The Courthouse Museum

506 E. Main St.

Open daily from the weekend before Memorial Day through Labour day, Monday - Saturday 10 to 5, Sundays, noon to 5. Shoulder season (May 1 to May 17, and Labour day to winter closing) hours are Thursday - Saturday 10 to 4, Sundays, noon to 4. The museum will close November 1st for the season. Admission: $5.00/adult. $1.00/youth 5-18. $10.00/family (2 adults plus 2 children/grandchildren). Four and under are free. BVH members are free.


The Old Chaffee County Courthouse, completed in 1882, now houses the Buena Vista Heritage Museum.

Granite, Colorado, was the original site of the first courthouse when Chaffee County was split from Lake County in 1879.

Buena Vistans voted to make their town the county seat, but Granite refused to give up the records. So a group of men lead by Ernest Wilbur "borrowed" a locomotive and flat car and went up to Granite late on the night of November 12, 1880. The men built a siding to the Granite Courthouse and kicked in the door.

Sheriff John Mear and his wife investigated the noise and were forced at gunpoint to watch the removal of all the county records by the Buena Vista men. Furniture was unbolted from the floor, including the railing. Even the heat stove, with embers remaining in it from the day's use, was loaded onto the flatcar.

There was no courthouse in Buena Vista at the time, so the records were stored in several business safes and in a stable until the new courthouse and jail complex were built.

The cornerstone was laid on June 8, 1882 with full Masonic honors by Mayor Judson E. Cole. Governor Pitkin and Denver Mayor Morris attended the ceremony.

The Chaffee County Courthouse was used as a courthouse from 1882 to 1932. From 1936 through 1972 it was used as a school. In 1974, encouraged by tremendous public support, the School District sold the building to the Town of Buena Vista for $1.00. The building became the home of the Buena Vista Heritage Museum, the Chaffee County Council of the Arts gallery (now Arkansas Valley Art Center) and the Buena Vista Model Railroad Society display. In 2003, the Buena Vista population voted to sell the Courthouse to Buena Vista Heritage, also for $1.00. The Arkansas Valley Arts Center moved into the new Colorado Mountain College campus in the fall of 2005. The old county jail located to the rear of the courthouse is now used as the Buena Vista school administration building.


Down stairs the School Room represents the era when the building hosted the local school. The desks in the middle of the room are representative of what would have been used when the room hosted 1st and 2nd grade. The other rooms along the bottom floor hosted 3rd/4th, 5th/6th, and 7th/8th, with High School grades upstairs.

The County History Room displays daily life objects, fashion and living from the mid/late 1800's on. There is also displays about our militia history and displays of the commemorative events for the town, such as the centennial's for both Colorado and Buena Vista. This room also holds the annually rotating exhibit! Be sure to stop by to see what's displayed this year!

The Industry Room shows lifestyle and occupations from pre-settlement to today. From the hunting and fishing of the Ute natives, to the building of social industries, to farming, to the tourism industries that bring people to the valley today, the occupations that shaped the society of the valley are represented.

The Parlor and Kitchen Room, situated in the Gift Shop, displays household items through the years. In the parlor, musical instruments and entertainment devices show an evolution of the availability of entertainment. The Kitchen hosts a turn of the 20th century stove and cupboard. Dishes, jars/bottles, and other antique kitchen equipment are also displayed.

In the Hallway is a display of the Ute and archaeological history, communications display of switchboards and telephones through the ages, the original jail cell door from when the building next door hosted the jail, and Mine & Cave exhibit. The Mine and Cave show history of mineralogy and mining of the area. Carl Kinell, local geologist, donated his life collection of minerals displayed. Be sure to go through the curtain into the Cave. This is our florecent mineral display provided by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Florecent Mineral Society.

The large room at the top of the stairs was once the heart of this venerable old building. This courtroom was the scene of many exciting cases. The fate of Nicolo Ferminello, an Italian accused of stabbing a man to death, was decided here. He was sentenced to die for his crime and his is Chaffee County's only "legal" hanging. He was hanged at the back of the jail complex. The room, which is now available for rental, has the original judge's bench and chair.

The superb, extensive historical model train display of the railroad system spanning 130 miles of the Upper Arkansas River Valley from Tennessee Pass above Leadville to Canon City's the Royal Gorge is also upstairs. It portrays the era (1880 - 1930) when mining and railroading were very popular in the area.

A resource room is available to anyone researching local history. It is open during regular business hours, or by special appointment, the resource room hosts maps, newspapers, early county records, and resources for genealogy and local history research. Copies and scans of photos for publication are available for a fee for the continued preservation of our resources.
Buena Vista Heritage
P.O.Box 1414
Buena Vista, CO 81211