Fake History: The errant roundabout

Tim Upham’s “Townswoman” sculpture at the South Public Road roundabout represents town founder Mary Miller’s second plat recorded in 1889, not her original plat as the sign says.

Incorrect historical information gets imbedded into a town’s history in odd and sometimes expensive ways.

For example, in 2014 the City of Lafayette placed a set of trapezoidal sculptures in a roundabout on South Public Road. The sign for the roundabout states that the sculptures represent “Lafayette Founder Mary Miller’s Original Town Plat 1888.”

Trouble is, the sculptures actually represent Mary Miller’s second platting of Lafayette which occurred in 1889.

The sculpture is the work of artist Tim Upham, who according to the Lafayette News was paid $40,000 by the City of Lafayette as part of its “Lafayette Entryway Project.” As the Boulder County Arts Alliance website states, “The 3-panel sculpture reflect[s] the history of Lafayette, using the shapes of the city founder Mary Miller’s street naming methods are (sic) reflected in the words on the sculpture. Mary Miller, the ‘Mother of Lafayette’, platted the 150 acre townsite on her ranch in 1888 and named it after her deceased husband, Lafayette. Gateway portrays the townsite, streets and individual lots.”

The historical information the sculpture represents was not adequately vetted, but the sculpture was installed anyway at the Bob Burger Recreation Center in 2006, then moved in about 2014. (Tim Upham’s website even shows the incorrect map labeled as “Plat of Original Townsite 1889.”)

The city made an attempt to fix the lettering misstep. When the roundabout lettering was put up in 2014, it read “Lafayette Founder Mary Miller’s Original Town Plat 1889.” A few months after that, the number nine in 1889 was swapped for an eight so that the sign now reads “Lafayette Founder Mary Miller’s Original Town Plat 1888.”

So a kinda, almost, nearly correct, close enough fix. Or not.

Mary Miller’s two plats

Mary Miller’s original rectangular plat of Lafayette, Colorado recorded in February 1888. From the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder.

In February 1888, Mary Miller platted the Town of Lafayette, a 37-acre (not 150 acre), twelve-block rectangle bounded by Foote Avenue on the east, Gough Avenue on the west, Cleveland Street on the south and Baseline Road the north. A copy of Mary Miller’s original 1888 Town of Lafayette plat has been in the Lafayette Public Library archives since about 1974, when Jerry Armstrong, president of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, donated it. The original map has also been in county platting records at the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder since 1913.

Mary Miller’s second plat of Lafayette, recorded in January 1889. From the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder.

Eleven months later, in January 1889, Mary Miller re-platted Lafayette into a 89-acre (not 150 acre) trapezoidal shape, and added Harrison Avenue and Cannon, Chester and Emma Streets. The replatting reflected an angled right-of-way that the Colorado & Southern Railroad needed to build a railroad spur to the Simpson coal mine.

So does a year or a few more added streets make a difference? Sure does, especially when it’s a governmental entity that’s manufactured its own version of history — for all to see.