A stroll through history: Find your way around downtown Steamboat district
3 buildings in district listed on National Register of Historic Places
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When the first railcars rolled into Routt County at the dawn of the 20th century, growth became a buzzword in Steamboat Springs. The arrival of the first railway led to the construction of many large buildings, and people flocked to the area in search of prosperity.
Today, the area where some of the earliest buildings stood downtown is part of the Steamboat Springs Downtown Historic District, which was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
The city of Steamboat, in partnership with Main Street Steamboat, the Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Routt County, recently unveiled custom street toppers identifying the downtown historic district along Lincoln Avenue.
“There is so much history along the downtown corridor,” said Arianthé Stettner, chairperson of the Historic Preservation Commission. “The toppers are intended to raise awareness of the unique characteristics of the historic district and allow visitors to easily identify this important area.”
The sign toppers run along Lincoln Avenue from Fifth to 11th streets. Additional signs may be installed on other streets within the district in future years, according to city officials.
Of the 52 buildings in the historic district, 32 are designated as historically significant, and three have earned the distinction of being individually placed on the official National Register of Historic Places.
The National Register of Historic Places, overseen by the National Park Service, designates locations with architectural or archaeological significance around the country that should be preserved for future generations. The three local buildings that made the list — the Maxwell Building, the First National Bank Building and the Routt County National Bank building — were built between 1900 and 1920 and have stood the test of time.
The three buildings mark the central area of the business district of the original Steamboat town site established in 1884.
The original business district is locally significant for its long association of providing residents of the city and the surrounding areas with goods and services for over a century, according to Historic Routt County.
The historic district includes about six city blocks, with 40% of the buildings inside its boundaries built between 1900 and 1920.
First National Bank Building
Built in 1905, the First National Bank Building, later known as the Rehder Building, is located at the southeastern corner of Eighth Street and Lincoln Avenue.
Its original function was solely as a financial institution, but it’s now home to the Steamboat Art Museum.
The building’s architecture is a rare local example of the Romanesque Revival style, which was chiefly employed in the mid-19th century and inspired by 11th and 12th century architecture and ancient Roman and Byzantine buildings. It became a popular style for American universities around the early 20th century.
The Romanesque Revival style can be seen in the First National Bank Building’s arches that top its windows and door openings and the use of heavy cut stone and contrasting colored brick.
According to its registration form for the National Register of Historic Places, the building “exemplifies the development” of the commercial sector of historic Steamboat and “is a physical manifestation of the economic prosperity during its early years of development.”
Construction of the building’s large-scale proportion reflected the area’s vast economic prosperity during the first decade of the 1900s, according to the form.
The property was purchased by local miner turned bank director Harry Rehder on July 20, 1937, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January 2001. In 2004, the estate of Helen and Henry Rehder bequeathed the building to the city with the stipulation that it be used as a museum. The Steamboat Art Museum opened its first exhibit there in 2006.
Routt National Bank Building
A second bank building in downtown Steamboat was added to the National Register of Historic Places about a year later, in May 2002.
The Routt National Bank Building, located on the northwestern corner of Eighth Street and Lincoln Avenue, was created to house a bank, a meeting hall and a drugstore. It now is home to Wild Horse Gallery and Shirts & Stuff.
A prominent visual element within the original commercial district, the building was constructed in 1919 by Steamboat icon Carl Howelsen.
Since then its exterior has undergone several renovations and restorations. In about 1980, a nonoriginal stucco veneer and roof modifications were added along with a painting of a snake that stretched across the building’s first story.
Those modifications were removed in 2001, and the building was restored closer to its original appearance.
With the stock market crash in 1929, many banks across the nation began to fail and were shuttered. Routt National Bank was one of those poor performing banks, and it went under with the Great Depression.
Following the 1933 closures of both First National Bank and Routt National Bank, Steamboat’s last remaining financial institution, the Bank of Steamboat Springs, merged with Routt County State Bank, which had originated in Oak Creek. A portion of the Routt National Bank building was later sold to Routt County State Bank, and the newly merged bank was renamed Routt County National Bank.
Since its creation, the upper story of the building has operated as a Masonic Lodge, which has hosted numerous social events for the community.
In 1995, the Maxwell Building was the first in the downtown historic district named to the National Register of Historic Places. Located on the northeastern corner of Ninth Street and Lincoln Avenue, the building has several notable features that have shaped its history.
It is believed that the building’s exterior brick was some of the last brick locally made at the Togler brickyard in Steamboat, according to its National Register of Historic Places registration form. The building exhibits many of the elements common in commercial style buildings of the early 20th century American Movement, a revivalist architectural movement made popular during increasing development in the U.S. during the Second Industrial Revolution.
Constructed in 1908, the building originally housed the Chamberlain-Gray Drug store, the longest continually operated local drugstore and second longest continually operating business in Steamboat. The drugstore continued to evolve in ownership and name over the decades and is now known as Lyon’s Corner Drug & Soda Fountain. For its first 54 years, the building was also the site of the U.S. Post Office.
Today, in addition to the Lyon’s drugstore, the building includes Shear Performance Hair Salon and Azteca Taqueria.
The building gets its name from James P. Maxwell, one of six Boulder residents who incorporated Steamboat in 1900. His sons originally owned the building. Davis S. Chamberlain then purchased the building in 1920 from the Maxwell brothers and, eventually, sold it to prominent local rancher Frank A. Squire. Squire’s three daughters inherited the building following his death in 1959 and, ultimately, entered it into a family trust.
Reported to cost $20,000 — nearly $600,000 in today’s dollars — the building was touted as one of the finest in Routt County, according to articles published following its construction in the Steamboat Pilot.
Finding your way
Those unfamiliar with the history of downtown Steamboat will now be able to navigate the historic boundaries with the addition of the street sign toppers.
“These signs will foster community pride, cultivate an awareness for the importance of the downtown area and serve as a gentle reminder of the significance of the historic downtown district,” said Lisa Popovich, executive director of Main Street Steamboat.
The nonprofit organization received a grant from Yampa Valley Electric Association’s Operation Round Up to pay for the sign materials. Operation Round Up allows customers to round up their electric bills to the next dollar with the extra cents put into a fund that awards grants. The city’s Streets Division in Public Works designed, fabricated and installed the 16 signature street sign toppers.
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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