Tales from the Tread: Extraordinary Eleanor Bliss
March 5, 2015
Steamboat Springs — In celebration of Women's History Month in March, this article features an extraordinary woman in Steamboat Springs history — trailblazer Eleanor Bliss. Candice Bannister created this first-person narrative adaptation using the writings of Glenn Poulter and Christine McKelvie.
I was born in the horse and buggy days on June 25, 1900, in Long Island, New York. Though my true passion was horseback riding, my aunt and mother wanted me to be a dancer.
Following my graduation from Smith College, my mother and I went to Denver and made the arduous all-day journey to Steamboat Springs so that I could attend the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp, commonly known as P-M.
At P-M, I quickly learned how to rough it in the rugged Rocky Mountains. Though most of the students attended the camp to study dance or drama, my love of horses pulled me toward the corral where Marjorie Perry, older sister of the camp's co-founder Charlotte Perry, ran the equestrian program. Marjorie and I became close friends, and I returned for many summers to P-M, not to dance, but to serve as Marjorie's riding assistant.
Years later, in October of 1926, Marjorie and I decided to embark on the journey of a lifetime — we rode horseback from Steamboat Springs to Denver. It was a harrowing adventure as we encountered severe weather crossing Jones Pass. Our horses were slipping, the blowing snow made it difficult to breathe, our feet were numb, and the snow drifts made it nearly impossible to continue. We knew our lives could be in jeopardy, but thankfully, we finally made it to Denver. As you can imagine, this journey became one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
As the Depression loomed and my father experienced financial troubles, I returned to New York to run his business. Later, during WWII, I was offered a job as the executive secretary for the all-male Explorer's Club. This elite club, founded in 1905 at the time of the North Pole expedition, had to change their bylaws to offer me, a woman, the job. I had some extraordinary experiences as the club's only female staff member of this distinguished group of world explorers and scientists.
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When my parents died in 1948, I moved back to Steamboat Springs to join my friend Marjorie Perry. Moving back to Colorado was one of the most satisfying times of my life. I purchased a ranch overlooking Strawberry Park and lived in the existing ranch house until I built my home on top of the ridge in 1958–a home I called "Sky High.”
Another highlight of my life was in 1972 when I was part of a group who formed the Steamboat Springs Council for the Arts and Humanities. I headed the committee to renovate the old train depot, which is now the Arts Council's home.
When I heard that the Depot's future was up in the air, I knew I had to do something to preserve this beloved and deteriorating historical landmark. So many of us had arrived at the Depot on the passenger train over the years, and I felt it was one of our community's most important buildings. We wanted to create a community center and a permanent home for art in all of its many wonderful forms — we succeeded. I am grateful I could give back to a community that has given me so much.
Candice Bannister is executive director or Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs.