Local history buff puts up challenge grant for Eslick project
Former Grand Lake Historical Society president Dave Lively has offered a $2,500 challenge match until Dec. 31 to help the Society reach its funding goals for the recent relocation of the Smith-Eslick Cottage Court.
The Smith-Eslick Cottage Court was the first motel built in Grand Lake and is the oldest original motor court in the country.
The fate of the century-old cottage court was diverted recently when it faced demolition to make way for the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre’s new building on adjoining land. Society board members and community donors stepped in to preserve and restore the building by moving it to a new location nearby.
But the Society is still short of paying for the move, according to board members. As much as $5,000 is still needed to completely pay the moving costs, said the Society’s Elin Capps.
Lively’s roots are well connected to Grand Lake history, with relation to the Harbison family that walked to Grand Lake from Denver to start anew in 1896. A meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park is named after the family.
Around 1915, P.H. Smith, who owed a sawmill and had already built and operated two hotels in Grand Lake, built a new kind of rustic structure with four units and attached carports.
The establishment was timely, with converging events under way or soon to take place:
• In 1913 the State of Colorado appropriated funds for the construction of Fall River Road over the Continental Divide between Estes Park and Grand Lake. Crews from each end, working primarily by hand, met in September 1920.
• In 1915 Rocky Mountain National Park was established. The dedication ceremony drew 2,000 people arriving in horse-drawn vehicles and 300 automobiles.
• A 1920 report from the Director of the National Park Service to the Secretary of the Interior stated:
“The outstanding event of the year was the completion of the Fall River Road connecting the east and west sides of the Park …The opening affords a wonderful circle trip that will compare with any similar trip in the world.” In 1929 work on Trail Ridge Road was started with the intent to improve safety and scenic views, while minimizing damage to the environment along the way. Construction was finished in 1932 and the surface completely paved by 1949.
• In the early 20th century the chance to drive a personal car through majestic high mountain scenery and wildlife habitat, plus being able to find affordable, comfortable overnight accommodations were new and exciting. The Cottage Court and others like it prospered. The Village of Grand Lake prospered. This was the beginning of the auto tourism industry that even today supports mountain communities like Grand Lake, rich in scenic attractions and recreational opportunities.
The simple Smith – Eslick structure has survived essentially unchanged for almost 95 years as a tangible reminder of how earlier generations might have vacationed.
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Ghosts, and goblins, and ghouls, oh my!