Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

A story of hope, not hopelessness, in Julesburg, Colorado

Dan posing in front of the sign welcoming us to Colorado

With hours to drive before reaching the night’s Not-So-Super-8 Motel, we stopped in Julesburg, Colorado, for only one hour, the time Mark Twain spent there on his 1,700-mile stagecoach ride west in 1861 to Carson City, Nevada. I was prepared, as an oh-so-serious, glass-half-empty journalist, to write off Julesburg as yet another dying small town (2010 population 1,225, down 16.5% from 2000), bypassed by industry and focused more on its past than its future.

After all, the town sports two, not one, history museums; a monument to its days as a Pony Express station; a municipal light building that commemorates Julesburg’s century-old, community-owned electric utility, and a lyrical sign about the town’s role in Colorado’s history—as gateway on the route west for travelers by foot and wagon, then rail and auto.

But the gloriously restored Hippodrome Theatre at 215 Cedar Street offers a message of hope, not despair, about Julesburg today. Built in 1919 at a cost of $10,000, the Hippodrome failed as a 500-seat movie theater and closed 2 ½ years later. The theater survived a name change and a variety of owners until 1996 when it was reborn as the Hippodrome Arts Centre, a nonprofit intended to serve as a multicultural center as well as a 162-seat theater showing newly released films each weekend for $5 (free if you’re 4 or under).

The theater’s restoration has not been completed, but the Hippodrome Community Players envision performing there several times a year. Next month the theater will host the Missoula Children’s Theatre for live performances. An annual fund-raiser helps subsidize such events.

The Hippodrome Theatre in Julesburg

One hundred and twenty volunteers—high school students, farmers, sorority sisters and bankers called “Hipp Helpers”—staff the movie theater, usually one night a month. Their pay for the night is free popcorn, soda and a ticket to the show.

Sherri Hinde, volunteer coordinator as well as bookkeeper for her husband’s machine and welding shop, says, “If it were not for the volunteers the Hippodrome would not exist.” But it does exist as a wonderful example of what a community can do to help itself.

Loren Ghiglione

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