Historic designation gives Columbine a boost | SteamboatToday.com

Historic designation gives Columbine a boost

Margaret Hair

Dogs play outside an old Columbine building in falling snow Thursday. The town, more than 120 years old, has a colorful past including a rowdy saloon and raucous gold miners. But much of that past is untold, especially so in a recent sucessful proposal for national historic designation. “They don’t want the stories about people who chased their neighbors with knives,” owner Jan Dierks said.
Matt Stensland

North Routt — In his 1949 account of Colorado mining towns, author Muriel Sibell Wolle describes Columbine, a once-booming gold mining community in North Routt County, this way: — In his 1949 account of Colorado mining towns, author Muriel Sibell Wolle describes Columbine, a once-booming gold mining community in North Routt County, this way:

— In his 1949 account of Colorado mining towns, author Muriel Sibell Wolle describes Columbine, a once-booming gold mining community in North Routt County, this way:

“Four miles north of Hahn’s Peak is Columbine, a new town in 1897 which, according to Calhoun’s ‘Colorado Gold Fields,’ with its ‘score of houses and cabins may round into a city one day.’ : It was no city when we got there in 1942. When we stopped at the one store to inquire the way to the Royal Flush mine : The proprietress, who is the only inhabitant during the winter, pointed out the road and told us it was two miles to the property.”

That passage comes from “Stampede to Timberline: Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Colorado.” The “one store” Wolle describes is now the offices, mercantile and mini-museum of Columbine Cabins, a rental/lodging property that recently won a spot on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.

It’s possible that the Columbine Historic District, which includes nine of the property’s more than 15 buildings, is livelier today than it was when Wolle saw it. Established as a mining camp by Canadian businessman James R. Caron in 1881, as a township 16 years later, and as a somewhat abandoned tourist destination by World War I, Columbine has seen its share of ups and downs.

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Today – as for the past 90 years – its cabins provide a year-round home for travelers and visitors looking for a rustic feel.

Fittingly, the property’s historic designation has little to do with its mining history, which lasted in earnest for less than three decades. Instead, the accepted proposal focuses on tourism and lodging.

Jan Dierks, who owns the property with her husband, Lyman Fancher, said the honor that comes with historic designation was one of several reasons to apply. A place on the national register also means tax breaks and potential appeal to guests with a historic bent.

“In the future sometime, having that designation might increase the number of people that come here. It’s a new travel focus for some people,” Dierks said. The accompanying tax credits helped fund a restoration for Columbine’s general store.

The building, originally constructed by Caron for the mining camp in the 1890s, was renovated two years ago.

“It had serious foundation issues – most noticeably that it had no foundation,” Dierks said. With a dry basement, the lack of foundation meant the building had started to sag in the middle. Now, it houses memorabilia from the camp’s boom years.

Those relics include original mailboxes from the post office – which was built in 1906 and is still standing, but hasn’t been truly functional since the 1940s – and the general store’s original cash register.

“We’ve tried to keep the character that it had intact,” Dierks said. “Most of the cabins still don’t have bathrooms. They may be a little more sound than they were, but they pretty much have the same appearance that they’ve had for years.”

Renovations and improvements have been confined to things that can’t be avoided – or, as Dierks put it, “just what’s necessary to keep them from rotting into the earth and collapsing under the snow load.”

She hopes any future owners will take heed of the newly earned historic designation and make an effort to preserve Columbine’s 126-year-old character.

Paper trail

In a stack of documents that span the first 40 years of Columbine’s existence – including receipts for hay and gas from the general store, lumber purchases, personal accounts and a letter pitching a particular brand of straight whiskey to Caron – there are as many ties to Wyoming as there are to Routt County. Dierks is in the process of preserving those documents along with her property.

Although she co-owns all that remains of the Columbine township – if a group rents all 14 cabins, they’ve rented the town – Dierks said she doesn’t know much more of its history than most people.

She does know the basics: gold mining hit the jackpot near Hahn’s Peak in the late 1800s. Hahn’s Peak village was built, and for years, was the seat of Routt County. At some point, mining companies decided to look for gold further upstream, at its source. The result was two large mining camps in Columbine, on the far northern edge of the county, near Wyoming.

She said the more colorful history of the place also is of interest, and she’s working on collecting stories for an informational flier to keep at the general store/office. The more interesting yarns are from the saloon/hotel/whorehouse that was across the street from the cabins, until it burned down.

“A lot of the stories feature the saloon,” Dierks said, adding that those weren’t documented in the proposal for historic designation.

“They don’t want the stories about people who chased their neighbors with knives,” she said.

– To reach Margaret Hair, call 871-4204

or e-mail mhair@steamboatpilot.com