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Inside the Southern Colorado archive that tells the story of Pueblo’s old CF&I Steel Mill

It’s one of the biggest public archives in the country and documents the intricacies of a company that helped develop the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries.

PUEBLO – There’s a paper trail for the company that helped build and develop Pueblo, Southern Colorado and the West — and it’s massive.

In 2003, the Bessemer Historical Society — Now the Steelworks Center of the West — in Pueblo received a donation from Colorado Fuel & Iron that included more than 100,000 photographs, 150 films, an entire room of maps — 30,000 of them — and hundreds of books including financial documents and meeting minutes.

The archives, housed in the old CF&I administration building, is one of the biggest public archives in the country. The documents, photos and news clippings tell the stories of several individuals, and collectively, they tell the story of Southern Colorado — as for many years the steel mill was ingrained in everyday life. CF&I built schools, opened a hospital, published a newspaper and ran a company store.

The mill wasn’t just a job. It was literally a part of life for Puebloans and people living near and working in more than 60 Southern Colorado mines that supplied the mill. Every aspect of the company is documented.

Research is by appointment only at the center. Interim director Chris Scheck said many people come to research their family.

Steelworks Center of the West interim director and archivist Chris Shreck stands in the archives research room at the center. It’s where countless people have come to pour over old records, attempting to learn more about a family member that was connected to the CF&I mill. Schrek recalls a time when a person was in the office researching a topic and came across an old photo and gasped, “That’s my aunt!” Sometimes, Schreck said, you’ll find information you didn’t know you were looking for in the archives. (Kara Mason/PULP)

 

Beyond the office, where people can sprawl out documents, most rooms at the archives look like this:

Many of the documents donated to the Steelworks Center of the West have been archived. They’re noted, boxed and stored like this. Archivists have gone through about half of the documents they’ve recieived, Schrek said.

 

The Map Room:

 

More than 30,000 maps make up the map room at the Steelworks Center of the West. Some people come in looking for information on land they’ve purchased. Often, that land was involved in some kind of mining tied to the mill. Other maps note the geology. Many of the maps date back into the late 1800s. They’re kept flat in these cabinets. (Kara Mason/PULP)

 

Some documents are more popular than others. But even the mundane tell stories of the company. Museum curator Victoria Miller said the thickness of the financial ledgers most often indicate the fiscal health of the mill…

And as the years progressed, so did the documents. Here, Schrek is looking at a hand-written document. Later, of course, documents were typed up instead.

(Kara Mason/PULP)

 

And fatalgrams were hand-drawn. When an accident resulted in death, the mill would file a report. To do so, they recreated the scene with real people and then sketched the scene. 

Look closely. That’s a man being crushed by a coal cart. The hand-drawn fatalgram details how Richard Elze’s life ended on Jan. 30, 1940. (Kara Mason/PULP)

 

The mill’s administration building even had a typewriter repair shop. It’s not open for public viewing. But walking into the shop is like walking into history. 

“It’s as they (the repairmen) just got up and left one day,” Shreck said.

(Kara Mason/PULP)

 

Tools are still in desks, and typewriters still awaiting repair. Ribbons hang in the back, and news clippings still hang around the office.

 

(Kara Mason/PULP)

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Written by Kara Mason

Kara Mason is PULP's news editor. She is also the Society of Professional Journalists Colorado Pro Chapter president. Kara freelances for other regional publications, covering government, politics and the environment.

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