Tragically, the day before Thanksgiving, the Shipman family’s home on the Dooley Creek Farm in the Crystal Valley burned to the ground.
Mollie Shipman knew the home her whole life. Her grandparents came over from Leadville, bought the property in 1949 and lived in the same house. The home was built in 1900 by, Mollie assumes, the farm’s namesake, James Dooley, who homesteaded there in the late 1800s.
When her grandparents first moved in, there was no running water or electricity. Later, her parents built a separate home on the property, where Mollie grew up — just down a dirt road from her grandparents.
Today on the property, Mollie runs Dooley Creek Farm with her husband, Jake. The business was registered in 2019 as a limited liability company.
“Right now we’re just taking care of the immediate animal needs, which is quite a task,” Mollie told The Sopris Sun.
They still have about 260 laying hens, around 40 pigs and a small herd of cattle. The couple has been working to keep the animals cared for, namely getting water and power restored to keep their water thawed. Recently, Jake worked until 10 p.m. on a frigid night filling in trenches to cover water and power lines before the snow came. Mollie noted that Holy Cross Energy has been very supportive and believes they’ll be able to maintain energy service through the winter.
“As far as the business moving forward, we’re just starting to have that conversation a little bit,” Mollie explained. “Right now, our feeling is that we really need to continue. We have momentum. We have community support. There’s demand for the food we’re growing. We love what we’re doing and being able to offer that to the community.
“The question is, can we balance that with family life and the whole process of rebuilding?” Mollie wondered. She added that, at this point, they plan to continue with the business but perhaps scale back production for a while.
Ironically, the day before the fire, the Shipmans ordered 350 chicks to raise as laying hens. Mollie said they’re still committed to the newcomers.
Understanding that Pitkin County has a stringent permitting code, Mollie stated, “One of the biggest things in my head that seems really daunting is the whole rebuilding process.”
In fact, Mollie’s sister is working on building another home on the property. And, reportedly, it took her five years to secure the building permit.
In the meantime, the family is nestled in Mollie’s parents’ home. Mollie’s sister, a professor at Colorado Mountain College, is also living in their parents’ house.
“We’re all here; one big happy family,” Mollie said. She predicts, however, that there’ll be moments when they begin to get on each others’ nerves, as families do.
Considering the circumstances, Mollie hopes that the permitting process can be expedited. At this point, she’s left a message with the county to get the pre-application rolling.
Fortunately, the home was insured and the family has begun the claims process. “They acted like it should be pretty straightforward and we should get the full amount, because it was a total loss,” Mollie relayed.
“We definitely want to be here on this property, you know? It’s home. It’s where I grew up,” Mollie continued. “It’s where my grandparents lived and died … I had my third baby there in that house.”
She reflected on aspects of the home, including a window where her grandmother used to sit, sip her coffee “and look out the window and watch the birds. That’s one of my best memories, grandma sitting at that window.
“It was old and definitely had its quirks, but it was a beautiful, cozy, little house,” Mollie said.
So, there may be a few aspects they’d like to emulate when rebuilding, but she also foresees making the home more energy efficient.
When it comes to the community support the family has received since the devastating fire, Mollie said, “It’s just been mind blowing.”
A friend of the family’s created a GoFundMe page which can be found at www.bit.ly/ShipmanGofundme