Tales from the Tread: Once upon a town

Candice Bannister/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

If you go

What: Once Upon a Town exhibit

When: June 21 to May 2019

Where: Tread of Pioneers Museum, 800 Oak St.

More information:

We invite you to discover the people and events that shaped Routt County’s once wild western frontier outposts into today’s beloved Rocky Mountain destinations in the Tread of Pioneers Museum’s newest exhibit, “Once Upon a Town: The Building of Routt County’s Communities.” The new exhibit opens to the public Thursday, June 21 and will remain on display through May 2019.

The county’s main towns — Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Yampa and Oak Creek — emerged as trading centers for goods and services in support of burgeoning ranching, farming and mining activities. But in this vast rural region, many more small communities rose up around scattered post offices, stage stops and schoolhouses that connected isolated homesteads and ranches to the outside world.

Here, community also meant coming together as neighbors and friends inside one-room schools and churches that served as gathering points for every occasion. Paralleling the rivers and streams that flow through it, Routt County has become a confluence of traditions, ideas, culture, spirit and perseverance. In the Tread of Pioneers Museum’s newest feature exhibit, we explore what connects Routt County’s communities, what sets them apart and how each developed into what they are today.

Early businesses

As an agricultural-based county, Routt County’s early businesses were geared towards serving this local industry. Common early businesses and services included mercantile and implement supply stores; sawmills; grain elevators; creameries; blacksmith shops and livery stables; banks; hotels and boarding houses; saloons; survey, land title and real estate offices; barber shops and newspapers. These businesses were also common gathering areas. For instance, saloons not only provided much needed entertainment for cowboys and miners, they were also a good place for these men to find work, advice and camaraderie.

Schools and churches

Yearning for respectability, spiritual guidance and community, settlers erected churches and schools before other buildings. These institutions demonstrated the culture and values of the communities. Religion and education brought the pioneers together and gave them hope in an environment that often seemed hopeless.

Education has been a priority since the arrival of the first settlers. In the outlying regions of expansive Routt County, homesteaders created makeshift schools in their cabins, and the Bible was often the first text book. As numbers grew, families donated land and materials to build one-room schoolhouses and hire teachers.

Schoolhouses were a place to learn, interact and celebrate. In addition to hosting school, rural schoolhouses gave many communities a building to hold dances, meetings, Bible studies, elections, weddings, funerals and other social occasions. These events strengthened community bonds, created a sense of belonging and bolstered spirits.

“We also held farmers’ meetings about twice a month. These were held on Saturday nights and the school board allowed us to use the schoolhouse. … The men would talk a little about farming while we young folks would sit and impatiently wait until they would get through so that we could dance. Everyone came and all danced. The pious ones, who would not go to a dance, would go to a farmers’ meeting — and as long as they were there, they might as well stay and dance! Babies and young children were laid along the wall and slept through it all. An old man played the fiddle and his tunes all sounded alike whether for a waltz or fox trot. We danced square dances too, all to the same tune. Everyone stayed until daylight and all had a good time.”

– Guy Batton, Twentymile Park homesteader

Digging deeper in the rich history of Routt County is sure to grow your love of the area and give you a new perspective on the events and people that shaped our county’s evolution and development. See you at the museum. All Routt County residents get in free every day.

Candice Bannister is the executive director of Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs.

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