Downtown Steamboat Springs is designated as a national historic district
August 20, 2014
Steamboat Springs — When Arianthe Stettner takes people on historic walking tours downtown, she enjoys taking them way back to a time when glass windows arrived by wagon and horses were way more abundant than cars.
These tours are so popular here, it isn’t uncommon to see 30 people tag along on these trips back in time, even in the rain.
“One of the things I remind people of that so many of us take for granted is that until the end of 1908 (when the railroad arrived), everything that came to Steamboat Springs came local,” Stettner said. “It’s local Emerald Mountain quarry stone. It’s local river rock from the Yampa. It’s locally made brick. The wood in places like Harwig’s came from local trees that was locally milled.”
And if you needed a plate glass window for your storefront?
Stettner said it came by wagon up from Wolcott or down from Baggs, Wyoming.
“These are things we take for granted every day,” Stettner said. “We don’t realize what an effort it was to build these buildings.”
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In the early 2000s, Stettner, then a city council member, and other community members started pursuing a historic designation that would bring this history to light for more people.
After years of hard work, surveys and public meetings, a large part of downtown Steamboat has been designated as a national historic district.
The community members and city officials who worked hard for many years to get the designation say it will boost heritage tourism in Steamboat, allow contributing property owners in the district to have access to tax credits and grants for renovations and also bring more awareness to local historic preservation efforts.
The designation is honorary, meaning it won’t place any new rules or regulations on what property owners can do to property in the district.
“I just think it’s really exciting, not only for the people involved in the process but for the entire community,” local historic preservation consultant Alexis Eiland said. “It’s such an honor to have a national registered historic district. Now Steamboat is part of a prestigious group.”
Eiland and the city of Steamboat Springs’ Planning Department, Steamboat Springs City Council and the Historic Preservation Commission worked with other community members during a span of many years to get the historic district in place.
The city first started pursuing it in the early 2000s.
The new Steamboat Springs Downtown Historic District encompasses 35 buildings and 51 historic resources in an approximately six-block area that runs mostly along Lincoln Avenue from Fifth to 11th streets.
It also includes a block of Yampa Street where the Yampa Valley Electric building is.
“My reaction was it’s about time,” Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett said about the approval of the district. “Early in the Mainstreet days, we were wanting to pursue it with the idea we could use the national district as a marketing tool, because heritage travelers will look for historic districts and historic buildings. We thought it would also help preserve the character of the town.”
She said the designation will raise awareness locally about historic preservation.
“Most people dismiss historic preservation, and they are looking for shiny and new as opposed to old and fixed up,” Barnett said. “But there’s a growing concern that we need to preserve the character of the community we got from the generations that have gone before us, and that’s what this will do.”
The application for Steamboat’s national historic district was submitted in October 2012.
It had to be approved by a state board and then the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places before it became official July 11.
There are about 75 other national historic districts in the state of Colorado, including places like the Larimer Street Historic District in Denver, the Georgetown-Silver Plume Historic District and the Crested Butte Historic District.
“We’re always comparing ourselves to the other ski towns in Colorado, but our heritage is totally different,” Eiland said. “We didn’t have the booms and busts of the gold mines. We were the eclectic northwest, and we had ranching and agriculture and that’s what set us apart from all the different ski towns.”