Phillips County Survey Results

A total of 349 resources were inventoried during the reconnaissance-level survey. The vast majority of sites surveyed were farmstead complexes, defined a house and various associated agricultural outbuildings. Resources associated with rural communities included cemeteries and school buildings. One unincorporated town, Amherst, was also surveyed. The survey focused solely on architecture and landscape features, no archaeology was included.

Unlike many other counties in Eastern Colorado, the population of Phillips County has remained relatively stable. However, the number of farms has declined dramatically.  In 1930 there were 766 farms in the county; in 2007 there were just 334. A total of 270 farmsteads with historic elements were recorded during this survey. Of those 223 were still in use and 47 appeared to be vacant. That indicates that roughly sixty-seven percent of the 334 currently operating farms in Phillips County have historic features. While these figures indicate a relatively high degree of historic farmsteads in the county, comparing the 270 farmsteads surveyed to the 766 farmsteads present in 1930, indicates that roughly 500 historic farmsteads have disappeared in the last eighty years.

Learn more about the different types of sites found in Phillips County

Reconnaissance-level Survey

A total of 349 sites were recorded during the reconnaissance-level survey. Since most sites were composed of multiple buildings, a total of more than 1,000 buildings were surveyed. Historic resources were most densely located in the northern portion of the county. The highest concentrations were located near Haxtun, Holyoke, Paoli, Fairfield, and Amherst.

The majority of historic rural resources inventoried date to the 1910s through the 1950s. Settlement of Phillips County began in the mid 1880s, but very few physical remnants of from 1885-1909 survive. Most farm buildings as well as rural schools built during this period were constructed of sod. These buildings were not intended as permanent construction. They were generally expected to have a lifetime of ten to fifteen years. No surviving sod buildings were located.

The vast majority of rural resources located in the survey were farmstead complexes. The lack of other rural resource types appears to be due to two primary factors. First, is the relatively small size of the county. As a result, rural residents could travel to Amherst, Haxtun, Holyoke, and Paoli to purchase groceries and supplies, store their grain, go to the post office or attend church. There were rural communities in the county, primarily focused around rural schools. But these generally lacked commercial or other community structures. Second, is the fact that one room schools, historically, the primary rural resource type besides farmsteads, have either been removed and reused elsewhere or demolished. There were once more than thirty rural school districts in the county, but only two buildings associated with these districts survive in their original location.

A total of 270 farmsteads with historic features were recorded in the survey. A farmstead was defined as a house associated with a collection of agricultural related buildings such as a barn, corral, grain bins, etc. Farmsteads were recorded if any of the primary features appeared to be more than fifty years old. There were twenty two isolated agricultural buildings recorded that were not associated with a residence. There were twelve houses recorded that were not associated with agricultural structures.

As of the 2007 agricultural census, there were 334 operating farms in the county. Of the 270 farmsteads recorded in the survey, 223 appeared to the in use and 47 appeared to be vacant. This means that roughly sixty seven percent of operating farms in Phillips County have retain historic features. These surviving historic farmsteads, however, represent only about a third of the farmsteads in the county at its peak in the late 1920s with 1930 census recorded 766 farms in the county. This means that around five hundred farmsteads have disappeared over the last eighty years. Many Phillips County farmers still recall the days when a farmstead was located on almost every quarter section. The decline in farmsteads does not represent a decline in agriculture. Instead it represents the ever-increasing size of farms in Phillips County. The average farm size in 1930 was 510 acres while the average farm size in 2007 was 1290 acres. The farmsteads that survive generally represent the most successful, the ones which have expanded through purchasing the farms of those choosing to leave farming, many of those retiring farmers without children wishing to take over their farms. When farmers add increased acreage to their farms, they generally demolish the remains of any farmsteads located on them.

There were a total of twelve community-related resources recorded. There were seven cemeteries surveyed. Four are isolated cemeteries: Posegate, Fairfield, Pleasant Valley, and Jarvis. Three are located on the outer edge of established communities: Holyoke, Paoli, and Amherst (there is also a cemetery in Haxtun but it was not included since it lies within the town limits). Two meeting halls were recorded: the Pleasant Valley Community Center and the Paoli Gun Club/ Pheasants Forever Building. Two rural school buildings were recorded: the McKelvey School and the Fairfield School Gymnasium. And one rural church was recorded: the Fairfield Covenant Church. There were also three buildings for which the function could not be determined.

This project covered all unincorporated areas of the county which also included one town: Amherst. Thirty historic resources where surveyed within Amherst.

The condition of surveyed resources ranged from poor to very good, depending on their current use. Of the 349 resources recorded, ninety appeared to be completely vacant or abandoned. There were many more individual features that appeared to be unused though they were located within working farmstead complexes. In general, buildings that no longer have a clear function tend to no longer receive maintenance. This is especially the case with auxillary buildings like chicken houses, granaries, and tankhouses. Though barns tend to be currently underutilized, most generally still serve a storage function and thus receive at least some maintenance. Many farmers also maintain their barns because of their central place on the farmstead, both physically and sentimentally.

Intensive-level Survey

Following the reconnaissance-level survey, twenty-one resources were surveyed at the intensive level including:

  • 15 Farmsteads
  • 1 School Gymnasium
  • 1 Parochial School
  • 1 Cemetery
  • 1 Grain Elevator
  • 1 Church

Eighteen of these resources were determined field eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. Three were determined field eligible for only the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties.

Historic contexts were developed to provide a historic framework for the resources identified during the survey. All surveyed resources fit within at least one of these contexts.

At the conclusion of the project, a brochure promoting the historic resources of Phillips County was prepared. The brochure focused on the agricultural heritage of the county.

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