Cemetery changes ownership

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— Hahn's Peak Cemetery, the oldest public burial ground in Routt County, is nestled above town on a hill locals call "Little Mountain."

Fading gravestone markers dating back to 1901 look out from the cemetery toward Steamboat Lake and the surrounding mountains, offering the best view in North Routt. Bodies are laid, some with their feet to the west, some with their heads to the south, depending on the view they wanted for the afterlife.

"If you understand Hahn's Peak, you know that they could be buried the way they wanted," Jean-Marie Button said.

The grass and wildflowers cover the ground, untouched by a groundskeeper, except for a tiny footpath carved by the Buttons and their children.

"It's not that we're lazy," Button said. "We figure if someone wanted to be buried up here, they probably want it to stay exactly as it is."

For more than a decade, the Button family has been the willing caretaker of the historic cemetery, filled with the bodies of gold prospectors and Hahn's Peak pioneers.

According to an article written by cemetery historian Roger Cusick, there are now 57 recorded burials in the cemetery, but Button said she knows there are many more people buried there.

The corners of the cemetery especially are full of remains that people may have buried during the winter months when the center of the cemetery was inaccessible.

The earliest recorded burial is Herman Mahler Sr. (1824--1901).

The cemetery was part of a larger land purchase the Buttons made in 1991.

When they first wandered through the rusty gate of the cemetery, the 0.38 of an acre patch of resting place was covered in fallen trees and many of the sites were only designated by a tiny brass funeral marker.

The family cleared the cemetery of debris and Button had markers made for 16 unmarked sites that included the graves of six babies.

The family added almost two acres to the cemetery, distributed equally on all four sides, to ensure that the land around the historic cemetery would be protected from development.

The caretaking effort was more a labor of love than a money making endeavor, Button said. It was a way to be personally involved in the history of an area where her husband, Douglas Button, had lived and run cattle since the early 1970s.

But constant repairs and the management of a cemetery where half the graves are unmarked, is not an easy or inexpensive enterprise, Button said.

Which is why on Friday, the Button family passed the deed for the original 0.38 of an acre and the added land of the Hahn's Peak Cemetery to the experienced hands of the Steamboat Springs Cemetery District.

By preserving the cemetery, Button said, the Steamboat Springs Cemetery District is preserving the stories of the people of Hahn's Peak. The area has a short and tight-lipped history, lived by gold prospectors who didn't want anyone to know their business. Much of Hahn's Peak history never made it into books and is better told by the imaginations of visitors to places like the overgrown cemetery.

Though the Buttons passed ownership of the cemetery, they still plan to be involved in its upkeep and the entire family has reserved plots to be buried there.

Because the Hahn's Peak Cemetery was considered privately owned, it was not eligible for state funding and historic preservation grants that will be available now that it is a publicly owned property.

"This gift is a tremendous benefit for preserving a piece of Routt County History," said Jim Stanko, president of the Steamboat Springs Cemetery District.

As of Friday, the district will honor the sale of all plots made by the Buttons, but will place a moratorium on the sale of any new lots until the plats of the historic section can be rechecked and plans for preservation of the cemetery's character can be made.

The rules and regulations of the Steamboat Springs Cemetery District take affect immediately for the Hahn's Peak Cemetery, Stanko said.


-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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