by Nelson Holmes
GARDNER- To know the history of a place is to understand its present character. Too often, distracted by the sensory overload that is our modern life, we forget to glance back over our shoulders at our past. Our lack of any historical context robs us of a full appreciation for the place we call home; leaves us poorer for not seeing the ties and connections which inform our present. The rebellion against, and rejection of, a time of prejudice and repression which defines the sixties found a tangible expression right here in Huerfano County. Really, I’m not making this up.
It started locally (in terms of both time and space) with an experimental community outside of Trinidad, Colorado called “Drop City.” This commune, which took root in 1965, found architectural inspiration in R. Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, the only structure known to man that gets stronger the larger you build it. The Drop City visionaries sought to build their dream with the refuse of a wasteful and affluent society. Idealistic and hopeful, the Drop City folk soon found themselves overwhelmed by those who wanted to revel in the freedom of the commune experience without making any physical or spiritual investment. Though Drop City would soon succumb, this experiment was the vanguard for a movement that would bring in inspired rebels and artists from both ends of the continent. Soon, drawn by the incredible sense of space, towns more curious than hostile, and land that could be had for a song, experimental communities began to flower throughout northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.
Four refugees from the Drop City experiment; Dean and Linda Fleming and Peter Rabbit and his wife Judy, sought to establish a new community on the foundation of their shared experience. Below Greenhorn Peak on the wide hips of the Wet Mountains they found 360 acres of land overlooking the Upper Huerfano Valley. This new community communicated its ethos in a name that would also provide its definition; Libre, the Spanish word for free. Those wishing to commit to life at Libre had to make their intentions known to a full council of the residents who would vote on their petition. Each communard would, after approval of their commitment, be responsible for the construction of their own home and the organization of their own lives. In essence Libre was a community of self-sufficient equals engaged in a passionate and altruistic cultivation of both community and the artistic self. With word of Libre’s success and the land’s beauty, more communes, of slightly differing type and character, took root in Huerfano.
The “Red Rockers” established a socialist ethic, shared a single roof and pooled all their resources. The Rockers built their large dome to the west of Badito Cone where a huge swath of red geology inspired their name. Because of their west coast roots, and familial connections to the entertainment industry, the Rockers dome became an epicenter for theatre and dramatic arts.
Many of the homes that the “Anonymous Artists of America” built stand below Slide Mountain as if in tribute.
“La Clinica” in Gardner is the legacy of “The Medical Opera” whose small community of health care professionals gave this lasting gift to the Upper Huerfano.
“The Ortivez Farm” focused on agriculture and the fruits of their tilling and toil helped fill the bellies of all the communards. Linking these communities were friends, revolutionaries, seekers and slackers. Holy men and poets were drawn to our county by word of these daring experiments and it is likely that a list of their names would inspire incredulous awe. I don’t believe you’ll find many rural counties as rich in fine arts as is Huerfano. From galleries in La Veta to the hallways of our county courthouse, this wealth of color and form is an enduring gift from those “hippies” who are now a precious fiber helping to bind together our greater community.
It has been said that no more than six random acquaintances separates any one soul from anyone else anywhere in the world. So think of Libre as that treasured link which not only expands Huerfano County’s connection with the wider world but, most importantly, lessens our degree of separation from a potent, heady and formative time in our history. Thanks Libre, and congratulations on your 40th anniversary!