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- Grace Hood
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- Hart Van Denburg
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The Kontny Elevator looms over the east end of 1st Street in Julesburg. A fixture in town since Farmers Grain Co. President Jim Kontny began expanding the facility after buying it at auction in 1943, it was recently sold to the Scoular Company, based in Omaha, Nebraska. The elevators have a licensed grain storage capacity of just over 1.8 million bushels.
“Julesburg is a railroad town,” the local paper declared in 2011 as part of Julesburg’s 125th anniversary. In fact, there were four Julesburgs at one time or another, named for trading post operator Jules Beni in the late 1850s. The fourth incarnation is the one in the present location. “The Union Pacific Railroad planted the seed for Julesburg IV in 1881 when new rails branched south from the Transcontinental Line and headed towards Denver.” A freight train rolled through town on a Sunday evening in late July.
Joe Harris co-owns the D&J Cafe in downtown Julesburg, with his wife, Tasha. It’s a bustling spot filled with locals, including farmers, cops and an EMT crew on the day we visited in late July. Joe worked there when he was in high school, it changed hands a few times, and then it closed down. There were no buyers or takers for a year or so. “I remember coming in here as a little kid. And so we decided to change our career paths and buy this and open it back up,” Joe said.
He and his wife were living in Denver at the time, wanted to get married and have children and felt like this was the best place to raise a child. Besides, “The community needed it and it’s something we both knew we could do.”
Like any small town, Julesburg is a tight-knit place where everyone seems to know everyone, and Joe and his wife had a strict policy of not talking politics. “Folks here are real opinionated. That’s one of the things you love about this place. People are real honest, up front, opinionated, and they get real passionate about this little town, and preserving it and helping it grow. You want to be cautious with your politics,” Joe said.
Sedgwick County Commissioners Donald Schneider, left, and Howard McCormick at the Sedgwick County Courthouse in Julesburg on Monday, July 30, 2018. “We are trimmed down to the bare bones,” Schneider said, referring to a slim Sedgwick County budget. Commissioners there, Republicans all, decided to ask voters this November for a county sales tax increase. “One of the reasons why I think the whole community in general is struggling [is] because the farmers and ranchers around aren’t making a lot of money. So they’re not spending money. They are cut down to the bare bones themselves to stay operating.”
Matt Brasby of Fort Morgan, a construction worker, gives a wave as he prepares to drive his souped-up pickup truck over to the starting lanes at the Julesburg Drag Strip on Sunday, July 29, 2018. Sitting beside the Municipal Airport, the strip bills itself as the oldest continuously run drag racing course in the country, and draws competitors from all over the Great Plains and beyond. He gives President Trump a “passing grade” but adds, “I wish they’d take his Twitter account away from him.”
One of the biggest issues in Fort Morgan, he says, is the lack of affordable housing. His family owns 15 rentals, and when someone moves out they get 20 applicants without even advertising because the market is so tight.
His biggest concern as the election approaches? “The divide between the two parties. It seems like they're drifting further apart and getting more polarized and fighting for the sake of fighting. There's a lot of things they agree on, you know, and I think it may have started in a prior election cycle but I’d sure like to see them get a little closer, to work a little bit on what they agree on and quit this heavy handed fighting business.”
Brasby says he usually votes Republican “on the big stuff. I do believe that party trumps person, at least on the national, or Colorado scale. Maybe not the local side. The big thing for me the last election had to do with the Supreme Court nominations coming out.
A drag racing competitor warms up his tires in a storm of vapor and engine roar behind the starting line at the Julesburg Drag Strip on Sunday, July 29, 2018. Sitting beside the Municipal Airport, the strip bills itself as the oldest continuously run drag racing course in the country, and draws competitors from all over the Great Plains and beyond.
A track official cleans the starting area between races on Sunday, July 29, 2018.
Julesburg and other towns along the South Platte River Valley have historically always been important stops for travelers on the way to the West, whether they were explorers, or in wagon trains, railroad trains, or cars and trucks on the nearby interstate. The Pony Express stopped here too in the 1860s. Although the legendary mail route ran for just 18 months between 1860-61, it still enjoys an outsized myth in the West, and Julesburg plays up its relationship with the historic route as part of a strategy to lure tourists to town.
Anna Scott is the executive director of the Ernest and Lillian E. Campbell Foundation, based in Julesburg. “We've always been a way station,” she said. “We've always been a stop on the way to somewhere else.”
“We could become a day destination,” she added. “A nice spot on the road where travelers can pull off and perhaps they can see a nice little town. Come into town, think that they could retire here, bring their family, or provide a service. It is amazing how just one person can make a difference. Just one person."
One possibility: a big new rest and service area to lure travelers off I-76. “That could really make a difference. Sterling still wants the welcome center, and that's just not gonna happen."
Kim Orth, executive director of the William Stretesky Foundation, in Julesburg on Monday July 30, 2018. The foundation supports economic development in the area. Like other residents, she talked about the importance of passing a new farm bill, so that farmers and ranchers and all the businesses and services related to agriculture have a more certain future on which to try and plan, economically.
“There are some issues coming up in the election that's going to affect our education system too,” she said, referring in part to a statewide ballot initiative, Amendment 73. Amendment 73—a constitutional amendment—would give each school district millions of more dollars by raising income taxes among Coloradans making more than $150,000 a year and increasing the corporate tax. Ninety-two percent of filers would see no change in their taxes.
Residents are hoping “that those issues pass so that funding can be released back to the education system that's been put in other places for quite a while.” Right now, Colorado spends about $2,800 less per student than the national average. And public schools here are down $7.4 billion in state funding since the recession. That’s because of a mechanism lawmakers created that allowed cutting school funding each year in order to prop up the rest of the state budget.
Deer come out near the end of the day in a verdant corn field north of Julesburg in late July 2018. Sedgwick County was largely spared the drought that affected farmers and ranchers all over the state this year.
A center pivot irrigation system above corn fields north of Julesburg. There are more than 335,000 acres being farmed in Sedgwick County, spread among more than 220 farms. The market value of farming and livestock products together was worth more than $100,000,000 in 2012, the last year for which data was available. The county is named after Civil War Gen. John Sedgwick.
Ovid Mayor Mike Sullivan is also the executive director of Sedgwick County Economic Development in Julesburg. The organization’s offices are in what is now called the Innovation Pavilion on Cedar Street in Julesburg, a top-to-bottom rehabilitated historic building that once was home to a bank, a boarding house and other businesses.