Tales from the Tread: Discovering Dorothy Wither
March 4, 2014
Last year, the Tread of Pioneers Museum completed its most significant project to date. The 4,200-square-foot museum expansion project provided a museum-quality collections facility for our growing collection, along with additional exhibit space for the compelling stories of our community's heritage.
The new exhibits bring the past to life using hands-on elements and multimedia technology. This recent museum milestone would not have been possible without the original vision of museum founder Dorothy Wither.
With her own pioneer family roots and after spending much of her childhood listening to Mrs. James Crawford tell stories of the early days in the Yampa Valley, Wither developed a lifelong appreciation for local history.
In 1959, Dorothy Wither and other community members worked tirelessly to open the Tread of Pioneers Museum in the Zimmerman house, which at the time was located behind the county courthouse on Fifth and Oak streets:
"During the time that I was director of the county welfare, I had a chance to visit in the homes of many of the old timers around the county. Many were pensioners, yet they had homes filled with wonderful old pioneer pieces. I had a feeling even then that if there wasn't some central place in which these things could be stored and enjoyed, they would eventually be lost. So my collection goes back 35 years when I began to gather things which I felt were particularly important to Routt County history." (Dorothy Wither, 1973)
Wither was born Jan. 7, 1903, in Steamboat Springs in the house next to her parents’ store, the A. and G. Wither Mercantile.
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In museum interviews, Wither recalls ski pioneer Carl Howelsen, the early Winter Carnivals, the development of skiing and growing up in Steamboat Springs. After years of listening to pioneer stories, Wither's own memories of Steamboat Springs now are an important part of our history.
"I remember the first Winter Carnival. Mother and Mrs. Conant rented a room in the Cabin Hotel (now the site of the Bud Werner Memorial Library) so they could watch the jumping on Woodchuck Hill (now the present site of the Colorado Mountain College). We kids ran up and down the great staircase of the hotel, watching sometimes, but mostly enjoying the treat of being in the hotel." (Dorothy Wither, 1973)
Wither perhaps is most known for her local ladies-wear business, The Dorothy Shop, a Lincoln Avenue business icon that existed for 46 years. Wither is remembered for giving her customers special personal attention and serving on just about every nonprofit board in town in her spare time.
Although Wither also enjoyed traveling the world and exploring distant cultures, her love of Steamboat Springs and its own cultural heritage is what enables us today to visit her museum and "tread" into our past. If you have not been to the museum lately, we invite you to see all that is old and new.
The museum always is free for Routt County residents, so come on down.
March is Women's History Month. The Tread of Pioneers Museum and Spellbinders will present "Strength and Heart: Stories of Routt County Women" at 6 p.m. March 22 at Steaming Bean Coffee Co., Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue. This event will honor Dorothy Wither and other notable women in Routt County history through costumed character monologue performances. The event is free, so don't miss it.
Candice Bannister is the executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs.