Jamestown heals through art

jamestown building     Barbara Lawlor, Jamestown.  Friday, September 12th, marked the one-year anniversary since much of Jamestown was swept away by the Flood of 2013. The event was memorialized in artwork from those affected by the disastrous downpour that made Jamestown and Lyons a string of islands along the South St. Vrain River, separating the communities from the rest of Boulder County.

Paintings, writing, sculptures and even cupcakes expressed the heartache, the devastation, the joy of caring neighbors, the crazy beauty of a wild river, and even recipes for hope and recovery. These pieces of flood history were on display at the Jamestown Town Hall Friday afternoon. The facility soon became the site of tearful reunions, hugs, and comparisons of how far along the recovery efforts are.

A large painting of two stallions takes up much of one wall, capturing the wild freedom of galloping horses, nostrils flared, manes unfurling with the wind. The painting had been created by Martine and purchased by Dee Meyers, who rented a house owned by Emma Hardy that was located along the creek. When the flood roared through town, the house was leveled and became a pile of rubble under a roof that was covered with rock and mud, three layers of mucky weight.

collapsed cabin

About a week later Martine and a group of people were going through the wreckage of homes, looking for something to salvage, when Martine saw a corner of a painting. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “My mouth dropped open and I was filled with joy. The stallion painting had been pulled out of the debris and put aside before the whole collapsed mess was hauled away. I could not be sure—it was so warped and covered with mud—but as I got closer, I saw that it was actually what I thought it was. Unbelievable.”

A few days before that Martine had seen Dee, who said what she really missed from her non-existing house was the painting of Stallions. “And there it was. It had splintered holes in it, no frame and only part but of it was visible, but I thought it just might be savable.” Martine’s handy husband embraced the project and began sawing, sanding, and gluing. Martine proceeded to scrub, patch, and paint and Stallions was restored and given to Dee.

bridging the gap

Emma Hardy says she has been out of her own house for a year now, but hopes to move back in a couple of weeks. The Stallion painting has become a symbol of hope and recovery from loss.

Another resident, Sondra Levitt, says she is in a state of limbo, not sure what to do about the home she lost. She lived on Ward Street, where her backyard garden ended at the bank of the creek. She had benches and flowers and a porch overlooking the gardens.
city park

“The creek took away the whole back deck and shoved into the house. The road to the house was washed away and I had to climb out over mountains of temporary dirt and rocks.”

Sondra has lived in a rented one-room studio apartment for the past year. She says she misses being able to walk outside and shake out her blankets. She looks out her window only to see and hear construction going on below her. “I am waiting for FEMA to decide if they are going to buy me out,” she says. “They are talking of tearing down the house and giving the land to the town in perpetuity. I am considering repairing the house and seeing how that would work.”

A Jamestown resident hugged Sondra and told her that last month, 11 months to the day of the flood, he was able to finally turn on his water. He said he never did leave town but couldn’t move back to house for a long time.

“I will never buy another bottle of water,” he says. He has water but the road to his house is still not fixed.

Jessie said, “We ziplined our cats across the creek to lift them out. They had the hipline for people a few days later. The helicopter was trying to land as my cats were being ziplined across the raging river. I was airlifted out with all the pets. I lived in my pregnant sister’s basement. After I moved out we became best friends again.”

The center of Jamestown, once a town picnic area, is filled with piles of gravel, mud sluices, heavy equipment, and long piles of pipes. A temporary wooden footbridge crosses the creek to the area that was an island during the flood.
good woman and man

Inside the town hall residents gaze up, reading the large blown-up recipe cards hanging from the rafters. One of the cards said: “Instead of a frozen pizza recipe. We went back in and grabbed beer and pizza. If we had known that it was our last visit to our house, this is what we would have grabbed instead: Kiki’s jewelry, photos of us, photos of friends, sentimentals, concert posters. What?? They’re worth a lot; crystals, yes, we had a collection.” Note: Cooper did go back and recover Kiki’s wedding dress.

Boulder County Mountain Deputies Rik Henrikson, Phil Jarvis, and Tony Tagliatela stopped in to say hello to the Jamestown residents. On the night of the flood, they had become stuck between two rockslides in Boulder Canyon. They ended up in the Fourmile Fire Station watching the water rise, wanting to get out and help people. A snow plow showed up to lead the deputies out, but they still couldn’t make it to Jamestown, where a house had slipped into the creek carrying a man with it.

Throughout the afternoon residents watched a constantly running collection of photos. Their faces mirrored the pictures of horror, joy, sorrow, and love that flashed across the video screen.

Wendy Stokes wrote : “The flood was 15 inches of rain in three days. The night of day two we wondered if we were going to die. The noise was supernatural…Boulders, houses, trees, everything was tumbling into the streets. Plus the noise from the rain on the roof was deafening. The town was divided in half. We know Joey had died. I think we were all in a mindstopping state. Your mind stops. We went to bed wondering what the next day would bring.”

Jamestown mayor

Leon Hill said he had lived in the area for over 30 years and mentioned he was married for 56 years. “We love Jamestown and were very fortunate to have no damage. And we did not evacuate. The first people who came to help were the Southern Baptists from Texas Men Relief Team. They came with the big equipment and wore yellow shirts and helped everyone get out or get supplies. These men became our friends and even returned during the past year to see how everyone was doing.”

Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger talked with the guests at the open house, asking how they were doing and saying that the flood was the biggest event in Jamestown residents’ lives, but recovery efforts continue and the community can be proud of the way everyone came together to help each other.

As visitors left at the end of the day, they traveled down Left Hand Canyon, stopping now and then to wait for heavy equipment to crawl off the road, or wait for their turn in one-lane traffic. Above the low creek sandbags are still piled in a long slithering line between the road and the gouges in the banks left by the raging river. There is still a lot of work to be done before anyone can say, “It is over.”

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.

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