In June 2014, former and longtime Parker residents alike gathered in Ruth Memorial Chapel in downtown Parker to share stories from the past.
Laughter filled the single room, echoing off the refinished hardwood floors. It was standing-room only as 10 people sat on stage and spoke about who lived where, who married whom, and when certain milestones were achieved.
Like many longtime residents, Sandy Whelchel believes it’s important to preserve the stories from the past. She recently finishing compiling 127 pages of images for a book called “Images of America: Parker, Colorado,” the most recent installation in an ongoing series. Whelchel, 70, exhaustively tracked down every photo she could that would reflect the town’s rich history, and 180 of them made it into the book.
While some history-lovers collect stories and photographs, others put in physical work to maintain the few remaining structures. Mike Mulligan, who is stepping down this month as president of the Parker Area Historical Society, has spent years restoring and fixing the Tallman-Newlin Cabin. He gets help from local scouts and volunteers. It is tiring work, but crucial to maintaining that connection with Parker’s first inhabitants.
Still others watch over relics. The historical society has in storage significant pieces, and maintains a museum in the Mainstreet Center. Longtime resident Larry Smith knows everything there is to know about the collection, which he says is only a fraction of what he has personally collected over the decades. It all sits untouched in Smith’s barn.
The physical elements hold tremendous value, as do the fond memories that live on. Franklin Harn, a 92-year-old with an uncanny ability to recall names and places from 80 years ago, has spent his entire life telling his daughter, Janette Wilkins, of Highlands Ranch, about his adventures in Parker. Despite having never lived there, Wilkins is an example of the people who carry the torch of history, honoring their parents’ and grandparents’ lives well into the future.
The death of Harlow Clarke
Franklin Harn recalls when the Stroh family moved to the land that is now Stroh Ranch in the 1930s, but it was the previous landowner’s fate that sticks out most in his mind. As a teen, Harn worked for the man, Harlow Clarke, who farmed the land with his father (his father later died and a “big fight” ensued because Roy Clarke, Harlow’s brother from Utah, was named as sole inheritor of the estate. Roy conceded and bought the land that is now Clarke Farms).
Harlow Clarke, a lifelong bachelor, met an untimely end in his 40s. One of his farmhands, a “husky” teen named Dick Schmachtenberger, as Harn recalls, teased a bull relentlessly. Harlow Clarke was unaware that the bull was teased and agitated.
“He got in there one day with the bull and the bull killed him,” he said. “That’s how Harlow died.”
Dances at the Pikes Peak Grange
Franklin Harn, who lived in Parker from 1933 to 1939, talked fondly about the dances on the first Saturday of every month at the Pikes Peak Grange. Members of the Wheeler family, with piano, banjo, violin and guitar in hand, provided the music. Teenagers flocked from Elizabeth and Parker to the grange, which still stands north of Franktown near the entrance to Hidden Mesa Open Space.
“You pretty well knew where you were going on that Saturday night,” Harn says.
Failed development still a sore subject
In the late 1960s, the Parker City Land Co. came with a vision to establish a modern western town. They skipped town in 1971, leaving behind angry residents and incomplete housing projects.
Even now, the wounds are still there. Long-timers who gathered at Ruth Memorial Chapel in June 2014 scoffed at the name and described the prolonged period of recovery that followed. Jean Martin, who has lived in Parker her entire life, worked for the developers for three months before quitting.
“A lot of my friends were being taken,” she said. “I just had to get out of there.”
But while hurt feelings remain, there is more to the story. The departure of the family of developers, it turns out, might have been a blessing. The project was in danger of running out of money, but the family was “connected,” Whelchel said.
“The mob offered them enough money to finish project, but they turned them down,” she says. “They said they didn’t want to have to put up with what was going to happen if people moved and it was mafia money.”
The story might be hard to believe, but Whelchel has intimate knowledge of the situation because her sister worked for the Parker City Land Co. at the time.
Most agree that the developers utilized deceptive tactics in buying up properties one by one on the east side of State Highway 83, but residents who saw dollar signs also shoulder some of the blame. Each demanded a higher purchase price than their neighbor, Whelchel said, resulting in added financial strain on the project. It wasn’t until almost 10 years later that another developer completed the half-finished structures, including the Town & Country Townhomes in downtown Parker.
Parker’s first mayor, Dean Salisbury, cited the failed projects as a primary reason to incorporate the town. He faced objections from longtime residents who didn’t want to invite growth, but Salisbury believed official representation was the only way to protect landowners in the future.
The Simple Life: 1911-1994
What will Parker look like 150 years from now, and which stories, photographs and structures from the present time will live on?
It’s a difficult question to answer, and there is much at stake for those who remember nothing but bumpy dirt roads and vacant fields. While growth continues to be the dominant theme, there have been grassroots efforts to save the relics from the past, although not enough for some. Much of the work is due to volunteerism and funding from grants. But mostly, it’s a fondness for history and a prevailing sense of responsibility....
Read the rest of part 3 here.
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