A view to city’s past

Group works to restore tomb of Grand Junction founder

If you didn’t know where to look you might miss the curious stone building planted high on an Orchard Mesa bluff.
Once on top, at the end of 26 1/4 Road, the view unravels. From west to east, it’s the cliffs of Colorado National Monument, a peek at the ample Colorado River, the onward march of homes in Fruita, the pleats of the Bookcliffs and the treetops of Palisade’s orchards extending below. A cloud-sheathed Grand Mesa fills the eastern sky. Flip around and the Uncompahgre Plateau boasts a coat of new snow.
Rumor has it Grand Junction founder George Addison Crawford wanted to be buried in this exact spot, the site where he first glimpsed the Grand Valley.
If that truly was his wish, Crawford got it. The sturdy stone mausoleum reportedly holds his remains.
Yet for years, some locals have lamented that the slowly deteriorating structure has been a target of vandals. Until recently, invasive weeds grew around its base.
In an effort to wish Crawford a heartfelt 187th birthday this summer, a cadre of locals is raising money for renovations.
“For me, it’s out of respect and recognizing our founder,” said Bruce Hill, a former Grand Junction mayor and business owner who is heading the project. “There’s the educational element to help our kids learn about their history. We want to keep it in good repair, as well.”
To date, fundraising has netted about half of the funds, or about $15,000, needed to restore the mausoleum. An initial push in 2009 sought to restore not only Crawford’s gravesite, but the graves of several other less influential turn-of-the-century founders of Grand Junction. Those sites are located in more modest stone structures downhill from Crawford’s. Project leaders currently are focusing solely on revitalizing Crawford’s grave.
Time and neglect have chipped away at Crawford’s grave, changes that are especially evident when comparing its current condition to historical photos.
The entrance is missing a metal gate and a stone plaque that read Geo A. Crawford. Stone circles that topped two pillars are gone. A chain-link fence was erected to keep out vandals, but project leaders lately have removed it to get to work on the site. Come spring, masons with Grasso Masonry will shore up and clean the structure, replacing some stones and improving the mortar. Carlson Memorial will rebuild missing stones, Hill said.
Plans also include installing a hand-fabricated security fence, one with a character that would seem in place with the late 1800s.
To make the site more friendly for visitors, especially school-aged groups, Hill would like to see the bronze sculpture of George Crawford moved nearby. A life-sized, bearded Crawford in a suit and bow tie currently stands outside Grand Junction City Hall.
“I don’t think he likes being at City Hall,” Hill said, somewhat joking. “Then when there’s a class of third-graders up there, there’s this guy who makes it more real than just looking at the mausoleum.”
According to historians, Crawford was born July 27, 1827, in Clinton County, Pa., and died Jan. 28, 1891, in Grand Junction’s former New Brunswick hotel. The editor and lawyer also is credited with founding Delta and Fort Scott, Kan. Crawford was elected as the Democratic governor in Kansas in 1861, but the election was deemed illegal. For the rest of his life, some followers heralded Crawford by the title Governor Crawford. Some accounts claim the town of Crawford was named after him.
Kristin Ashbeck, senior planner for neighborhood services in Grand Junction, compiled a report in 2009 about Crawford’s grave. There was a movement at that time to secure a historical grant to have the work completed. But the city didn’t have money at the time to provide matching grant funds, she said. Instead of vying for grant funds, local committee members decided to skirt the timing restraints and other considerations required for renovations to grant-funded historic structures.
To date, the city has enlarged a parking area at the base of the hill, making it large enough to accommodate a school bus. A small parking lot near the grave could be utilized for visitors unable to walk up the hill. Eventually, volunteers may be called on to build a trail up the slope, Ashbeck said.
The city has secured an easement through private property to drive up to Crawford’s grave, and work may be in store to provide general public access to the site via the roadway, Ashbeck said.
It’s a little amusing when she hears about the range of knowledge — or lack thereof — locals possess about the abandoned grave.
“We do these presentations to second-grade classes and I mentioned the name George Crawford and his grave and a couple kids have been there,” she said. “Then there’s a member on the historic preservation board and she didn’t even know about it.”
Ashbeck added, “I think people would visit it if they knew about it.”
Donations to the project can be made through the nonprofit Park Improvement Advisory Board, 1340 Gunnison Ave., Grand Junction 81501.
For more information, call Bruce Hill at 245-0962.


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