Shining a light on the early 20th century |

Shining a light on the early 20th century

Grant funds will help digitize old newspapers on the Web

The year 1909 was a significant one in the history of Steamboat Springs. The local business community was beside itself with the prospects for an economic boom fueled by the arrival of The Moffat Road rail line in the Yampa Valley.

People were excited at the prospect of exporting everything from coal and cattle to native sandstone building blocks to the greater world.

That also was the year that the Steamboat Pilot had to overcome a fire that burned down its newspaper building.

From time to time, I like to look back at the editions of the Steamboat Pilot dating from that era. The old newspapers give remarkable insights into the life of the city’s residents in those early days.

For example, there were still livery stables in Steamboat in 1909. I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise it was 1909 after all. It was a year when mechanized transportation overlapped with the horse and buggy era.

An ad placed in the Steamboat Pilot in January 1909 on behalf of The Routt Stables offered horse-powered excursions into the surrounding countryside:

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“Go to Routt Stables for the best livery rigs, most careful and intelligent drivers and guides for prospecting, tourist and locating parties. Good saddle horses always ready. Call and satisfy yourself that our rigs, horses, drivers and prices are right. Wes Turner, proprietor.”

Don’t you wish you could stop downtown and visit Routt Stables today?

The arrival of the railroad didn’t put the stagecoach out of business, either. In December 1909, Trull Stage Lines took out an ad in the Steamboat Pilot reminding customers of its daily service from Steamboat Springs to Hayden and Craig, as well as “the great mineral fields in Hahn’s peak and Columbine.” Trull’s teams of horses met arriving trains to ferry passengers and their baggage to every part of the city. The stagecoach also met the train in Yampa to transport passengers to other parts of the county.

At the same time, the arrival of the railroad from Denver via Yampa opened up new vistas of exotic travel. S.K. Hooper, ticket agent for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad (Scenic Line of the World) also was advertising in the paper. He knew how long winters in Routt County could be and was offering the tantalizing prospect of trips to California and the Pacific Coast on trains equipped with sleeping and dining cars.

It’s a pity I cannot share the bound volume of 1909 newspapers with you, but we keep them in a locked room (I don’t even have the key), and they are so fragile one must use great care to avoid tearing the pages.

Besides, there is something far more practical on the horizon.

Alysa Selby, reference and adult services librarian at the Bud Werner Memorial Library, says good progress is being made on the Routt County Historic Newspaper project. Editions of the Routt County Sentinel, Routt County Republican, Oak Creek Times, Yampa Leader and Steamboat Pilot are being photographed and digitized with the help of the latest computer software (they didn’t have any such thing in 1909).

Recently, the Simons Family of Lawrence, Kan., owners of the Steamboat Pilot & Today, supplied a grant of $8,000 to the Routt County Historic Newspaper Project. The grant is being made through the Douglas County Community Foundation in Kansas.

Selby said the funds would be added to grants from the Crawford Family and the Routt County Museum and Heritage Fund to complete the digitization of the newspaper through 1923 (the last year the papers are in the public domain).

The project entails a great deal of work on the part of the library staff, but not nearly as much work as it would take without specialized software. After the newspaper pages are photographed and stored on microfilm, she said, they are sent to Israel where every word in every news story and every ad is being catalogued in a database.

Not only will history buffs be able to call the actual newspaper pages up on their computer screens from the Colorado State Library, but also they’ll be able to search them for subject word at no charge.

The work on Routt County newspapers will continue well into 2007. However, if you want to get a feel for the system (many of the articles you uncover won’t be in full-page format), get on the Web and go to You might try pulling up articles on silver mining in Ouray published in 1888, as I did.

Someday not too far in the future, you’ll be able to view newspaper articles from the first decade of the 20th century in Steamboat Springs.

If you’re really clever, you might discover how much it cost to rent a horse and buggy from Routt Stables in 1909.