SUNRISE – Goshen County residents were recently saddened to hear of the departure of the Western History Center west of Lingle on Highway 26. Despite the exodus of the Western History Center, new life came to the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) building in Sunrise, just a short way west into Platte County.
John Voight, owner of the town of Sunrise, donated the YMCA building in Sunrise to the Western Plains Historic Preservation Association (WPHPA), an organization dedication to the preservation and investigation of historic artifacts, locations and research venues.
Voight welcomed attendees at ribbon cutting ceremony held Saturday, May 15, from 2-4 p.m.
“Archaeology is what is going to the YMCA,” he said. “I’m so happy that is what is going to happen. We have grand plans for this building.”
Vioght explained the purpose of Saturday’s event was to raise funds to pay for repairs made to the building’s formerly dilapidated roof.
According to Voight, about a year and a half ago, a destructive hailstorm damaged the roof. A contractor was found who could begin work promptly. The roof was repaired, but now funding the repairs remains the task at hand.
Voight hopes Saturday’s “rai$e the roof” event will fund the repairs.
“We have no more leaks, we saved artifacts, we saved the building; we are so very happy to do that,” he said.
Though the roof has been replaced, renovations of the 104-year-old building are needed.
With assistance from Harbor Freight Tools “tools for schools” program, grants and local Guernsey-Sunrise industrial technology teacher Troy Reichert, the renovations will take place.
Reichert’s SkillsUSA team will be taking part in the renovations and applying their knowledge and skills, as well as learning new skills, to restore the building.
Voight says he hopes to get the building back to its original state, as it was previously renovated when it was converted from the YMCA to the main office building for the Sunrise mine.
“We just got word a few days ago, that now, the Powars II site is on the National Register of Historic Places,” he said.
The Powars II Paleoindian Archaeological site is located directly across from the YMCA, approximately 400 feet northeast of the building.
Dr. Spencer Pelton, the Wyoming state archaeologist, began the excavation and later wrote the nomination to have the site placed on the national registry.
Voight handed the microphone over to local archaeologist George Ziemens. He was the former Wyoming state archaeologist, operated the Western History Center and has been active in archaeological excavations throughout the area.
“None of this would have been possible without John Voight,” Ziemens said. “We knew about this Paleoindian red ochre mine, a really rare site, the only site like that in North America. We knew about the site, but we were locked out by the previous landowner.”
Voight bought the property and was willing to let Ziemens and his crew look into the property. He later donated the building and was supportive of the archaeological research taking place on the property, even donating the artifacts found on the property.
“We had them (the artifacts) appraised,” Ziemens explained. “Just 80% of the artifacts we had appraised, they appraised at $335,000. That gives you an idea of how significant those artifacts are, how significant the site is and what a great guy John is; can’t say enough about that.”
Ziemens said the Paleoindian red ochre mine was so incredibly significant the mine could become a world heritage site. He noted there were only 23 world heritage sites in the United States.
“Those people that were here, we call Clovis, the first people we know of on this continent, how they got here we don’t know for sure,” he explained. “There are a lot of different Clovis sites that have been found around North America, but this one is different. It’s a red ochre mine.”
Ziemens explained how they had discovered projectile points and suspected ritualistic sites throughout the area. He also explained how they had evidence which suggested the Clovis people had created spear points, killed animals with these spear points and then left the animals at the red ochre mine.
After Ziemens spoke about work being done in the area and to the YMCA, Platte County Chamber and Visitor’s Center Executive Director Shawna Reichert joined with Ziemens, Voight and other members of the historic society to cut a red ribbon at the property.
After the ribbon cutting, guests filled the halls, rooms and stairways of the YMCA building to look at the different exhibits, eat chili and treats and converse about the building.
Voight led a guided tour of the area while former Sunrise resident Ray Monsaldo provided guests with insider information about the town, mine and life in Sunrise. A woman formerly called Stormy Blizzard was also present to speak with people about working in the mine.
Stormy was the first underground woman miner to work at the Sunrise mine. In addition, she worked on what they called the “grizzly level” or the level of the mine where rocks are busted with jackhammers and hooks.
Greater than 200 attendees visited the site for the event, walking the grounds, viewing the scenery and expanding their knowledge of the geology and archaeology of the site from some of the area’s most respected professionals.
Donations are still being accepted for the non-profit organization. Those wishing to make a donation can call 307-575-0333 to contribute. The tax-deductible donations are being used to fund the new roof, electrical, heating, ventilation, air condition and plumbing for the building.