Restoration proposed for historic Owl Creek home |

Restoration proposed for historic Owl Creek home

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Courtesy of the Stapleton family

ASPEN – A dilapidated house off Owl Creek Road that dates back to Aspen’s early ranching days would be the focus of an extensive restoration effort as part of a development plan submitted to Pitkin County on Thursday.

Owl Creek Ranch homeowner James Gordon has proposed seeking the county’s historic designation for the old house, built by William E. Stapleton in 1913, and its restoration. The application also proposes construction of a new, 5,750-square-foot single-family home on the 5-acre lot and the demolition of a vacant cabin that was to serve as worker housing but is no longer habitable.

Gordon is seeking the removal of a deed restriction on the lot that limits its use to worker housing. In exchange, he would either pay $489,525 into the local worker housing program or acquire a condo in the Aspen area that could serve as replacement housing for a local worker.

The Stapleton home, an improbable throwback to another era in a valley dotted with mansions, is just off Owl Creek Road and the Owl Creek bike trail, between Aspen and Snowmass Village, in plain view of passersby. Restoring the house to livable condition, for use as a caretaker unit, likely will cost more than $1.5 million, according to the development application. Also proposed is a plaque along the trail explaining the historical significance of the home.

The land it’s built on was originally homesteaded by Marron Hugh in 1885, according to research by Denver-based consultant Lisa Purdy. No structures there date back to Hugh’s ownership. Rather, the house was built by William Stapleton, son of Timothy Stapleton, who, in 1881, homesteaded in the area now occupied by the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

The lot is currently owned by the estate of Shannon Stapleton, from which Gordon would buy the property if the county approves the development plan.

Despite the home’s serious state of disrepair, it is of historical significance, according to Purdy.

“I think it’s terrific,” she said. “The fact that it goes back so many generations on that land and that we have family members still in existence today who can give me photos from an album is just amazing.”

The development application includes a photograph of Stapleton family members standing on the porch of the home shortly after it was built.

“It’s amazingly intact inside,” Purdy said. “It was never updated, which is the kiss of death on these things.”

The first order of business if the development plan proceeds is shoring up the house, said Glenn Horn, the planning consultant working on Gordon’s behalf.

“It is about 3 feet of snow away from being demolished,” Pitkin County Commissioner Rob Ittner said in October, when the contemplated historic site application came to commissioners for an informal review.

“That home has always held my imagination,” Commissioner Michael Owsley said during the October discussion. “To see it deteriorate to the state it’s in now is sad. For me, the primary purpose is the restoration of a historic resource. I want that to occur.”

The cabin on the property, however, is in poor condition and not worth saving, according to consultants. Extensive alterations have undone whatever historical significance it had, according to Purdy, and it would be torn down under the proposal.

Commissioner Rachel Richards, however, voiced concern in October that a home that was supposed to house a worker as part of the approvals for the Owl Creek Ranch subdivision had fallen into disrepair and was uninhabited. Replacing the worker residence with a new one on the lot is an option, she noted.

The development application, after it is deemed complete by the county’s Community Development staff, will be scheduled for first review by the Planning and Zoning Commission.


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