If these walls could talk

Habitat for Humanity house a survivor of the Great Depression, a shelter for numerous residents

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On July 14, a section of the home at 745 Yampa Ave., a dwelling with historical significance to many residents, was torn down after it was declared uninhabitable by its owners, the Moffat County chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

Studs and rafters snapped under the arm of the excavating machine. The remains were hauled to the county landfill.

But, while the front section of the house is long since gone, memories of the 90-year-old structure still stand in the minds of those who lived and worked at the home throughout its history.

If the home's walls could talk, they might relay the same kind of wide-ranging, and sometimes wild, stories as residents.

They might speak solemnly of surviving the Great Depression, or providing sanctuary to disabled patients. They could give you a witty, accurate review of "The Wizard of Oz," or grin mischievously when talking about the time they swallowed the paperboy's checks.

And, they might even laugh when hearing that some residents were so dumbfounded by mysterious happenings they could have swore the house was haunted.

The house, like those who came to reside in it, has numerous tales to tell. They start decades ago, at the turn of the century.

From the ground up

Before the house was built, museum records indicate the property changed hands several times in the early 1900s.

The house was likely built in 1916 when records reveal its value rose from $300 to $3,500. Lucinda Johnston sold the property that year to E.C. Johnson.

Three years later, the house sold to Lucy Thistle. After only a few months, she sold out to Rosella Breeze -- a name that should ring familiar to local residents -- for $4,000.

The Breeze family, a clan of early homesteaders who were influential throughout the area, had a street, and the Breeze Basin, named after them in Craig.

Decades ago, R.A. Breeze wrote in a letter about her use of the house as a boarding facility.

"I have two teachers (ladies) in my front upstairs room and two in my north room at $4 per week for each room. I have a family living in the dining room with kitchen privileges and they pay $1 per day. I have the back room upstairs rented unfurnished for $10 per month."

Breeze sold the home to LeRoy Tucker in 1931, and he sold to Thomas Rogers in 1935.

Elfreida Sweeney purchased the home in 1937, and sold to John Sherman in 1944.

Sherman's son, Glen, would grow up to become chief of the Craig Police Department.

"We lived in it in the winter time so the children could go to school," Glen Sherman said. "In the summer, we lived out on the Ferndale Ranch that was homesteaded back in 1916."

A home for the

homebound

For Beulah Kline, the old house on Yampa Avenue brings back memories of the 16 years she spent working there, when it was the only nursing home in Northwest Colorado.

Jessie and Herbert Palmer had bought the home from John Sherman and opened the nursing home in the fall of 1952, Kline said. She began working there two years later.

"We had residents from Yampa, Oak Creek, Steamboat Springs and Meeker," Kline said. "We had one gentleman who was a stagecoach driver earlier in his life. I believe he was from the Booco family in Hayden."

The Moffat Rest Home started out with four or five resident patients, but grew to accommodate up to 25 residents, Kline said. The addition to the rear of the house -- the structure still standing today -- was built in the 1960s.

Kline remembers quite a few characters who resided at the Moffat Rest Home. Very few of the residents had any family nearby, and a few had outlived their families.

"We had some old coal miners from Oak Creek. They were from different countries and didn't speak a lot of English," Kline said. "Many of them played cards, though. I would sit and play rummy with them."

She also recalls some of the residents were a handful, especially one patient who was recovering from a stroke.

"Personalities can totally change after a stroke," Kline said. "One lady, after her stroke, would swear like a trooper, and you couldn't keep clothes on her."

Rest home workers became familiar with trying to foil escape attempts from patients. One such patient stands out, Kline said.

"He put on all of his clothes, three shirts and three pairs of trousers, and made a run for it," Kline said.

Kline would take classes when she wasn't cooking for the residents. She said she became the facility's physical, occupational and recreational therapist by default when no one else would go to the training.

The house's facilities were constantly undergoing improvement. State inspectors required constant upgrades such as a new stainless steel sink or a bigger washing machine.

"It was always something," Kline said.

A welcome home

In 1989, after the nursing home had lost many clients to the newer Valley View facility, Jessie Palmer, (now Easterly) sold the home and returned to missionary work in Africa.

Robin and Roger Washburn and their family bought the house from Easterly, and at times there were four generations of the Washburn family under one roof.

Beverly Washburn had the Knit-4-U Yarn Shop in Craig, and said that at one time the house was a maternity hospital, and a boarding house.

Robin Washburn was sad to hear that the front of the house was torn down.

"There was so much history in that house," Washburn said. "I understand when the school was first opened next door to the Yampa Avenue house, that some of the teachers boarded in the house."

She thinks one of those educators might have been the author of a letter found in the house dated from the early 1930s about the release of the film, "The Wizard of Oz." The writer thought that the color portion of the film was great, but that it was too scary for children.

Washburn is the mother of Jeremy, the young paperboy whose lost checks were found by Habitat for Humanity volunteers tearing walls apart in March of this year. The lost checks were made out to the Northwest Colorado Daily Press in 1996 for the same amount as a monthly subscription, $5.50.

"Jeremy went through a lot of grief over those checks," Washburn said. "He had to make up the money out of his own pocket."

Jeremy is currently serving in the U.S. Navy and is stationed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Robin Washburn said they would joke about the house being haunted, when closed doors would be found open and items like the checks would go missing.

"Mom and Grannie both felt about the house like we did," Washburn said. "That despite its problems, it was always welcoming us home."

The house was purchased by The Memorial Hospital during the planning stages for a new hospital at the location. After securing property for a new hospital west of town, the sale was approved and the home ownership went to Habitat for Humanity.

Epilogue

Today, the home isn't much to look at -- dirt covers a crooked orange fence keeping pedestrians from falling into a steep hole up front and little separates the once-proud interior from being subjected to the elements -- but those pledged with rebuilding it can envision a beautiful future.

They see a family-friendly home, a home going to a worthy family -- the Burkett family of Craig has been chosen as recipients -- and a return to the glory days when it once stood proud and strong, instead of on its last legs.

That future isn't so tough to envision, said Robin Washburn, who remembers the house for what it was and again could be. It was a good home to her family, and will be to the Burketts, she said.

"We would sit on the front porch at night, watching the snow come down. An almost golden glow would surround us when the light was just right," Washburn said. "It was probably just the local street light, but it was a nice feeling anyhow."

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com.

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