The Author

Irene M. Francis

Preserving the history and culture of Custer County, Colorado

Irene and Stan Francis at the
refurbished 1891 schoolhouse
in Westcliffe

Preserving the history and culture of Custer County, Colorado

As a resident of Custer County, Colorado, for nine years Irene Francis became aware of the rich history and culture of the area and the Town of Westcliffe, founded in 1887. Serving as Chairperson of the 1987 Centennial Celebration Committee, she spent hours talking with families about their personal history of the area and collecting photographs and documentation for the event.  These activities sparked the idea of preserving the history of this rural community in book form.

Education in the West

One-Room Schoolhouses addresses education in the West and the evolution of the one-room schoolhouse, its daily routine, and its teacher and students.  It includes an important collection of historical information about 25 school districts in Custer County, Colorado.

The Silver Cliff Schoolhouse is the story of the lives of people around just one of the many schools in the area.

The railroads and mining

Hear the Whistle Blow is about the impact of the Denver and Rio Grande trains brought into the area to haul equipment for mining and ore to the smelters. One result of the railroad was the formation of the town of Westcliffe, the original terminus for the narrow gauge tracks along Grape Creek.

Custer County: a Gold Mine of History was created in pictures from the theme of the 1987 Westcliffe Centennial celebration.

All Aboard Westcliffe, Inc.

Over the years the preservation of area history has continued with properties gaining Historic designation by the State and National Registers of Historic Places and the writing of grants for their preservation. A library has been built with a history center for research.

All Aboard Westcliffe, Inc., was formed by citizens interested in preserving the history and artifacts of the Denver and Rio Grande railroad to the Wet Mountain Valley. The organization received its non-profit status in 1990. The Custer County Historical & Genealogical Society sponsors programs to present history to the public. Although I have moved from Westcliffe and the Wet Mountain Valley, modern technology makes it possible to continue my work to preserve the history of an area that is dear to my heart.

Artist of History

Also included on this website are some examples of Irene’s art in the form of notecards.  These are available for purchase (with envelopes) in sets or individually. They include black and white sketches of four of Custer County’s historic schoolhouses and several colorful painted watercolor cards featuring favorite flowers from Irene’s garden and wildflower collection.