Children in costumes with the names of the historical characters they are portraying.
Fourth graders at Georgetown Community School have completed their unit on Georgetown history, and it culminated with the students dressing as historical characters and presenting their research to parents and friends. The name of the historical figures they portrayed is at the bottom. Credit: Courtesy photo

Historical figures William Hamill, John Tomay, Sophie Galley and Isabella Bird have made an appearance in Georgetown.

Those four and more historical characters were portrayed by Georgetown Community School fourth graders on Nov. 17, the culmination of a unit on the area’s history. They made their presentation as part of the Devil’s Gate History Series called “A Journey to the Past: Highlighting a Local History Curriculum.”

Before the presentation, students were excited to get into their costumes, and they took a few minutes to review their speeches before teacher Lily Redfield welcomed the standing-room-only crowd of parents and friends at the Georgetown Community Center.

Before the presentation began, fourth grader Whittier Taylor, who portrayed explorer and writer Isabella Bird, said the most fun part of the unit was creating a video of the characters, while fourth grader Aspen Harvey, who portrayed John Tomay, said she liked that night’s performance the best.

The character presentation was especially important for fourth grader Rowan Lawlor. He portrayed his great-grandfather, Roy Rizzardi, who had been a miner in the area.

Redfield explained that the unit had three goals: to teach the rich Georgetown history, to help students gain a sense of ownership of where they live and to instill in them the importance of historic preservation.

Redfield gave the audience a glimpse of the multifaceted unit that was more than a history lesson but also lessons in economics, the area’s demographics, geography, geology and civics. Students also worked on research and presentation skills.

The unit began with a timeline that took up one wall of Redfield’s classroom, on which students could correlate national events with Georgetown’s history. In Georgetown, they learned about gold discovered in 1859; silver discovered in 1874; Congress enacting the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1890, which was a huge boon for Georgetown; the act being repealed in 1893 and the negative impact on Georgetown’s economy; Georgetown and Silver Plume becoming a national historic district in 1966; and more.

Students turned Georgetown’s historic events into storylines, created comic strips about the history, took tours of area homes and museums, played a game called Cheat the Miners where they learned that miners rarely got rich but merchants did, and did a “creek chase” so they could see how Silver Plume and Georgetown were built with water in mind.

“The question was, ‘What does a town need to be successful,’” Redfield explained. 

She explained that they toured some buildings that have been repurposed from their original uses, showing the importance of historical preservation, and students learned that because of early residents’ foresight to have a fire department, Georgetown still had most of its original buildings.

She reminded the audience that Georgetown is the only municipality in Colorado that still operates under a territorial charter, which is why it has a police-judge instead of a mayor and a Board of Selectmen rather than a town board.

The fourth graders proudly told the audience that Georgetown was named after George Griffith, who found gold in 1859; that W.E. Barton operated a hotel known for its hospitality where the Georgetown Community School building stands today; banker Charles Fish was one of the wealthiest citizens; Sarah Holden was a teacher and artist; and John Tomay donated money for a library.

Redfield said residents should be gratified that the area’s young people have an appreciation for Georgetown’s past, something that is important to the fabric of the town, adding, “This town and this area will be just fine.”

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