Small cabin at center of larger debate over historic preservation in Routt County
Selbe House will need to be moved from Oak Street for new county facility
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As it sits in an innocuous spot on Oak Street, it’s easy to miss the historic Selbe House.
Nearly all of its wooden façade is cloaked behind tall trees and brush. Mounds of snow bury the stone foundation work on either side of the cabin’s five-step entryway.
Right now, the former residence is being used as an office space for nonprofits First Impressions and the Fatherhood Program of Routt County. But if the structure isn’t relocated in just a few months, its fate will be uncertain.
The Selbe House, named for some of its original owners, sits on the property that will be used as the site for the future Routt County Health and Human Services facility. Rather than incorporating the cabin into the design of the new building or demolishing it, county officials opted to have the structure moved to a different location.
Where it will go is now the question.
“There are very few buildings that look like this left in Steamboat Springs,” said Emily Katzman, executive director of Historic Routt County.
The cabin, built in either 1937 or 1938, according to historic records, remains a significant architectural place in Steamboat. Located at 618 Oak St., it was built by famed local architect Art Gumprecht, considered a master builder of Steamboat’s early days.
His craftsmanship is on display elsewhere in the area, including the Chief Theater, the Mesa School and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Another storied craftsman, a Swedish immigrant named Joel Anderson, collaborated on the cabin’s masonry, including its stone chimney and foundation.
“They, along with Carl Howelsen, are really responsible for why Steamboat looks the way it does,” Katzman said.
Henry Heid, the owner of Steamboat’s former Boy’s Supermarket, was the cabin’s original owner. The Selbe family owned it from the 1950s to 1970s. Until recently, it’s always been used as a residence. Routt County acquired the building in 1996, when it purchased the property as a potential site to build a new justice center, which was instead built on the west side of Steamboat.
“The Selbe House is important for many reasons,” said local historian Arianthé Stettner. “The Selbe family was very influential in the community decades ago. The house retains its historic appearance and has been well maintained over the years.”
The connection to a local, noted family helps tell the story of ranchers moving to town during winter months when ranch work slows to provide housing for high-school-age children in the family when traveling on the winter roads was not feasible, said Katie Adams, curator at Tread of Pioneers Museum and chairperson of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
“This practice was fairly common throughout the 1920s to 1950s, yet it is relatively unknown today,” she said.
It was Katzman’s hope that the building, which she said is in good shape, could remain at its current location, but the next best option was advocating for it to be moved. Ideally, it should be moved where it can still be publicly accessed and enjoyed, she said. The Selbe House is also not yet on a register of historic places and would lose any eligibility for state or national registers if it’s moved.
The Historic Preservation Commission has not had the opportunity to evaluate the Selbe House for consideration to be added to the Steamboat Springs Register of Historic Places as no application has been submitted, according to Adams.
“I can say that I see this property checking all the required review criteria, not just one,” Adams said.
That criteria includes having historic, architectural or geographic importance.
Moving the building will be a large undertaking, one that’s not ideal, according to Candice Bannister, executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
“Though we are relieved that the building is not slated for demolition, moving historical buildings is not ideal unless the location is detrimental,” Bannister said.
In an Oct. 19 letter from Bannister and Katzman to the Routt County Board of Commissioners, the two pushed for the cabin’s preservation.
“We strongly believe that Routt County government must serve as a role model and steward for historic resources that it owns. How can we expect other community members, landowners, and developers to care about and preserve our history and historic resources, if our own elected officials will not?” the letter read. “We certainly understand that DHS has pressing space needs to be addressed. However, with investment and creativity, those needs could be met while incorporating the historic cabin into the design of the new and expanded space.”
There’s a lengthy history of buildings being relocated in Routt County. Most notably the iconic Arnold Barn, now perched in front of The Steamboat Grand, was previously moved from the Meadows Parking Lot area due to drainage issues. Katzman and Stettner worked on that project.
Katzman is now helping brainstorm ideas about where the Selbe House could be moved, which has to happen no later than May 31. The hope is for a nonprofit to step forward and accept the building, ensuring it will retain its public use, she indicated.
“We are sad to lose this beautiful asset, but we are looking forward to constructing a new Health and Human Services building that will meet the growing needs of our community,” Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. “We are confident that we will find a new home for this historic structure and demonstrate how buildings from our past can have a new life in our future.”
Those interested in the building must make a request, in writing with a brief description of the intended site and use. Requests should be mailed to Julie Kennedy, Routt County Purchasing Department, 136 Sixth St., Suite 209, Steamboat Springs, CO, 80487, or emailed to email@example.com no later than March 22.
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Steamboat Springs has seen slightly above average precipitation so far in July, as the Yampa Valley has been on the edge of well-defined monsoonal moisture bringing much needed rain to the Western Slope.