Tom Ross: Burroughs’ writing cabin is gone but not forgotten
September 3, 2011
Steamboat Springs' most culturally significant doghouse is still looking for a permanent home 15 months after it was moved from its lofty perch on Maple Street in Old Town.
Henry David Thoreau had his writing cabin in the woods where he retreated to seek the essence of life and wrote "Walden." Steamboat has John Rolfe Burroughs' Dog House, where he wrote such classics of Western history as "Where the Old West Stayed Young" and "I Never Look Back," the story of the late, great Steamboat ski racer Buddy Werner.
But the Dog House is in exile for the time being.
Of course, Burroughs' writing shed wasn't literally a doghouse. Steamboat historian Arianthe Stettner, who finished up a master's degree in historic preservation in early August, told an audience at the Tread of Pioneers Museum on Friday not to worry. The Dog House is safely stored by its benefactors on a rural property west of town. It's just biding time and waiting for the right opportunity to return to a location in Steamboat where it can benefit from context and historic interpretation that make it meaningful.
The Dog House was moved in summer 2010 after the current owners of Burroughs' home remodeled and added onto it. They were willing to relocate it on their property but couldn't get the city approvals needed to relocate the Dog House within their lot constraints.
Stettner called "Where the West Stayed Young" a must-read for people who want to get a sense of how the enduring frontier shaped Routt and Moffat counties as well as southern Wyoming.
"This is the book to have if you want to know what Northwest Colorado is all about," Stettner said. "Its chapters help you understand how wild this place was."
Written in 1963, "Where the West Stayed Young" was good enough to win Burroughs one of his two Western Heritage Awards from the Cowboy Hall of Fame.
A member of Stettner's audience confirmed by smart phone that it's still possible to purchase gently used hardcover copies of the historic book on the Internet for as little $12.95.
Until the railroad finally pulled into Steamboat in 1908, this was a difficult destination to reach, Stettner told her audience. And another Burroughs book, "Head First in the Pickle Barrel," gives a richly detailed account of a three-day trip to Steamboat by stagecoach from the nearest railhead in Wolcott on the Eagle River.
Stettner, who pulled back from her historic preservation work while pursuing her master's degree, said overtures to the city of Steamboat and the Tread of Pioneers Museum about providing a permanent home for the Dog House met with limited enthusiasm.
Ideally, she said, the Dog House will be given a new home where it will be put to use.
"The best preserved building is one that is used," Stettner said, pointing to the Utterback Annex of the museum where she was speaking as evidence.
"This is a fabulous example of how a historic house is used and becomes an active part of the community," she said.
Burroughs, who died in Denver in 1987, is easily Steamboat's most prolific and best-known nonfiction writer. His little log writing shed is modest in every way. But it's a tangible link to another era just after World War II, when Steamboat was still a remote little town in the Rocky Mountains where people learned to become self-reliant.
As the annual Literary Sojourn approaches, it's a good time to remind ourselves that John Rolfe Burroughs' writing cabin still needs a permanent place of distinction.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com
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