Arnold Barn's Story

Mount Werner Barn History with References
Research by Arianthé C. Stettner, MAHP, MBA July 13, 2015


For decades, the large unpainted wooden barn at the ski area base has been a prominent local landmark, yet few people know its history. The barn has had many different names over the years. It was the Arnold Barn (for the family that built it), Gordy's Barn (for Gordy Wren, the ski area mountain manager who used it for equipment storage), and the Butterfly Barn (for the decorative metal butterflies nailed to the gable end of the barn for a while in the recent past).These days it's called the Mount Werner or the Meadows parking lot barn. But names don't tell the story.  This article reflects my research of courthouse records, old newspaper articles, museum files, and interviews with long-­‐time Routt County residents to weave together the threads of the barn's history.

In 2015, the barn stands next to a solitary evergreen tree in a 15 acre parcel of land located in the SW1/4 of the SE1/4 of the SE1/4 of Section 21, T6N, R84W, just south of today's Mount Werner Road and east of Highway 40. It faces a large multi-­‐story condominium complex and the Meadows  parking lot.  The house, corrals, shed, and trees that were once part of the ranch complex are long gone. The reconfigured Mount Werner Road rises steeply behind the barn, and the parking lot replaces the corrals and structures that were once nearby. According to the Routt County Assessor files, the landmark barn was constructed in 1945.

A landscape photograph of the area taken from Emerald Mountain in 1917 documents a patchwork of meadows and plowed fields, but no barn or buildings. Aerial photos from the early 1960s show a similar pattern of broad meadows and fields at the base of Storm Mountain.  The barn, house, outbuildings, corrals, and a grove of trees are in the middle of the meadows. A trail heads up the gentle slope on the north side of the barn and a ranch road just west of the barn connects the rural families of Walton Creek, Casey's Pond, Pine Grove, and Fish Creek areas to the town of Steamboat Springs several miles to the north.  Between the ranch road and Highway 40 along the river are several huge stacks of hay.  Agricultural production was in its prime.

In 1889, the United States government owned most of the land in northwestern Colorado.  The government had yet surveyed the area for homesteading or sale. That did not stop a William Knight from filing a pre-­‐emption (pre-­‐survey) claim for 120 acres in Section 21 in November 1889, but he was not able to hold on to it. The public trustee deeded the parcel, the SW 1/4 of the SE1/4 of the SE 1/4 of Section 21, T6N, R84W, to a Henry Putnam. In 1896, New Hampshire Real Estate Company purchased the parcel and sold it four years later to local stagecoach operators G.C. Whipple and C.A. Dole. They, in turn, sold it the next day to J.N. McWilliams, a prominent local realtor who specialized in marketing ranch properties. Even in the late 1890s, Routt County land attracted out of town investors and real estate speculation.

The parcel changed hands and size every few years until 1910, when Jennie M. Congden purchased it.  She owned it for 10 years, and then sold it to O. C. Bartholomew in 1920.  By then the parcel was larger, the S1/2 of the SE1/4 of the SE 1/4 Section 21, T6N, R84W, or 120 acres. O.C. Bartholomew was a successful rancher and entrepreneur. He came to Routt County from Kansas in 1910. By 1914, he proved up on a homestead on the Elk River, sold it in 1915, and bought the P.C. Werner ranch, a few miles south of Steamboat, which he used as the ranch headquarters. The Bartholomews raised cattle and sheep, and grew hay and grains there as well as on the parcel in Section 21, in the lush meadows below Storm Mountain.  The land stayed in Bartholomew family for nearly 10 years until 1927, when Walter Arnold purchased it.

In 1915, the Arnold family (parents, three brothers and a sister) left Nebraska and moved to Routt County. Over time, they purchased several large tracts of land south of Steamboat Springs. Walter's brother Earnest purchased land behind the Mesa Schoolhouse and Walton Pond. His brother Irving purchased what's known today as the Hay Meadow Ranch on Highway 40 near Highway 131. In 1927, Walter purchased his parcel at the base of Storm Mountain.

There is no documentation as to when Walter built the house, a cement block barn, outbuildings, and corrals, but the Arnold family recalls the barn being built in 1928. The Arnold family was the only family known to have lived there.  A January 1932 newspaper article invited readers to a winter ski hike "at the Arnold ranch, just east of the Pine Grove ranch...Coffee will be served.” According to a 1933 ad in the Steamboat Pilot, the Arnolds operated the Cloverdale Dairy and sold whipping cream for 45 cents per quart and milk for 30 cents per gallon. The Steamboat Pilot regularly reported on Walter Arnold's agricultural activities during his tenure. He and his family raised and sold chickens, eggs, pigs, cattle, dairy cows, and sheep. Like most Routt County farmers, the Arnolds also grew hay and grain for their own use.

The barn's metal gambrel roof sheds snow easily. The barn has a large hayloft with an exterior hay hood to hold the grappling hook that once lifted the loose hay inside. A center aisle on the ground floor is flanked on both sides by animal stalls. Each stall has a small window.  A neighbor who grew up on a ranch nearby, remembered visiting a small white ranch house, and seeing several structures, the big barn, and corrals in the 1950s. The ranch complex was still visible in aerial photos from the early 1960s.

Agriculture and coal production were Routt County's economic engines in the first half of the twentieth century.  During the 1920s, Routt County was Colorado's top producer of winter wheat and hay.  In 1935, the Routt County Yearbook and Directory listed 640 ranches and farms averaging 379 acres in size. Routt County, with 9488 residents, was fourth in Colorado in cattle and sheep production at the time. The 1956 Routt County Extension Service Annual Report listed 30 dairy farms in Routt County. Walter Arnold's Cloverdale Dairy was one of them.

Yet, changes were underway. Coal production plummeted after World War II when energy markets shifted away from using coal to cleaner diesel fuel for trains and natural gas for heat.  Routt County coal mines closed, people moved away, and local markets for agricultural products shrank. By 1960, Routt County's population had dropped to 5900. The economy was depressed. Another blow occurred when new government regulations required commercial dairy operations of any size to have expensive stainless steel equipment in the early 1960s. Local operators could not afford the new equipment and could no longer compete profitably with grocery store brands. The last dairy farm in Routt County closed in the 1960s.

Although the Arnolds had their property for sale in the late 1950s for $4000, it was too expensive for local agricultural producers to buy. It is no surprise, then, that in December 1961, the Arnolds sold the 120 acre ranch in to the newly formed Storm Mountain Ski Corporation. Their farming days were over. Another chapter for the land and for Routt County had begun.  The ranch house and barn were now vacant, and the productive farmland lay fallow.  Storm Mountain was renamed Mount Werner in 1965. The development of the ski area and the promotion of winter tourism had begun.

Over the next five decades, the parcel was subdivided, sold, and resold for increasingly higher prices over as the ski area ownership changed and the base area developed. The ranch house was used for ski area employee housing for several seasons, but it was soon lost to a fire. By the late 1960s most of the outbuildings were demolished. The hay and dairy cows were long gone. By 1970, the former Arnold parcel was only 56.9 acres in size. In 1972, the land near the ski area base, including the Arnold parcel, was annexed into the city of Steamboat Springs.

For many years in the 1970s and 1980s, Pat Mantle and Rex Walker, owners of Sombrero Stables, rented the property for their summer tourist horseback rides up the slopes of Mount Werner. They used a shed on the property as a tack room, and pastured their horses in the meadow. They did not use the barn. Instead, ski area marketers used the barn as a western backdrop for promotional photographs of Mount Werner. The barn itself was used to store ski lift equipment, machinery, and spare parts. When the ski area sold again and the corporate culture changed in the 1990s, Sombrero Stables moved their operation to Howelsen Hill.

By the late 1980s, city engineers redesigned, widened, and paved, and Mount Werner Road to provide easier access to the flourishing ski area base. The barn was no longer in an open meadow, but tucked into the corner of a man-­‐made hillside, bordered on two sides by paved roads. In the late 1990s, the corporation that owned the ski area sold the parcel to a developer for his ambitious Wildhorse Meadows condominium project. The development went bankrupt after the 2008 economic downturn. Eventually the foreclosed property was resubdivided and resold by the Bank of America. In 2012, investors purchased the Arnold barn parcel, now a 15 acre outlot and zoned RE2 residential. Today, the barn stands vacant and visibly deteriorating at the edge of the Meadows Parking lot. Its fate is yet to be determined.

References Used

Bie, Tom. Steamboat. Ski Town USA. Boulder, CO: Mountain Sports Press, 2002.

Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection, 1859-­‐1923. Routt County Republican, Steamboat Pilot.   http://www.ColoradoHistoricNewspapers.org.

Fetcher, Bill.  Telephone Interview and Emails, February 25, 2015 and March 8, 2015.

Frieberger, Harriet. Then & Now. A History of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Steamboat Springs: Bud Werner Memorial Library, 2009.

Gourley, Katherine. Telephone Interview, March 7, 2015. Hanna, Rod. Emails, February 24, 2015.

Long, Linda. Telephone Interview, February 28, 2015. Mantle, Steve, Telephone Interview, March 9, 2015.

McPherson, Tina.  I.G. Arnold Ranch District. Routt County Local Historic Designation.

Historic Routt County, 2000.

Routt County, CO, Assessor Files

Routt County, CO, Clerk and Recorder Files

Schaffer, Laureen L. Agricultural Context of Routt County. Routt County, CO: Historic Routt County, 2005.

Taylor, Geneva and Jack.  Emails, March 4-­‐6, 2015

Towler, Sureva. The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs. Denver: Frederick Printing, 1987. (Page 110)

            , and Jim Stanko.   Faster Horses, Younger Women, Older Whiskey. A Pictorial Archive of the Routt County Fair 1914-­1995.  Steamboat Springs: White River Publishing, 1996. (Page 167)

Winter and Company. Historic Context of Routt County. Steamboat Springs, CO: Tread of Pioneers Museum, 1994.