talked quite a bit about what I had already learned and she informed me that I had cousins in Nebraska and demanded my name, address and email so she could get me in touch with them. She was expecting company for the weekend so meeting would not be possible. We agreed to exchange what information we had and she gave me directions to Donald and Mary’s house.

I drove up 4th street to the tiny cute little frame house that was yellow with white trim, my favorite. I took some pictures and then drove to the quarry.

To get to the Brodie quarry you drive through a residential area of newer homes and then up a dirt road. I came to the top where it leveled out to a flat area where there was a home, a large shop and a smaller shop. The gates that led to the quarry were open but peppered with “Private Property” signs. I was very reluctant to trespass. I parked my car and got out intending to go over to the house. A man came out from the smaller shop so I went over and told him who I was and what I was interested in and that I didn’t want to be disrespectful of someone’s property and enter without permission. He was a big booming old guy with eyeglasses that had the right lens frosted over like a modern version of an eye patch. He shook my hand and said he was Bill Boone. (YES!) I said I’d actually been trying to get in contact with him. His wife, Judy came over and introduced herself. She was a nice redheaded woman who looked like all my female cousins.

Bill said I was free to go wherever I wanted on the quarry. thus rewarding me for my good manners. We talked for quite bit about the history of the quarry, and how he and Judy met after they had both lost their spouses and that he was related to Daniel Boone.

He brought out some large photos of the quarry in full swing in 1900, many with the quarry men in them. I took pictures of the photos. We got to talking about the donkeys they used back then. He said he had a really good picture of the mammoth donkeys they used to haul stone and muck buckets back at his house. He and Judy were going to grab lunch and I said I would go look around the quarry and come back to the house in a bit to look at that picture so as not to disturb their meal.

I drove up and wandered around the quarry and took pictures of the giant slabs of stone sticking up against the snow dappled mountains and many other stunning scenes as well as the shell of the old blacksmith shop. I covered my nice city dress boots with quarry mud and felt gleefully at home. My rental car company is not going to be as please, I’m sure. At some point I realized that my fascination with large square rock formations that I’d taken pictures of all over the world, while my friends teased me about being a rock freak, was just a matter of genetics. I filled my pockets with quarry rocks.

With no one there and a fresh memories of the photos I’d seen of how it used to look full of men, donkeys and hammers it seemed I could hear the ringing on the stone of the “Plug & Feathers” and “Flat Wedges”. I waited to see the gin pole swing the muck bucket over the rim and return to load the giant slabs of red sandstone, bound for the sidewalks of New York, on the wagon.

I sadly disconnected myself from the quarry and went back down to the Boone’s home and left my muddy boots on the porch before going in. We ended up talking for three hours, about well, everything, but mostly horses and about the mule giving birth on the mountain

Bill has a new problem because the city people came and built some townhomes right up against the quarry and then filed complaints about the dust and noise of a working quarry. When they didn’t win that, they started in on him about his rooster. I told him he should get himself four or five donkeys. He said he liked the way I think. He really loved donkeys and are they really that loud? I demonstrated. He said he that was a fine idea and he really had to get him some donkeys. I suggested the BLM.

Bill has two grandchildren born on Sept.11. I have one grandchild born on Sept. 11. And as itturned out, when Bill was younger he lived in Grandpa Donald’s old house, the one on 4thstreet.

The sun set over the snowy mountains out of the Boone’s livingroom window on a splendid afternoon. I promised to send some of the pictures that I’d taken in the quarry and we reluctantly parted. I really felt I had no more question to ask and that I had been treated by the whole town like a returning long lost family member.

I returned to my little room at the Aspen Leaf Motel and made some phone calls to catch people up on my progress before going walking down to Andrea’s for dinner. Sauerbraten, wine, single malt and conversation brought the day to an end.

I wandered back to my room and discovered my cell phone was missing, my personal phone, not my Blackberry or I would have had a much more worrisome approach. I realized it was not in my pocket when I put the rocks in at the quarry. My only two goals for Sunday were to buy a coffee mug at the Stone Cup and go to the cemetery, so I would have time to backtrack if need beand maybe find the phone. If not, then I’d left a little piece of me in Lyons. Fortunately a piece made out of potato plastic that would eventually disintegrate.

I woke at up 7:00AM to a cloudy gray day, the clouds were almost settled on the street, no mountains in sight. Kind of how I felt about leaving Lyons. I washed my muddy boots so I could put them in my suitcase, but left a small bit of mud in a place on one side of each boot, to hang on to it as long as possible. I packed myself, loaded my car and found my errant phone on the seat under some notes I had taken. I called and put my poor husband at ease that it had not been hijacked by black squirrels making international calls to their families Switzerland. I went down the hill, got checked out and had coffee with Sue, the motel owner and her little dog Pixel. We talked about the mule giving birth up on the mountain. She asked if I’d gotten a hold of Mrs. LaVern. “She and her husband are both named Laverne you know.” I know. I said my goodbyes and headed off on foot to the Stone Cup for my Lyons coffee mug.

The streets were almost totally deserted so I spent a fair amount of time standing out in the middle of them taking pictures. I think everyone who was awake was at the Stone Cup. I really like the mugs they served with rather than the newer design they were selling and of course they were happy to sell me one of those. I got my coffee and went back to take more pictures of the old Congregational Church, made completely out of sandstone from the quarry.

As I was coming up to the church a car pulled up and a lovely tiny white haired lady got out. She was obviously dressed for church so I told her how lovely the church was and she insisted I see the inside. I had plenty of time yet so I took her up on her offer. She introduced herself as Ruth. When we got inside there was another little old lady who was getting ready to warm up the organ. Ruth insisted that Ester (I am not making these names up) play a hymn for me so I could hear how lovely the organ was. It was truly lovely. She said even when money is at its worst they make sure the organ is tuned, as it has one of the sweetest sounds in all of Colorado. I agree.

When I get home I am going to send a donation for the organ tuning fund. It seems the least I can do for a town that has treated me so kindly.

I walked back to the Motel and picked up my car so I could drive to the cemetery. I was a little concerned I might have trouble finding the Lowes as I had been warned that the cemetery was “really big” and there were no coordinate markers for the coordinates I’d been given. “The kids would just take em down anyway.”.

I suppose considering the size of the town the cemetery was “really big” and the trees would have made it suitably creepy had it not been for the overall niceness of everyone I had meet. Realistically I could have covered the whole thing stone by stone in an hour. It only took me about five minutes to find the Lowes, really ten minutes because I got sidetracked chatting with a lady walking her two friendly dogs.

After finding the Lowes, I was enjoying the total silence of the cemetery with it’s view of Steamboat Mountain, completely absorbed in the ambiance when my phone start playing ‘Take This Job And Shove It” I jumped right out of my skin. That ring is reserved for my boss in deference to our relationship. Being as it was the boss, I answered the phone with all the respect I could muster yelling “YOU SCARED THE CRAP OUT OF ME.” I told him where I was and he said I should be happy someone living was calling me and really it was ghost Steve. He made ghostly noises. I almost missed him. We settled our business and I went back to taking pictures of the beautifully carved sandstone headstones. I also took one of the large beautiful marble stone that said ‘The Lavernes”. I felt odd doing that while one of them was still alive but it was just too funny to pass up.

My time in Lyons was drawing to a close. I went and had brunch at Andreas. We did the European double cheek kiss and promised to email. She said she knew I would be coming back. I know she is right.

I got in my car and drove to Denver. The clouds covered The Rockies as if to try to lessen the pain of leaving. I turned my car in at Enterprise. The girl at the counter said she grew up in Lyons. I told her all the people I met. She said “You know Mrs. LaVern’s husband’s name was Laverne too?” I know.

The shuttle driver picked up my little suitcase and said “Wow, what do you have in here?” I smiled and said “rocks.”


  1. Ginger!!! I love the way you write and I plan to stalk you frequently here!

    Heidi Stone

  2. The Laverne's tomb stone is beautiful!