Crawford family hopes to relocate, preserve historic Steamboat barn
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Before folks had cars parked in the garage, they had horses stabled in the barn.
Old Town’s oldest barn — which might be Old Town’s only remaining barn — was built by John Crawford, the son of Steamboat Springs’ founding family, James and Margaret Crawford.
On the move
Larry Freet bought the barn in 1978. For years, he has cared for the barn, replacing the roof, reinforcing the old wooden beams and storing spare skis and snowboards where John Crawford once kept hay.
Though the neighbors thought he should tear it down, he kept it up. But as the barn gets older and needs more repair, it’s getting hard for him to keep up the historic barn.
Freet has partnered with Jim Crawford, John’s grandson and James’ great-grandson, to try to preserve the barn, starting by moving the barn to a small chunk of city-owned property adjacent to the Crawfords’ stone house.
“I’m glad this is finally getting done,” Freet said. “We’ve been talking about doing this and working on this together for four, five years, something like that. It’s getting to a point where the barn really has to have some serious preservation done to it.”
The Steamboat Springs City Council opted on Tuesday to put efforts in motion to sell the 0.02-acre triangle of land between the Crawfords’ stone house and 12th Street. The Crawfords sold the land to the city in 1966, when the city sought to formalize 12th Street as a city street leading to the Yampa Valley College, Jim Crawford said. When the street was actually built, that small wedge of land was leftover.
“If we get this property, the barn will be situated on the piece that the Crawfords sold in 1966, so I guess you can say we would just like back what the city didn’t use for the street,” Jim said.
Preserving the barn
The Crawford family plans to pay for the land, the relocation and any restoration to the barn.
“All the restoration of the Crawford house was done by us, and we plan to do everything ourselves on this,” Jim said. “We don’t want to rely on any government agency to spend any money on this project.”
The barn will serve as an interpretive site, Architect Jan Kaminski told City Council. He’s working with Jim to move the barn. The barn’s interior will be closed the public, he said, but signage outside of the barn will explain its history.
“It’s an interpretive display,” he said. “It’s more of an artifact than it is anything else.”
Jim also believes it will benefit the historical community of Steamboat. Most Steamboat residents had barns, even in town, at the turn of the century. He hopes placing it in a more trafficked location will make more people aware of it and remind folks of the areas agricultural heritage.
“It’s really an emotional thing for me, personally,” Jim said. “The stone house is a real connection I have with my ancestors, and the barn would be a connection I’d have with my father and my grandfather. Personally, I’m really excited about this project.”
A piece of Steamboat’s history
John Crawford’s home was the third on the block, built in 1903 or 1904. It was demolished in the 1950s. The lot was subdivided, so the barn remained standing on a different lot.
Jim has passing memories of the barn from when his father and sisters took a trip to Steamboat to clean it out before selling it 60 years ago, but he largely forgot about it until the mid-2000s, when he and his wife, Anna Fang, purchased the Crawford stone house.
“I didn’t remember it again until I was looking into my grandfather’s house and realized the barn was still there,” he said. “I took a walk along The Boulevard, and I saw it there, from Boulevard. I was just amazed that it was in such good condition. I walked back to it, and Larry happened to be in his yard and saw me, and that’s when we started talking and becoming friends.”
The barn has changed slightly over the years. The lean-to shed attached at the north side is gone, and the Freets added new windows and a new roof. But it still has that dusty old barn smell and the same wooden boards that John Crawford nailed together in 1907.
“You can really go into the barn and look around the barn and feel like you’re looking at what they were experiencing a hundred years ago, and to me that’s a really satisfying feeling,” Jim said.
John Crawford was Routt County Clerk for about 30 years. He patched up cracks in between the wooden slats of the hayloft with old license plates. Many of those 1918 era license plates are still there.
All in all, the barn is in good condition for a 112-year-old building, Jim said.
“This barn is physically in pretty good shape,” he said. “If we finally get to move it, we’re going to have to do some restoration work on it and make sure its stable and will last a considerable amount of time, still. It’s in very good initial condition, and the fact that it’s still in its original state — they haven’t put a new floor in it or anything like that. It’s the real thing.”
To learn more about the barn, read Jim Crawford’s e-book, ‘My Dad’s Barn’ available for free online at http://www.crawfordpioneersofsteamboatsprings.com.