The Royal Hotel in Yampa was both a piece of history and important community gathering place
Steamboat Springs — When flames consumed the old Royal Hotel in Yampa Saturday night, they took with them one of the most prominent landmarks and watering holes along the unpaved main street of a little town that harkens back to the old west.
Cowboys and cowgirls still gather there at least once a year on the Fourth of July to honor the birth of a nation, race horses and play a little broom polo, local historian Paul Bonnifield said Monday. The Royal, with its covered boardwalk and balcony overlooking Moffat Avenue, provided a front-row seat where people took in the action from camping chairs set up in the beds of pickup trucks.
In order to make the wide street in front of the Royal more horse friendly on the Fourth of July, town crews bladed the unpaved street, softening the surface.
“It’s the only place in the world they would plow up the main street just to have a broom polo event,” Bonnifield declared.
The Royal was like something out of an old Zane Grey Western novel. And in fact, Bonnifield said, Grey stayed at the Royal while writing his book, “The Mysterious Rider.” But contrary to rumors, Teddy Roosevelt never “slept there.”
The fire, believed to have been caused by a coal-heating appliance, happened as the town of Yampa and a volunteer group are in the middle of a multi-year effort to restore another historic building, Crossans’ M&A Market.
Noreen Moore, of the group “Friends of Crossans,” said the Royal Hotel was both an historic building and a vibrant business where people congregated.
“It’s a heartbreaker, because it was a business and people were attached to it,” Moore said. “It has so many peoples’ stories in it. It’s beyond a historic building; these small towns need assets like that and a meeting place.”
Thomas Lindsay undertook construction of the Royal in 1903 in anticipation of the arrival of the long awaited Moffat Railroad, which finally linked Denver to Northwest Colorado in the first decade of the 20th century.
“What was happening was that the town of Yampa was considered the gateway to the Yampa Valley,” Bonnifield said. “Oak Creek and Phippsburg didn’t exist, and people were investing in the Yampa area. Yampa was considered to be the center. The town fathers set aside some land for a railroad yard and a roundhouse. It was to be the railroad center instead of Phippsburg.”
Before the railroad arrived, the Royal Hotel housed travelers taking the stagecoach from Wolcott north to Steamboat Springs and Hahn’s Peak.
According to the Routt County register of historic places, there were three hotels in Yampa in the early days, including the Antlers and Grand Hotel. They thrived for a time by hosting railroad crews, hunters, loggers and coal miners as well.
Ironically, the Grand and the Antlers were destroyed by fire long ago, according to the historic register. But the Royal remained as a landmark that served the community in numerous ways.
When the town’s hospital could not take care of all of the patients suffering through the 1919 flu epidemic, the Royal filled the breach. It was a boarding house for ranch children during the long winters and did double duty as a school gymnasium, a post office, drug store and a general store. It even housed the Yampa Leader newspaper for a time.
A 1980s era article by Steamboat Springs High School student Tara Grillo and Elise McGill, which was published in the history magazine “Three Wire Winter” interviewed then Royal Hotel owners Jill and Daryl Hansen who had been operating the store for a decade, after purchasing it from Mr. and Mrs. Fred Mohr who had owned it for 22 years themselves.
Daryl Hansen told “Three Wire Winter” that initially, he and his wife attempted to operate the Royal as a hotel and restaurant but found it challenging. Instead, it morphed into Hansens’ Yampa-Western Store offering TV repair, clothing, veterinary supplies, greeting cards, household items and snacks.
Bonnifield said current owner Bill Ager had done a good job of remodeling the property, installing an attractive bar and making the Royal a gathering spot once again.
“It was one of the few businesses here in town,” Bonnifield said. “It was a thriving business, a pub place where people met in the evenings and visited. It was significant historically as well as an important business.”