The Courthouse Museum

506 E. Main St.

June thru August hours are 11 am - 4 pm daily.
September hours are Friday - Sunday 11 am - 4 pm.

The museum will close on October 4, 2021, for the winter season.  

Admission: $5.00/adult. Children accompanied by an adult and Members are FREE!!!


The Old Chaffee County Courthouse was completed in 1882 and 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, however, Granite refused to give up the records. So a group of men led 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 was 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 Historic Chaffee County Courthouse was used as a courthouse from 1882 to 1932, as a school from 1936-1972 and 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 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 old county jail located to the rear of the courthouse is now used as the Buena Vista school administration building.


Downstairs 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 1800s on. There are also displays about our militia history and displays of the commemorative events for the town, such as the centennials for both Colorado and Buena Vista. In addition, this room holds the annually rotating exhibit! Be sure to stop by and check out our WWII special exhibit this year!

The Industry Room shows lifestyle and occupations from pre-settlement to today. It includes the hunting and fishing of the Ute natives to the building of social industries and 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 the 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 are 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 the Mine & Cave exhibit. The Mine and Cave show the history of mineralogy and mining of the area. Carl Kinell, a local geologist, donated his life collection of minerals displayed. Be sure to go through the curtain into the Cave. This is our florescent mineral display provided by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Fluorescent 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, this is Chaffee County's only "legal" hanging. He was hung 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 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.


Thanks to the History Colorado State Historical Fund, the restoration of the cupola has been completed!  In all the old photographs of the County Courthouse, the cupola was not shiny. In fact, it was darker. But in a black and white image, it’s hard to tell the exact color. This was the reason to have a  historic paint analysis.  Over this last winter, plans were made, architects consulted and in April 2019 everyone convened on the roof to find the largest scraps of paint flaking off the cupola to run through historical paint analysis. The results of that were completed by mid-May and the result was… well… surprising.
The modern paint that best matches the historic sample is Sherwin Williams SW2839 “Roycroft Copper Red” (Sample of color shown). By the end of 2019, the cupola will not have the bright glare off tin that we see today, but the brickwork inspired red that will be reminiscent of the look that Chaffee County saw for decades before wear and weather changed its appearance.
See below.

The final part of the grant was the exploration of a piece of the Cornice to assess the work required for the restoration.

Buena Vista Heritage
P.O. Box 1414
Buena Vista, CO 81211