Tales from the Tread: The historical guide to Routt County

Candice Bannister
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
“The Historical Guide to Routt County” (Courtesy photo)

As you explore the great landscapes of Routt County and Northwest Colorado this summer, make sure you have a copy of “The Historical Guide to Routt County” with you to enrich your experiences. People often ask museum staff to recommend the “best” book on Routt County history, and though there are many valuable resources written on a multitude of historical subjects, the guide is by far one of our top picks.

The book is structured in a way that makes it easy to dip in and retrieve a telling piece of local history in just a few minutes; a detailed index helps you quickly explore the guide with ease.

The first edition of the guide, published in 1979 by Jim Stanko, Sureva Towler and Judy Seligson, earned the reputation as an essential reference on Routt County’s history and special places. When the book went out of print in the 1990s, the Tread of Pioneers Museum began a decade-long project of soliciting and collecting edits and additions to update and reprint the latest edition (2010). Original author Stanko, with the assistance of local historian and preservation expert Arianthé Stettner, reviewed and incorporated information and suggestions that had been submitted over the years.

The new edition contains a few new sections, edits and updates, and notes significant changes to many county landmarks and maps. Yet the book largely remains a reprint of the 1979 guide as written by the original authors.

“This book was the first and still is the only book that gives you a down and dirty history of the whole county,” Stanko said. “We set out in 1979 to tell the history of the county through everyday people who lived it, and we wanted to preserve that original flavor instead of rewriting the book. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

The allure of the book is the origins and history of places that we all know and love, and others that we have yet to discover. Here’s a dozen local history fun facts to pique your curiosity.

• In the early days of the ski area, John Fetcher and Gordon Wren spotted a four-point buck in the area they later named Four Points.

• In its heyday, the Steamboat Springs Depot (now the Depot Art Center) was once one of the largest cattle shipping centers in the West.

• Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp is recognized as the oldest continuously operating performing arts school and camp of its kind in the nation.

• Steamboat is the home to more Olympians than any other town in the United States. It is often said that Steamboat sends more athletes to the Olympics than some small countries.

• Howelsen Hill Ski Area is the oldest ski area in continuous use in North America.

• In the early 1900s, thousands of Americans witnessed the sport of ski jumping when they saw Norwegian Carl Howelsen soar through the air in the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

• Routt County was named for Gov. John L. Routt, the first elected governor of Colorado, and originally encompassed the entire area of today’s Routt and Moffat counties.

• The Meadows Campground, near the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass, was known as an early Native American Indian campsite. During the 1920s, a well there provided water to cool over-heating radiators of vehicles attempting the climb over the pass.

• Hahns Peak was the scene of a jail break by two of the most notorious outlaws in the west, David Lant and Harry Tracy. Hear this chilling tale and see the original artifacts from the incident in the Western Heritage exhibit at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.

• Dry Lake Campground, located two miles up Buffalo Pass Road from Strawberry Park, was the site of an attempted water development for the town. The Blackmer Cabin, near the entrance of the campground, was the scene of local picnics and social events, and boasted one of the first telephones outside the city limits. The cabin burned in 1941.

• Whiskey Park was the site of a tie-cutting operation for the Union Pacific Railroad in Wyoming during the late 1860s. This area was named by Charles Miller, a placer miner from Hahns Peak, after the pile of whiskey bottles found at an old cabin. Legend has it that the park was also named for the freighter that buried barrels of whiskey here in order to avoid losing them to Native Americans. Some believe the buried whiskey has yet to be found.

• Milner was named for merchant and banker F. E. Milner, who settled in Routt County in 1883 and bought a ranch at the current location of the town of Milner in 1898. The town served as a supply headquarters for surrounding coal mines for over 50 years, and boasted a recreation hall, barber shop, bakery, and more.

“The Historical Guide to Routt County” can be purchased at Tread of Pioneers Museum Store.

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

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