On April 1, 1886 James Leahy recorded the first deed for the land where the Snowmass Cottages stands today, declaring in his own handwriting “a legal notice for al the world, that I have a valid right to the occupation, possession and for the enjoyment of all…”
James Leahy built his “stage stop” Highway House, now the Log House and centerpiece of the Snowmass Cottages, as the trackmen scratched gravel and spiked rails for the Colorado Denver & Rio Grande and Colorado Midland Railroads as they raced to the prized silver in Aspen. The Colorado Denver Rio Grande Railroad narrow gauge tracks curved along the Roaring Fork River to the north of Leahy following the route which today is the popular Rio Grand Bike Path. The Colorado Midland standard gauge track to the south progressed beneath what are now the up-valley lanes of Highway 82. Old fire rings, railroad plates, and other artifacts found on the property indicate that some of Leahy’s first guests were railroaders and trackmen camping by the river.
During the Silver Boom farmers and ranchers settled in the majestic and productive Snowmass and Capital Creek Valleys. They brought their potatoes and other produce via mule teams down to the Railroads for transport and to pick up supplies on Leahy’s corner. Silver went bust, potatoes boomed, Leahy maintained a new clientele and Snowmass continued to flourish as a junction of commerce. Although evidence of old irrigation systems on the property tells an agricultural story, after Leahy, the historic trail grows cold…
On August 9, 1946 Paul Anderson, a traveling salesman and avid fisherman from Denver, and his wife Esther, bought this track of land from rancher, Emma Bradshaw. Paul, built a modest “vacation home” for his family at the confluence of Snowmass Creek and the Roaring Fork River and immediately began building the Snowmass Cottages a half mile upstream as a yearround Cabin Court for fishermen, skiers, and families eager to tourthe west. He then added arestaurant and office on to Leahy’s original stage stop. Within the year The Snowmass Cottages Resort & Restaurant were upand running with a Coffee Bar & Dining Room sign posted on Highway 82 featuring a menu of fried chicken, steaks, sandwiches, hamburgers and short orders. For emphasis, a hilarious giant wooden coffee cup wrapped with a “Coffee Bar” banner was hoisted onto the roof of the restaurant and commercial signage for Sunfreeze Ice cream and Coca-Cola adorned the fence.
Paul and Ester’s daughter, Barbara Anderson Tulk, with her small sons in tow ran the Cottages until 1951. In 2006 Barbara with her sons Ron and Tom returned for a visit. Charming and witty well into her eighties, she sat by the river enjoying a glass of red wine as she recalled cooking meals on a wood burning stove and drying sheets on the line in winter. “To keep my sanity”, she laughingly described, “I would head up the snowy 2 lane road to Aspen every afternoon in my Buick to make a few ski runs on Ajax.” (Aspen Mountain).
February 29, 1951 Max and Devena Swan headed from Nebraska to settle in the Wild West and begin the next chapter of their lives, and the second chapter of the Snowmass Cottages.
Max was a journalist, musician, fisherman, hunter and avid gardener and together with his stylish wife, Devena, brought a touch of class and sophistication to the Snowmass Cottages. The Swans developed strong social connections with both Aspen and Basalt along with the surrounding ranching community. Somewhere between fishing, elk hunts, and family gatherings with five children and many grandchildren, Max found time to pen clever letters and poems to the Aspen Times. When development of the Snowmass ski area began, Swan penned the satirical poem about the developers stealing the name Snowmass, which continues to this day. He even managed to run a strong, but ultimately unsuccessful, bid for County Commissioner. During the Swan tenure, the restaurant featuring hamburgers and pies, was used as a library, post office, and district court house, and the Cottages and gardens flourished with many social functions, and a loyal group of guests. The Swans sold the bustling Snowmass Cottages to a Texas developer, Bill Tudor, in 1969 and retired to Glenwood Springs.
With dollar signs in his eyes, Tudor planned to capitalize on the Swan’s success by building a 150 room motel on this site and a large supermarket at the gas station across the street. Tudor’s development plans were on a collision course with the radical “No Growth” agenda of the newly elected County Commissioners Joe Edwards and Dwight Shellman. Tudor somehow managed to expand the gas station and build a convenience store across the street before the county’s stringent anti - development stance deflated his grand vision for the motel and he sold out to John and Rita Ham.
In the early 1970 John, an avid snowmobiler, worked as an air traffic controller in the newly installed “tower” at Sardy Field while Rita successfully ran the busy Snowmass Cottages. Almost 100 years to the day the railroads raced to Aspen, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) condemned the southern portion of the Snowmass Cottages property to accommodate the 4 lane expansion of Highway 82. The Hams invested their new found CDOT cash in a luxurious motor coach and set off for new horizons leaving the Cottages behind to gather dust from the highway expansion.
Julie Wyckoff, a former housekeeper during the brief Tudor era, purchased the Cottages in 2005. Wyckoff has been conscientiously restoring the Historic Log House and Cabins and revitalizing the natural landscape to recover the peaceful beauty of this natural and historic treasure. She continues the tradition of western hospitality by blending a new set of guests with old timers to renew and create new and wonderful memories here at the “fabulous” Snowmass Cottages.
Historical buildings and their authentic surroundings maintain a certain social anchor for a community as evidence of a pioneer spirit that retains the test of time. This opportunity to incorporate history with a current commercial endeavor can inspire communities, as well as entrepreneurs, to a take a second look and make use of what already exists around them to preserve our valuable historic assets
Today Skiers and snowboarders now glide over the once precious gold and silver still hidden underground.
Cars travel up and down the old Colorado Midland Railroad track that is now paved over by Highway 82. Skiers, joggers, bikers and dogs enjoy the popular Rio Grande Trail which curves along the Roaring Fork River following the Colorado Denver Rio Grande Railroad tracks adjacent to the Cottages. Up the majestic Snowmass and Capital Creek Valleys few working ranches still remain interspersed with gentleman’s ranches and second homes, which maintain the flavor of rural mountain living, while producing some of the highest real estate values in the United States.
Here, on this modest corner in the thriving metropolis of Old Snowmass, comprised of a gas station, convenience store, post office and the Snowmass Cottages - “hidden in plain sight”, stand Leahy’s Highway House and Paul Anderson’s little cabins as truthful testimonials to their exciting dreams of times gone by, and an inspiration to wonderful times ahead.
123 years later The Cottages are still dedicated to Mr. Leahy’s visionary proclamation “For all the world and enjoyment of all.”