If you’ve driven along Cherryvale Road near Marshall Road, then you probably already know where the Marshall Schoolhouse is located. It’s that white, T-shaped building that looks slightly like a church but was actually a schoolhouse where miners’ children were educated.
Constructed circa 1900, the building sat vacant for several years until it was purchased in the 90s by a CU professor who moved it 80 feet to the west before renovating it into a residential space, meticulously saving several original architectural details. It’s currently listed on the Colorado historic register.
Olympian Jenny Simpson and her husband, Jason, purchased the home in 2019, and she’d be the first to tell you that the thought of a fire striking had crossed her mind prior to the Marshall Fire because it’s nestled in a prairie, surrounded by native grasses and open space. She’d even loosely thought about what to grab in case of an emergency, yet Dec. 30 was unlike anything she’d ever anticipated experiencing.
Jenny and Jason’s home sits dangerously close to where the fire is believed to have first sparked. That unfathomably windy day, as the couple worked quickly to harness landscaping elements so they wouldn’t blow away, Jason smelled a whiff of smoke. Before he said he could even start to comprehend putting together an action plan, he looked up and saw Jenny already hosing down parts of the field. Within minutes, they had to flee the property as the prairie became engulfed in flames.
It was only seven minutes to be exact, from that first faint smell to when they escaped. Jason, with quick thinking, snapped photos of the chaos, which they later noticed were time-stamped. As they drove away, they feared for the worst.
Yet, somehow—remarkably—their 120-year-old wood framed and sided home remained unscathed; unfortunately, their neighbors were not as lucky. The Simpsons think a combination of things, including some recent landscaping efforts which acted as a dirt barrier, played a part.
While the exterior of the house was fine, the inside was not; they were temporarily displaced while the home was remediated for smoke damage. Jenny felt this paralleled her own trauma—she might have looked OK on the outside but did not feel all right on the inside. The emotional toll of that frightening day and their neighbors losing their homes while theirs stayed intact felt like a singe to her heart.
Both Jenny and Jason say from the time they first purchased the home that they never felt quite like owners but rather like stewards—some kind of intangible responsibility they felt that was hard to explain but might be coming more into focus these days. A class photo of the Marshall School (ca. 1922) hangs in their entryway, paying homage to days past.
Wanting to help their community but unsure of exactly where to start, the couple began by simply using their property as a place for neighbors to congregate. The first gathering happened about a month after the fire, where neighbors shared their individual and collective tragedies. Jenny says the connections and stories were powerful and cathartic.
“There were so many people who had lived next to one another but had never really met, and instances where maybe people had met once a long time ago but now they shared a trauma as they faced a fire that took their homes,” Jenny says.
Residents were more focused on how to move forward at the second meeting. People shared contacts and resources for rebuilding efforts coupled with deep frustrations, delays and broken promises, according to Jenny.
“Human resilience isn’t a matter of physics, it’s often a matter of defying physics; reversing a crushing force so you can stand tall again. Marshall is resilient,” she says.
Another perfect summary comes from a line she tweeted in late January: “I’m finding out what I’m made of and it’s brighter than fire.”
Jenny says she can’t turn back the clock from the day of the fire and that no one can replace what was lost.
“So what can I do? I can love on my neighbors. I can give them a few hours off on a Saturday with a warm meal and a room full of friends who are fighting a similar fight. We are rooting for each other because each home lost is infinitely specific and individual,” she says.
While we’ll never understand why one home remains untouched while a neighboring house succumbs to flames, the Marshall Fire left a significant mark on their souls, intensifying Jenny and Jason’s sense of what their home means to the Marshall community. The property's scholastic history continues, carrying the torch to serve as a facility to exchange knowledge and as a safe haven for the neighborhood.
“I think that our best work is inspired by joy, not driven by fear or anger. Despite the challenges, I see and hear and feel so much joy from my Marshall neighbors when we are together. So I think their best work is ahead.”