Preserving community: Downtown landmark joins Steamboat’s Register of Historic Places
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Old Stone Church sits quietly in understated elegance on the corner of Oak and Ninth streets in downtown Steamboat Springs. During its lifetime, the Gothic revival structure has served as a place to worship and a space for people to gather, and most recently, it has earned a spot on the Steamboat Springs Register of Historic Places.
The landmark building, which served as the original St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and is still used today, was built in 1913 by architect Art E. Gumprecht, often referred to as Steamboat’s master builder. And thanks in part to its recent placement on the local register, the church is now undergoing a $373,000 facelift to ensure it’s still standing for another century.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Rev. Catie Greene talks about the Old Stone Church with reverence, recounting many of the ways the building has been used over the years to build community and mark life’s milestones.
“That building is steeped in history; it is steeped in events,” Greene said. “I oftentimes get visitors in my office, saying ‘I got baptized here’ or ‘I remember on 9/11 when the rector at the time, David Henderson, called everyone in’ and how important and how impactful it was to be in that space for a vigil that day.
“There is no price tag on that, and yet if you lost it, it would be noticed,” Greene added. “We want to make sure it’s standing 100 years from now.”
The church renovation project, which kicked off this week under the direction of Fair & Square Construction, is supported by a $200,000 grant from the State Historic Preservation Fund as well as generous donations from members of the St. Paul’s congregation. The renovation work includes a roof replacement, stone repointing, window repair, interior rehabilitation and refurbishment of the original fir floors.
Emily Katzman, executive director of Historic Routt County, worked with Greene to secure the church’s place on the local register.
“In working with them, it became clear the vestry and staff at St. Paul’s are very invested in long-term stewardship and community use of this space,” Katzman said. “And to really codify that commitment to long-term preservation, getting it designated on the Steamboat register seemed like a good, natural next step.”
Being placed on the Steamboat register was also meaningful because it made the church eligible for state grant funding and tax credits.
“So, the historic preservation came out of a practical need, but there’s always been a sense of strong history around the space, mostly around what has happened inside the space,” Greene said. “Now, it feels like it’s a complete package with the history of the building itself helping to nurture and support that.”
Erica Hewitt, historic preservation consultant with Steamboat Architectural Associates and a member of St. Paul’s, was also involved in helping the church secure a place on the register. She said the Old Stone Church serves as a primary cornerstone for all of Oak Street.
“You can see the historic significance of the building just walking by and seeing the quality of the stonework,” Hewitt said. “From an architectural standpoint, we don’t have anything else like it from around that time. It was built so early on, and it’s pretty impressive that kind of structure is still standing today.”
The Episcopal denomination can trace its history back to the 1860s when the first ministry was organized in Steamboat Springs.
According to St. Paul’s application for historic resource designation, bishops would travel by wagon or horseback to hold occasional services for Steamboat Episcopalians at various sites, including The Welcome Inn, the Routt County Courthouse, the Methodist Church and the Masonic Hall.
As prosperity came to the area thanks to the discovery of extensive coal fields in the 1890s and Steamboat’s population grew, local Episcopalians purchased lots on the corner of Ninth and Oak streets in the city’s original addition. By 1910, the people of St. Paul’s decided it was time to build their own church and members of the Women’s Guild raised $3,000 for the project by selling cookbooks.
Architect Art E. Gumprecht, who also built the Mesa Schoolhouse and the house across the street from the stone church that now houses Yampa Valley Kitchen, was awarded the contract to build the church. He was given 90 days to complete the project. The church, which was big enough to accommodate 85 people, was consecrated on Dec. 7, 1913.
Source: Steamboat Springs Historic Preservation Commission’s application for historic resource designation submitted by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
In 1959, an addition was added to the stone church and that portion of the building is also included in the historic designation. It was constructed of the same native sandstone that was quarried from the Emerald Mountain Quarry Co. to build the original church. The stones used for the addition were recovered from a Mt. Harris building that was deconstructed in 1958.
Katzman said St. Paul’s has done an excellent job keeping that addition and the more recent additions of a new sanctuary and Emerald Mountain School to the east architecturally compatible with the original structure.
“It really has not changed that much over time,” Katzman said. “It remains a character-defining part of Oak Street, and it’s very visible.”
Both Hewitt and Katzman said they hope getting the church listed on the Steamboat Register of Historic Places would lead to other properties following suit.
“We’re hoping this starts an avalanche of other properties coming in,” Hewitt said.
Katzman said listing properties on the local registry is the main tool available for making sure history is preserved.
“We want to get as many properties listed on the Steamboat Springs register as possible,” Katzman explained. “It’s a voluntary designation, so we only work with willing property owners. And once the building is listed on the register, it’s currently the No. 1 best tool we have to preserve historic buildings.”
And by saving old buildings, like the Old Stone Church, a sense of place and community is also preserved, according to Greene.
“I’ve often thought, ‘if walls could talk,’” Greene said. “The building has significance, and there’s significance in the story of the lives of the people that have moved in and out of that space. And to me it’s palatable when you walk through the doors.”
To learn more about the Steamboat Register of Historic Places, contact Historic Routt County Executive Director Emily Katzman at firstname.lastname@example.org for properties anywhere in Routt County, including Steamboat Spring, or Planning and Community Development Director Rebecca Bessey at email@example.com for properties in Steamboat city limits.
To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @lschlichtman.
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