Local historian explores community in new book ‘Only Connect’ | SteamboatToday.com

Local historian explores community in new book ‘Only Connect’

Belle Zars
Courtesy photo

As a child living north of Hayden, Belle Zars remembers her fascination with the Rock Schoolhouse, the historic building visible from nearly everywhere she went. It’s a two-story schoolhouse in Elkhead, built by hand entirely of solid rock. It was eventually abandoned, so Zars and her family would occasionally go in and sweep it out. She used to play with one of the old blackboards, which was relocated to her grandfather’s cabin.

“The structure was a mystery,” Zars said. “I always wondered why it was abandoned and who the people were who built it up here.”

Growing up, stories were a large part of Zars’s life, but it wasn’t until she went away to college in Massachusetts that she decided to dig deeper into her curiosity of the area in which she grew up. Now, after decades of research and interviews, Zars has published her book “Only Connect.”

Zars is the granddaughter of local homesteaders Ros and Ferry Carpenter, and has long been fascinated with the idea of community – how they form, how they are sustained and nourished and how people come to consider the well-being of the whole rather than the individual.

Belle Zars's new book, "Only Connect" explores the history of the area in which she grew up, north of Hayden.
Courtesy photo

“Only Connect“ begins with the story of the Yamparika Ute Indians and the subsequent homesteaders and teachers, all of whom shared the same love for Zars’s beloved land in Elkhead, Colorado.

“As a child,” Zars said, “I had an enormous curiosity about who was here before us and what happened to the Ute. After reading through many original sources, I came to realize that this land was enormously precious and valued to them; it was a place of hunting and gathering and also a place of renewal. I feel like I share that same attachment to the same land.”

And so, while still in college, Zars searched for people to interview.

“I had this idea that I would find all these people who had gone to school at the Rock Schoolhouse and who knew the story of the community,” she said. “I had no idea where I would go with those interviews but I wanted to ask questions and get the story.”

With two friends, she traveled from Denver to Vernal, Utah, and up to Wyoming, with each person leading them to another person. They were never refused an interview.

“When I did those first interviews, it was a revelation to me,” Zars said. “Their description of how a community worked – it was real neighborliness. There was a longing for that and a longing for a return to it, and it made me want to explore it more.”

What she discovered was a hardworking and valiant community who, through each interview, described to Zars how they cared for each other, how generous they were with each other and, as a result, how strong their community came to be.

The Rock Schoolhouse, said Zars, was an example of something they created together and was the community’s shining achievement.

“Only Connect” weaves together the story of this community from the Utes to the homesteaders to her own family with first-person accounts, interviews, letters and diaries. Zars will give a talk and sign copies of the book at the Hayden Library on Friday, Feb. 25 at 1:30 p.m.

If you go

What: Author/historian Belle Zars discusses her book, “Only Connect” and signs copies

Where: Hayden Library, 201 E. Jefferson Ave., Hayden

When: Friday, Feb. 25, 1:30 p.m.

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