Old Town Hot Springs humble history dates back to 1800s
A photograph hanging on the wall of the Old Town Hot Springs shows the facility’s humble beginnings in Steamboat Springs.
The photograph, taken on a hot summer day, shows a lap pool filled with people splashing in its waters and enjoying the day. The view includes a two-lane, dirt road lined with trees, which is now U.S. Highway 40, or Lincoln Avenue.
But the history of Old Town Hot Springs began long before the photograph was taken, in about 1910. It dates back further even than James Crawford’s arrival in the late 1800s.
“The Heart Springs were here and well known when James Crawford came here,” said Bud Romberg, who served on Old Town Hot Springs’ board for 40 years. “The Ute Indians used to come to the valley just to bathe in the waters.”
The Utes believed the waters had magical healing powers, and that was not lost on Crawford and those who followed him to the Yampa Valley in the early days of Steamboat Springs. Shorty after he arrived, a bathhouse was built, and the roots of the Old Town Hot Springs were planted.
The Heart Spring is one of several springs that release warm water from the ground that fills the hot pool and heats the lap pool at the Old Town Hot Springs today. But those pools were a popular stop even before the first full-time residents lived in the Yampa Valley.
Through the years, the hot springs have faced challenges.
In 1968, the original bathhouse was condemned by the health department and Old Town Hot Springs came close to bankruptcy. The facility also survived a roof collapse caused by the moisture and heat generated by the hot pools, which rotted the wooden beams used to support the roof.
But despite the setbacks, the facility has always been supported by the Steamboat Springs community.
Now, several decades after that photograph was taken, the view is a little different. The highway is wider and much busier, and the building has been replaced and enlarged. The lap pool is now open year round, and a fitness center has been added to complement the pools. The hot springs are located outside, and the large hot pool is a popular attraction for locals and visitors.
“I think you always miss the old days,” said Marian Tolles, who has been coming to the Old Town Hot Springs since moving to the valley in 1957 with her husband, George.
The couple visited the hot springs that year and were hooked.
“It was a very pleasant, good way to start the day — and it still is,” Marian said of soaking in the hot springs.
The Tolles remain regular visitors to the hot springs, as they have been for most of their lives. George will turn 88 in August, and Marian is 85.
“When we came back in 1969, they had just finished renovating the pools,” Marian said. ”They were selling lifetime memberships at the time, and we bought one.”
Back then, she said, there was a group of 10 to 15 who made it a point to start out every day with a nice soak. Marian and George were regulars, along with longtime resident Dorothy Wither, who had a key to the enclosure and would open it at 5:30 a.m. for the group.
Romberg was also part of that group.
“I thought it was a wonderful amenity for the community,” Romberg said. “It was worth supporting over the years, and I continue to feel that way.”
Romberg said the hot springs have always been owned by members, and members also support operations and improvements at the facility.
“It’s a unique facility,” he said. “Almost all the other facilities of this type are supported by the city or the county. Facilities in Silverthorne and Vail are supported, at least in part, by taxpayer dollars. This facility is completely non tax supported, and that is something that people should know.”
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