Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Who but the dynamic duo of Harriet Freiberger and Ken Proper could come up with a sexy cover photo for a serious history book about Steamboat Springs?
See it for yourself. Right there, on the front of their new book, "Then & Now: A History of Steamboat Springs, Colorado," is a photo of four members of the Ladies Recreation Club skiing down Lincoln Avenue during the 1928 Winter Carnival Parade.
Depending on your point of view, the young women are either wearing exceptionally modest bathing suits, or scandalously short mini-skirts!
After all, it was the Roaring Twenties, even in the Yampa Valley.
"Then and Now: A History of Steamboat Springs," takes its inspiration from the book, "Colorado 1870-2000" by the noted Colorado photographer John Fielder. Fielder had the idea of approximating modern versions of photos taken by frontier photographer William Henry Jackson. Fielder endeavored to go to the very spot where Jackson stood and aimed his camera where Jackson aimed his about 130 years earlier. In so doing, he captured the changes wrought by humans on the Colorado landscape.
Now, Proper has done the same in Steamboat Springs, pairing modern photos with period images made by a wide variety of photographers.
Among his favorite historical images in the book is one showing a channel of the Yampa River flowing past Snake Island. In the image, a lone horse-drawn wagon is proceeding along a two-track where U.S. Highway 40 rumbles with traffic today. And the only building in the image is the Yampa Valley M. & E. Co. flourmill, occupying a spot about where the Iron Horse Inn stands today.
The book is enriched by Freiberger's text, which places the historical images of Steamboat in their context - not just locally, but in terms of pivotal events happening nationally and globally. She conducted dozens of interviews and enlisted 16 old-timers in fact checking. Some of those fact checkers did not survive to see the book published.
For example, Freiberger notes that the shocking death of famed Steamboat ski racer Buddy Werner took place just five months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
"I wanted to give a picture of American history," as well as local history, she said.
Proper, who took most of the modern images in the book, credited designer Deanna Simonsen with pushing for the cover photo.
"This photo came along, and I thought, 'People are going to take a second look,'" Proper said. "Deanna said, 'That picture will sell books.'"
The exciting news, Freiberger added, is that most of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Bud Werner Memorial Library, which endorsed the concept from the beginning and served as its publisher.
"Chris Painter and the library were a tremendous help," Freiberger said.
Production of the book was underwritten by $25,000 in grants, 75 percent of which came from the State Historical Fund. The Steamboat Springs Arts Council provided $1,300 through a re-granting process with the city of Steamboat Springs, and the library subsidized nearly 25 percent of the cost.
The grants provided a stipend for Freiberger and Proper. That allows the majority of the net proceeds from the sale of the book to go to the library. The entire $25 purchase price will go to the library during a special release party Nov. 12 at the library. After that, a margin will be taken out for local bookstores, and the majority of the proceeds will go to the library.
The book will not be available for purchase before the Nov. 12 event.
Proper and Freiberger labored for nearly five years on the project, but the lengthy gestation period was fortuitous because it allowed them to capture the many recent changes in Steamboat's historic downtown shopping district.
The redevelopment in 2006 and 2007 of old buildings that had occupied corner lots on Steamboat's main street for decades lent considerable impetus to their grant application, Proper said.
"That urgency was what tipped it. We got so many good letters of recommendation from people because (they) saw things were being torn down," he said.
As Freiberger observed in the book's prologue, "Humans clear pathways through forests and across the towering mountains. Coming from places far away, they bring differing traditions and seek differing horizons. One generation follows another, each adding its imprint, becoming part of the groundwork for the present."
So, if you never shopped for a lariat at Harwigs Saddlery, this book will provide a new appreciation for the 900 block of Lincoln Avenue.
If you think there is a traffic bottleneck at the west end of town today, check out the 1905 photograph of the Lincoln Avenue Bridge over Soda Creek. If you can't picture the Cabin Hotel dominating the downtown skyline from the 13th Street Bridge, turn to page 22.
And if you've never glimpsed a genuine cattle drive down unpaved Lincoln Avenue to the railroad yard, turn to page 24.
The thing is, there's a new revelation on every page.