Striving to move forward
If you drive over the railroad tracks into Sedalia on the main drag, across from the post office is the home of Eva Murphy’s.
Her white house with blue trim looks like a functional one-story agricultural building. A trash can blocks what seems to be the front door. Stables, home to her horses and goats, are off to the left. Finding the actual front door is somewhat confusing, but when you do, it opens into a whole new world. Colors overload your senses. Yellow, purple and green potted flowers inundate Murphy’s postage-stamp size front yard and the steps to her door.
“It helps to have a daughter who works at Whole Foods,” Murphy said, her East Coast roots resounding through her words.
The decor that would be fitting in Home & Garden magazine continues throughout Murphy’s home. Pottery, filled with sunflowers, is decorated with warm tones of orange, yellow and red. It is hard not to linger on a wooden bookshelf that boasts candles and Western memorabilia. Acrylic paintings grace Murphy’s walls and hang confidently over her massive stone fireplace — horses and colorful cowboys with attitudes, the main subjects. If you dote on Murphy’s decorating talent, she will laugh and say, “I know a great shop down the street.”
Murphy’s shop, Sisters, half a block from her home, is in a building that once housed one of Sedalia’s earliest grocery stores. She opened it in the mid-1990s with $5,000 to her name. The shop is filled with an eclectic mountain lodge theme: gifts, paintings, soothing water falls, hot-air balloon wind chimes, candles, lamps with trout bases. And even goat’s milk lotion and soaps.
The rustic outside of Murphy’s house, in contrast to its beauty inside, parallels the town of Sedalia. The town’s transition from the 19th century to the here and now of Douglas County and into the future has been a frustrating, yet promising process for an unincorporated town feeling its growing pains, residents say.
Sedalia might need a facelift on the outside, yet observers would see that the little town has a heart of gold on the inside. And some say it’s a town that often has felt like a neglected stepchild in Douglas County’s eyes.
As Sedalia hopes to bring its zoning codes up to the 21st century, it is a town whose residents wish renovations to their homes could be done in a legal way, not at the stroke of midnight while no one is watching.
“So a dreaded knock on our door doesn’t come asking where our building permit is,” Murphy said.
Her home is an example of one of the particular frustrations Sedalia has, compared to the rest of the county. Although Murphy’s home is zoned for business, Sisters is one of the few commercial buildings on Manhart Street. The remaining structures are residential.
“The whole town is catawhompered,” Murphy said, inventing a new word in the process.
A brief history of Sedalia
The Ute and Arapahoe Indians, along with trappers, crossed the Plum Creek River prior to the Colorado Gold Rush in 1859. Congress passed the Homestead Act of 1862, enabling settlement in the West, including what is now Douglas County.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, Judge John H. Craig owned the town, which was then a cattle-holding and shipping area known as Corral or Round Corral.
In 1871, the Rio Grande Railroad laid its tracks and the town became known as Plum or Plum Station. The Santa Fe Railroad built tracks though the town in 1876, along with a new depot. The name was changed officially in May 1882 to Sedalia, chosen by prominent landowner Henry M. Clay, who came from Sedalia, Mo.
By 1900, Sedalia was flourishing with local commerce, including coal, milk, cheese, cider, apple butter, lumber railroad ties and stone. With its proximity to both Colorado Springs and Denver, Sedalia became a preferred stop for travelers and made the map as a campaign stop by Teddy Roosevelt in 1905. U.S. 85 was completed in 1925, connecting Colorado Springs to Denver.
“When the railroad stopped using steam engines in 1957, Santa Fe Railroad gave us their steel water tank,” said 22-year resident Carole Williams, a Sedalia Historic Firehouse Museum volunteer. “It is the oldest steel water tank used in the United States.”
Williams moved to Sedalia because she was looking for horse property.
“There are 22 miles of horse trails in my neighborhood, so it was a no-brainer,” she said, wearing her “Sedalia formalwear” of jeans, an emerald green turtleneck and a silver and stone necklace.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 230 people live in Sedalia proper — 3,500 total counting the surrounding areas, which include Lambert Ranch, Rio Grande and Indian Creek horse property.
Like Williams, Jill Dopp moved to Sedalia seeking an affordable horse property.
“According to Wikipedia it says, ‘There are more horses in Sedalia than people,’” she said.
Williams concurred. “I’m not surprised. I have three horses and two people,” she said.
Williams got involved with the museum after a night at Gabriel’s Northern Italian Restaurant and got lassoed into not only volunteering at the museum, but rather, researching Sedalia’s history in depth.
“I was at a party and I said something to a friend about local history,” Williams said. “She introduced me to Barbara Machann, a volunteer for Sedalia museum, and I came to a meeting at the museum. Before I knew it, I was over my head,” she laughed. “That’s the last time I’m drinking with them.”
Some of the history of Sedalia documented in the museum is there because of a woman by the name of Bertha Hoffman Manhart — her families’ names are etched throughout the town’s history.
“Bertha saved clippings from the newspapers from 1898 until 1930,” Williams said. “Someone in Sedalia found all of Manhart’s scrapbooks in their garage and brought them into the Sedalia Museum and asked, ‘Do you guys want these?’”
Williams, along with other energized volunteers, photocopied the articles, cut them apart and recorded them by family name, businesses and by various fires that have struck historic Sedalia over the years.
“When Douglas County courthouse burned down, a lot of documents were lost. Now we can tell by these clippings when a barn was built,” Williams said.
“In the clipping, it might say, so-and-so held a ‘barn-raising,’ or so-and-so is renting their ranch.”
Because of these clippings, the museum was able to uncover when the first automobile came through town.
“Behind the shop, Sisters, is a hand-dug well,” Williams said. “I think they were done by Chinese workers who came through on the railroad.”
Every house in Sedalia used to have a windmill.
“We used to be known as the town of windmills,” Williams said.
In 1965, a flood destroyed seven homes and three public buildings when a 25-foot wall of water surged over the village.
Sedalia’s challenges have evolved in decades since.
“Right now one of our biggest problems to growth is the zoning issues,” Williams said. “There are so many combined residential businesses. Bertha and her 13 children lived in the back of their Manhart store way back when. That is still a part of Sedalia now.”
Douglas County Commissioner Steve Boand agreed.
“It is a mixed-use community with residential interspersed with commercial,” he said. “In other words, jobs are located where people live.”
Two years ago, Murphy, along with other concerned residents, including Lowell Pearson, a longtime real estate broker and pastor for Grace and Truth Assembly, decided something had to be done to protect Sedalia’s economic future.
“It would be virtually impossible to sell a house in Sedalia,” Lowell said about the town’s zoning mess.
A first-ever organizational meeting with Boand was conducted in winter 2007 to a standing-room-only crowd. Emotions and interests ran high as issues and possible solutions were thrown back and forth.
“I believe nobody knew how to approach anybody in this town,” Murphy said. “We didn’t know how to approach the county and the county didn’t know how to approach us. Everybody was afraid of the other person.”
“Heated? Oh, yah,” Williams added. “Nobody in Sedalia wanted the dump across the street.”
Residents were notified of the proposal for the dump across the highway, but, Williams said, “We were told, ‘tough.’”
Also, five industrial plants that combine various ingredients to form concrete were approved between Sedalia and Louviers.
“We don’t want those, but they said this is where lime, sand and cement are made into concrete,” Murphy said. “Trucks would then transport the product on and off the trains. There hasn’t been a provision on how to deal with the traffic.”
According to Lowell, even though Sedalia was the first mapped town in Douglas County, there never has been an organized focus group that the county could turn to when important development and planning issues were being put to use.
By the end of the town meeting, a task force was chosen and 50 other residents volunteered their services for research into creating a vision for Sedalia’s future.
“I went to Eva Murphy’s store in Sedalia following a local town meeting where Sedalia residents talked for a couple hours about their concerns of the relationship with the county,” Boand said. “During the meeting, I noted that Eva was articulate, thoughtful and passionate about Sedalia. This was the logical beginning for the next step in gathering facts.”
Boand said he also did “a bit of Christmas shopping” while he was there.
Funky … and fine
Over the course of a year, the Sedalia Overlay District Ad Hoc committee worked furiously. Surveys were conducted, a consultant from URS Corp. was hired and county planner Tereq Wafaie pounded the pavement.
“We did lots of homework,” Wafaie said. “We worked with committees on multiple aspects. We asked the town members what they liked about Sedalia and what they didn’t like.”
One resident responded to Wafaie’s request by saying, “Sedalia is a funky little town from the scruffiest of industrial land to the finest in restaurants, and everything in between.”
Committee member Bill Henry said, “As we delved into our vision, into the process, it seemed like a project that started in a hole and we tried to work out of it.” One hundred and fifty years ago, he said, a wide open prairie attracted settlers to the Sedalia area. Buildings were constructed using the most cost-effective technologies of the time. Wheel buggies required different sets of criteria that the automobiles later required.
“The county grew and changed as we all knew, but Sedalia, the little town, stayed locked at the turn of the century,” Henry said.
The task at hand was to involve the community and come to a solution that would allow Sedalia to coexist with the 21st-century Douglas County.
“What is there now doesn’t fit with the county and how it is governed,” Henry said.
In August, 2007, Douglas County gave the ad hoc committee 12 months to present a report on solutions in five categories:
Conduct high-level visioning of what downtown Sedalia should look like in five, 10 and 20 years.
Create a 20-year vision for the five-block historic area and the larger community area of Sedalia.
Recommend components of a mixed-use overlay district
Develop land use regulations, parking and design.
Come up with financial plans to accomplish the vision.
Next on the list was Manhart Street, a major asset to the community and a corridor through town that divides Sedalia from east to west.
The most significant obstacle to the area’s vision are the two railroads running through the center of town. Santa Fe running to the north and Union Pacific Lines running to the south greet residents every day, sometimes every two minutes with their halting, annoying loud horns.
Because of the noise, the Sedalia Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization purchased speakers and microphones for the classrooms.
“If you are sitting on the deck of the Sedalia Bar and Grill while a train passes, all conversation stops because it is so loud,” Dopp said.
Murphy doesn’t think the residents should have to live with the 2 a.m. horn blaring or the engineers who choose to “entertain” with songs.
Boand went to great lengths regarding the concern over the train situation.
“Yes, I slept in the back of my truck one night to fully understand the magnitude of train noise on the quality of life of Sedalia residents,” he said.
“Steve has been wonderful,” Williams said.
Boand also offered to help paint the museum and show off his green thumb on the gardening, too.
Future looks bright for Sedalia
Douglas County and Sedalia are marking their calendars for January 2009 as a target month to form an official governing committee for the town. The committee for the unincorporated town could be similar to a town council with either appointed or elected members. It is unclear how the council would interact with county commissioners.
“We will hopefully have some kind of government entity that the county can report to,” Murphy said. “This could be a blueprint for the rest of the towns in this county. You’ve got a group of people now willing to listen.”
The next step for the county, according to Boand, is to take the recommendations contained in the ad hoc report and craft a community code that matches the committee’s goals.
“We will be dealing with zoning, parking and drainage issues that have been a problem in Sedalia for more than a decade,” he said.
The county also will work on other issues, including water supply, wastewater treatment and traffic safety.
“This work is geared toward maintaining and improving the quality of life of the residents, business and property owners in Sedalia,” Boand said. “I know the entire board of county commissioners is pleased to have helped Sedalia move forward with its new historical museum. It is a community project that is pure Sedalia.”
“I want to see this town grow and survive,” Williams said. “I love the people, love the characters.”
Sedalia’s cast of characters only adds to the town’s charm and can-do attitude that has helped forge a strong sense of community in the town of 230. Two recent get-togethers are proof Sedalia isn’t going anywhere and will maintain its sense of community as the town grows into the 21st century.
The popular Italian restaurant, Gabriel’s, recently had a benefit in honor of one of William’s neighbors who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“We look after one another,” she said.
Gabriel’s donated food to more than 200 people who attended to support the neighbor.
The longtime owner of Bud’s Bar in Sedalia, Thurman Thompson, recently passed away and the community had a funeral for the beloved resident and business owner.
“It was a really patriotic funeral in the fire station,” Williams said. “They had a 21-gun salute for him. Great community service stuff,” she said. “After the service, some of the residents passed out business cards with Thompson’s picture on them. The card read, ‘Good for one drink at Bud’s Bar. The last drink is on me.’”
Williams laughed and summed it up. “That is so Sedalia.”
Sedalia’s vision at work—2008