Legendary Kansas house makes its way to Steamboat
In the late 1800s, a judge in Lyons, Kan., got into a dispute with his wife, eventually deciding to divorce her. Not content with a legal separation, the judge cut their beautiful Victorian house in half literally and moved it 6 inches away.
The wife’s half of the home deteriorated over time, and was demolished. The judge’s half survived up until 10 years ago when it, too, was set to be demolished.
Kansas resident Larry Cole purchased the aging home for $50. He plopped it down in a Kansas cornfield, and started to renovate the home, while looking out for potential relocation sites.
Cole found a spot overlooking Steamboat Springs on Ski Trail Lane. The house was cut into three pieces, placed on flatbed trucks and taken through Wyoming down to Steamboat in 1991. Cole continued the renovations while his wife stocked the home with Victorian-era antiques. Cole began looking for buyers when the renovations began to take a financial toll. Enter James and Joan Ecker, the home’s current owners. They continued the renovations in August, and hired Dana Carl, who Ecker describes as “a master craftsman,” to work on the home in February.
Back to the past
Carl, who owns a historically designated barn he also brought up to shape, is entering the final phase of repairs for the Colebrooke Mansion, a hybrid of Larry Cole’s last name and his second wife’s first name.
“It’s been an expensive project,” said Ecker, a retired radiation oncologist, “but it’s been a lot of fun too.”
Walking through the 4,500-square-foot home is like stepping back into the elite atmosphere of the Victorian era.
The Victorian era runs roughly from the 1820s, when Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace in London, to her death at the age of 81 in 1901.
The period is marked by technological outbursts, an extravagant upper-class lifestyle clashing with the hopeless poverty exhibited in Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” which was released during this era.
Steam engines powering trains and ships were all the rage; the United States goes through a multitude of presidents from James Monroe to William McKinley, as well as a destructive Civil War.
The main kitchen is built to accommodate today’s needs, but like most of the house, modern technology is well-camouflaged. Rich, dark, wooden exteriors carefully mask the refrigerator and other appliances.
Light rains down from large, hanging structures that are present throughout the home. Spacious rooms and high ceilings also hold lilliputian closets and entryways.
Even bathroom fixtures hold true to the period; the sink structures are built into wooden tables. Each doorway has an abacus-like piece of tiny wooden rods piercing through wood balls in beautiful geometric shapes.
Small rectangular glass windows called transoms are still present over most of the doors, which feature hinges and doorknob fixtures laced with artistic metal carvings. Re-creating such a door, jointed together with no nails, would cost $800 in today’s market, Carl said.
A long carpet rug runs up the stairs, held down by golden rods at each step. Running alongside is a wall of stained-glass windows.
“There’s just so much going on,” said Laureen Shaffer of Historical Routt County and the city’s Historic Preservation Society. “It’s so overwhelming with all the little details.”
Ecker hopes to get a historic designation for the house, which was built around 1850.
According to Shaffer, potentially historic houses must be special either in terms of architecture or history.
The Eckers’ home will most definitely meet the architectural standard, said Shaffer, who is aware of only two other Victorian-esque homes in Steamboat, that are not quite “textbook Victorian.”
Extensive work is being done on the home’s exterior, which illustrates the typical Victorian house.
The house features an asymmetrical design, shifting the focus away from the main entrance toward the rest of the building. The roofs of the protruding turrets have numerous fish-scale-style wooden shingles.
Ecker credits his interest in antiques to being raised on the first farm in Fostoria, Ohio, on Ecker Road nonetheless.
Six generations grew up on the farm and when the last of the group passed away, Ecker had to find a place for the numerous antiques on his grandmother’s farm.
If anything will amaze visitors more than the building itself, it’s the countless antiques that furnish the home.
The dining room has an old wooden spinning wheel and yarn winder and a classic table-and- chair set.
The living room couches hold ornate threadwork atop hand-carved wood.
Dead center is a functional 1850 Steinway piano, surrounded by old photographs of unidentified people, whom Ecker jokingly claims to be his uncles.
A pair of women’s boots greet visitors at the top of the stairs. They’re extremely small, barely two inches across.
Several hats and a golden-haired doll hang from a hat rack. Next to one of the four-poster beds is a wooden icebox that reads “Trademark White Clad. Registered, Simmons Hardware Co., St. Louis, MO., USA.” There are even old photo albums and dried bouquets in some of the rooms. The antiques have been appraised at “a fantastic value,” according to Ecker.
Homes and houses
“There are houses and there are homes,” Carl said. “These are truly homes.”
Building a similar home from the ground up would take millions, according to Carl, and even then, it wouldn’t come close. Much of the woodwork was done with tools and techniques unfamiliar to today’s craftsmen.
“I don’t think they could do it,” Shaffer added.
The house is even more impressive considering that it was sheared in half on the left side of the main entrance. The thought of a building twice as large as the current home boggles the mind.
When it is finished, visitors will approach the front porch shaded by a radiant crabapple tree, intended to complement, not take away from the house, said Chris Zuschlag, owner of I-Design of Steamboat, Inc. Past a gigantic street lamppost and up the stairs is a white door with an old crank-up doorbell at its center.
“It’s going to stay a home on the Ecker Estate,” said Ecker, who also has residences in Florida and Minnesota. “I’m hoping that many future generations will enjoy it.”
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