Community Agriculture Alliance: Elmer House tells story of homesteaders ‘proving up’ in Hayden
Hayden residents are likely familiar with the stately brick home surrounded by pastureland on Routt County Road 80, north of the railroad tracks. Since its construction in 1917, the Elmer House has become a distinctive and recognizable landmark, a status codified by the Board of County Commissioners, who recently added the home to the Routt County Register of Historic Properties.
To get their home designated, owners Sally and Jim Tyler worked with Laurel Watson of Hayden Heritage Center to uncover the history of the house and the family for whom it was originally built. Through their research, the Tylers discovered the rich history of Mathias and Marie Elmer, homesteaders who successfully “proved up” the land and became important figures in Hayden’s community.
For the past 140 years, Hayden has been the agricultural center of Routt County due to its flat pastures, temperate weather and available water (relative to the rest of the county, at least). Following the forced removal of the Utes from Colorado to Utah in the early 1880s, homesteaders trickled, then flowed into the Hayden area. Under the 1862 Homestead Act, these new arrivals were able to file preemptive claims for up to 160 acres of land for a nominal fee. Among these early homesteaders were Mathias and Marie Elmer, who were born in Switzerland and Germany, respectively.
Newly married, Matt and Marie came to Routt County in 1883 and took up a preemptive claim on the Morgan Bottom area near Hayden. Over the years, they “proved up” their claim — meaning they built a home and farmed the land — which were requirements for homesteaders to take legal possession of the land. The Elmers became successful ranchers. Additionally, Matt and Marie were both active in the development of Hayden and Routt County. Marie was particularly influential in the Congregational Church, Routt County School Board and within the Democratic Party.
By 1917, the Elmers had achieved a certain level of prosperity and were able to move closer to town so their youngest daughter, Emma, could attend high school. They purchased the property just north of the railroad tracks at the depot and contracted a builder in Denver to construct their new home.
According to the Routt County Republican, the house “was to be one of the finest residences in this part of the state, constructed of fine brick, with two bathrooms, a sun room, hot water heat, private sewer system, and electric lights.” These modern conveniences were serious luxuries for anyone in rural Northwest Colorado in 1917. The Elmers’ home, therefore, exemplifies their growth in affluence due to their success homesteading and ranching.
For almost 30 years now, Sally and Jim Tyler have been proud stewards of their historic home and surrounding gardens. Recently, Sally mused about a particularly interesting fact regarding her home: after Mathias died in 1922, Marie practiced as a midwife in the house. Who knows how many Routt County babies were born in the Elmer House?
If you’re interested in nominating your home to the Routt County Register of Historic Properties, email Emily Katzman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Katzman is the executive director for Historic Routt County. Contributing research from by Laurel Watson and Jim and Sally Tyler.
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