Tom Ross: Log cabin was winter vacation home for early postmaster

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

I drive by the little log cabin at Casey's Pond at least twice a day without giving it a glance. Recently, I've come to understand that I've underestimated its historical significance.

The snug building came to my attention recently as I began digging for a little feature story about the centennial of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

Unused for many years, the cabin was moved to its present site in June 1977 expressly to serve as the visitor information center for the chamber. So, without really intending to, I've launched a column about the 30th anniversary of the cabin's move from downtown Steamboat Springs.

The location of the old visitors center, on the edge of town closest to Rabbit Ears Pass makes sense, but it's difficult to imagine how the modest building (it can't be larger than 10 feet by 20 feet) could serve the purpose. Either there weren't many inquisitive summer visitors to Steamboat in 1977, or the Chamber had a staff of two people, or both.

It turns out the cabin is older than the Chamber, by about 17 years.

At the time of its transfer to Casey's Pond, reporter Christine Derscheid (now Christine McKelvie) reported that the exact date of its construction was not known. However, it was believed to have been built in about 1890 by Postmaster F.W. Parkinson, who used it as a winter home. Postmaster Parkinson spent his summers in Strawberry Park.

Back in 1890, the trip from Strawberry Park to Steamboat in winter was more arduous than the trip from Dallas, Texas, to Steamboat is today.

Ultimately, Parkinson gave up his winter digs.

When high school classes were added to the public school system in 1897, Union School could no longer provide adequate classrooms for all the students. The first-graders were moved to the cabin.

I guess that means the cabin was the school district's first "modular classroom."

If you were a member of the 1897 first grade class at Union School, congratulations, you've lived to a ripe old age. In fact, you might be overripe.

The idea to preserve the cabin originated with County Commissioner secretary Sureva Towler and contractor Jim Newman. They contacted Chamber Director Mike Barry who called Realtor John Ross (no relation to this correspondent) who persuaded owner Charles Propst to donate the building to the Chamber.

I do not know Mr. Propst or where he is today. But Mr. Propst, if you are reading this, it's time to sit down and brace yourself. My conservative estimate of the value of the cabin in 2007 dollars, had you left it in place in its highly-sought-after Old Town neighborhood, is half a million clam-olas.

As volunteers from several local contracting firms prepared the cabin to be moved in 1977, they found an 1887 edition of a London, England, newspaper, the Pall Mall Budget, behind the wallpaper on the rear wall.

It is widely known that early pioneers in the Yampa Valley prized British tabloids for their insulating properties.

OK, I confess, I made that last sentence up, and I've only completed about half of this column. To make it up to you, here is some more post office history that I believe to be factual.

Steamboat's first postmaster was its first Caucasian homesteader, James Crawford, who was happy to receive letters any time a mail carrier on snowshoes appeared at his cabin.

Hahn's Peak, the county seat, rated a post office in 1877, but Steamboat had been overlooked.

Crawford traveled to Denver (it was faster than sending a letter) in 1878 and called upon Gov. John L. Routt to let him know that he'd been picking up his mail in Hot Sulphur Springs, roughly 70 miles from his cabin in Steamboat. Routt could relate: He had previously held the title of "second assistant postmaster general" and immediately granted Steamboat Springs a post office and the weekly mail service that came with it. Crawford was appointed postmaster and, magically, Routt got a county named after him.

In 1888, the post office was moved to the store of Charlie Baer, one of the earliest merchants in town. Baer sold guns, ammo, fishing tackle and sporting goods from a shop just west of the Springs Drug Store, which later became Harwig's Saddlery (now Harwig's Grill).

In 1892, the frequency of mail service increased to daily delivery. Letters were hauled from the railroad station at Wolcott by Concord stage.

Later, the post office was moved to the Campbell Building at 600 Lincoln Avenue and in late 1908 it moved again to the Maxwell Building at the corner of Lincoln and Ninth. It remained there for 54 years until a new post office building was constructed at 1025 Lincoln (now Pilot Office Supply).

The post office moved to its present location, in a really humongous log cabin at the corner of Third and Lincoln, in March 1981.

Who knows? If the post office moves out of the downtown some day, perhaps the Chamber will take its place.

- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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