Skip to main content

Steamboat Magazine

Old Town Homes

07/01/2003 01:00AM ● By Anonymous

Summer 2003:

Old Town Homes

    The year is 1914. “Cowboy Preacher” Jim Norvell is sitting on his front porch with a glass of lemonade made with water from Steamboat’s Soda Spring, waving at neighbors who pass by on their evening walk.     The year is 2003. Lara Craig is on the same front porch, preparing a table for dinner and waving at passersby. “We love our porch,” Lara says. “We eat outside almost every day all summer. We see so many people. The porch is one of the best, if not the best, features of the house.”     Front porches are a predominant element of Old Town’s most distinctive architectural style: arts & crafts. One-story “bungalows” are the best known variation of the arts & crafts theme, followed by two-story “craftsman” homes.    Bungalows were modeled after the small, open, airy houses built by the British in colonial India during the late 1800s and were the inspiration behind the modern ranch house, made popular by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1940s.    “Steamboat really is a craftsman town,” says Laureen Schaffer, historic preservation specialist for the city. “People think maybe it’s Victorian or Queen Anne, but we missed that period.”   “Telluride and Aspen are Victorian,” says architect Rob Hawkins. “Steamboat never was that kind of town. It’s more modest, less wealthy.”   When the railroad first reached Steamboat in 1909, the pioneer town was beginning to take shape. Many of the materials for local homes, and in some cases kits to build an entire house, arrived via train.    “You could get so many neat things brought in by train,” Rob says. “Sears Roebuck and Wards sold homes in their catalogs. The houses built back then were really stylish.”     Simplicity, workmanship and functionality are key elements of craftsman architecture. “Craftsman homes were simple, but extremely well-built, thought-out and executed,” Rob explains.    Extensive use of wood, cut to emphasize the grain, both on the exterior and interior of the home is a hallmark of the craftsman era. Dark wood trim on the outside was frequently mirrored in the interior through the use of wood ceilings, exposed beams, inglenooks, wainscoting and built-in buffets, cupboards and bookcases.    Exposed rafter tails, wood shingles, overhanging eaves, dormers, simple (often tapered) columns, river rock accents and foundations, vertical slats and recessed dormer windows are all common elements of craftsman exteriors.     Most prevailing of all is the front porch. “Porches are the greatest things,” Rob says. “All year around, the porch is a great transition between outdoors and indoors. Porches add fabric to the streetscape.”    The arts & crafts style had many manifestations. Some Old Town homes embody a curved roof reminiscent of a pagoda, suggesting an Asian influence on the craftsman theme. Others call upon the Southwestern influence of the mission style; still others exemplify the classic California bungalolook.    Recognizing that Steamboat offers many classic examples of craftsman architecture, the city began conducting an architectural inventory of Old Town homes in 2000. The results will help to preserve a chapter in local history, provide homeowners with information about their houses and determine which properties might qualify for listing on local, state and national historic registers. “Some whole neighborhoods might be eligible,” Laureen says. “But it will be up to the neighbors to decide whether to apply.”    The Old Town home of Brad and Lara Craig has been listed on the Routt County Historic Register since 2001. The designation entitles them to more than a brass plaque. In certain cases, such properties might also be eligible for tax incentives, grants and other financial resources.   “I greup here in Steamboat,” Lara says. “And I love the idea of living in Old Town. The older homes have more character.” When the Craigs bought their property five years ago, the basic arts & crafts design was still there. “We’re in the process of trying to figure out hoto add modern upgrades while keeping it as close to the original as possible.”     Lara currently serves on the city’s Historical Preservation Advisory Commission. “The commission looks at neprojects or existing additions to see hothey fit into the character of the neighborhood. Some people think we’re trying to make Steamboat into a theme park, but that’s not the case. Our design guidelines are open-ended. Still, you can tell when a house doesn’t fit in. We have so much character that people move here because of it. If we don’t pay attention to it, we will lose it.”    Another Steamboat resident who admires the look and feel of Old Town is Paul Campbell, whose great-grandfather’s house at the corner of Seventh and Aspen inspired him to build his own, contemporary craftsman home in the same neighborhood. “I didn’t realize at first that the architecture in the valley was arts & crafts, and not Victorian,” he says. Paul’s home, which was completed last year, is a modern adaptation of the old style. It has larger rooms and a more open floor plan than did the homes built almost a century ago. But it retains authentic craftsman character through the use of heavy wood, exposed rafter tails, divided windows and – of course – a front porch.   Although the craftsman era ended in the 1930s, many elements of it are commonly employed by local architects today. “We have been seeing a resurgence of appreciation for the craftsman style,” says Steamboat architect Joe Patrick Robbins. “Some of the nehomes at Lake Catamount are reflections of the modern craftsman style, which we call ‘Colorado Territorial.’”   Exposed structure and support systems, a thoughtful mixture of materials, balance between horizontal and vertical lines, and the extensive use of stone masonry are among the elements of Colorado Territorial style that are reminiscent of the craftsman era. Although backyard decks have replaced front porches in some homes, the knowledgeable observer will see components of the craftsman style in contemporary homes throughout Steamboat, not just in Old Town.    “The craftsman style fits our town so well,” Rob says. “It’s not ostentatious, yet it’s very well done.”   Just like Steamboat.