The future of the historic Emma Townsite, part of Pitkin County's Emma Open Space, will be the focus of a Steering Committee that is being assembled. The committee will discuss potential uses of the historic store buildings located on the open space.
The side-by-side store buildings along Hwy. 82, just downvalley from Basalt, are among several historic structures on the property. The distinctive brick structures were built in the late 1800s by Charles Mather, an East Coast native who operated a successful mercantile business at the site when Emma was a thriving hub along the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The store buildings fell out of commercial use in the 1920s, but served as the site of community dances for a time, and then as storage for a succession of owners.
The expansion of Hwy. 82 to four lanes, and its rerouting through Emma in order to bypass downtown Basalt, was completed in 1988. The highway project compromised the store buildings. Heavy traffic rattled the brick edifices and the ravages of plowed snow and de-icer caused further damage.
In 2008, the vacant buildings were acquired by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, with financial participation by the Town of Basalt. By that time, the roofs of the store and warehouse had caved in and the walls were starting to collapse. Open Space and Trails quickly pursued two stabilization projects to prevent the complete collapse of the aging structures and make them structurally secure. State Historic Fund grants helped finance work on the buildings. The 12.5-acre property also includes several outbuildings and the historic Mather House, a Victorian residence that will see needed maintenance in 2019. Installation of a new septic system and well repairs on the property were completed in 2018.
The Emma Open Space Management Plan, adopted in 2017, established agricultural use of 58 acres across the highway from the townsite. That land, also part of Emma Open Space, was acquired in 2000. The Management Plan calls for the formation of a Steering Committee to help determine management of the store buildings. The structures are protected from demolition by an historic designation.
Posted below is the Emma Open Space Management Plan. It contains much greater detail on the history of the townsite buildings and the open space at Emma. Appointments to the committee should be made by late February. The first meeting of the group is anticipated in March.