Gustafson: A tale of two cabins | AspenTimes.com

Gustafson: A tale of two cabins

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

Barely more structured than a pile of logs bound together by weather and time, the lonely little ranching cabin has sat silently watching Snowmass Village ever growing up around its loose logs and rusty nails.

It has sat peacefully on the hillside for over a century now, and was a common backdrop for many of my youthful adventures, when it was located in the vicinity of where Town Hall now sits. I would fantasize about the simplicity and challenges of the pioneering days while running across the open fields behind the Snowmass Center and around the Draw Site, searching for treasures in the small valleys and climbing about on the shale-covered bluffs that hang down from the Rim Trail.

In times past that cabin was inhabited, useful, central even. While doing research for our book “The Story of Snowmass,” we uncovered many old and historical ranching era maps and photographs; and so, as one of the last crumbling ranching relics, the old cabin has come to symbolize a great deal to me personally.

For some, tracing genealogy satisfies a longing to understand the randomness of our existence; for me, I find a deep connection through understanding the history of a place, and that is how I stay grounded.

It appears that small pile of logs might have been a part of the ranch belonging to Kate Lindvig, or “Cattle Kate” as she was known. It shows up in photos from as far back as 1910 and was likely built much earlier. An entrepreneur after my own heart, Cattle Kate was among the first to pioneer a tourist business in the Brush Creek Valley when she opened Snowmass Falls Ranch in 1925, and began renting out cabins and providing meals and horses for hire for those interested in visiting Snowmass Lake. Kate Lindvig eventually sold her ranch to the Brown estate: D.R.C. Brown, Jr., Fletcher, Gordon, and Ditty (Ruth Perry).

Or, it’s possible that the old cabin could have been part of the Kearns Ranch which dates back to the mid-1880s, as their ranch also overlapped the location where the Snowmass Center is today. And in the 1950s Loey Ringquist, another colorful local character whom I admire dearly, purchased part of the Kearns Ranch and named it Faraway Ranch. At Faraway Ranch, Ringquist celebrated life and her love for these mountains. And the wildflower seeds from her gardens are still spreading her love around town to this day.

The Gallun family bought the rest of the Kearns Ranch in 1953, on which sat the Hoaglund barn, a part of Hilder Anderson’s family ranch. In the early 1960s some of the original Snowmass snowcat drivers were cowboys from John Hoaglund’s ranch. The Point Site is located right across from the fields where the original ski “runs” would “end,” so the cabin might well have been used as a headquarters for the budding ski industry.

That rickety little log cabin has outlived everyone who now calls this town home, and it certainly has historical significance.

Now, across the road up in the center of Base Village, there sits another structure, with a very different story. It is a bright red barn with white trim and a gambrel roof, looking for all the world like it seemingly belongs on a Midwestern prairie farm.

In the early 2000s when the developers-of-the-day began planning the new “improved” Base Village mall, they brought in a planner who presented Snowmass Village with a fictional version of our “past.” The barn and its history were contrived in an East Coast office and were part of a fabricated story, perhaps I guess, suggesting that the Base Village had some historical relevance. They imagined a manufactured story that envisioned an early ranch that was added onto over the years with a variety of eclectic structures. But, who knows, that bright red barn, which itself was built only a decade ago, could even come to be historically relevant in only a generation or two if we do not preserve the genuine past, as dilapidated as it may be.

These new changes to our town were not organic and they didn’t evolve from local history so they feel forced, because they are. The true stories are what prompted me, at that time a reporter for the Snowmass Sun, to start a process that ultimately became “The Story of Snowmass,” a local history book written by Paul Andersen and produced by Randy Woods.

When I notice signs of the inevitable and often generic modernization sweeping through town, impacting places that were the setting for many of my youthful memories, I am struck by internal conflicts.

In Aspen, Little Annie’s now reminds me of Virginia Lee Burton’s classic children’s story “The Little House,” where a whole new city grew up around a tiny rural cottage. Upgrades and tear-downs make me sad, but I do understand how change and adaptation are the essence of life, and essential in a resort community. Though I can not help but feel equally disappointed and disheartened by things like the juxtaposition of the historic brick wall on the side of the old Crystal Palace Building where the vintage Straton & Storm’s Owl Cigar ad now sits in the shadow of an oddly out of place, billboard-sized image of a sexualized woman wearing some sort of animal as a hat. I’m all for progress, but really?

Back in Snowmass Village, scanning the vista from my kitchen window I see so many homes, whole neighborhoods now, constructed where I had once been free to run and roam. Property lines have been drawn over the locations of memorable events and natural landmarks that, as children, we held sacred.

And that harsh feeling of inevitable change can only be softened by a sense that those who live in these new residences and the businesses that are operating out of newly created nodes are now filled with people constructing their own memories among these same trees and shrub-covered hillsides. They carve their own trails, and the imaginary worlds are as real for their children as they once were for me.

As I was walking home with my kids from the school bus last Friday, one of their neighborhood friends who lives in a newly constructed townhome pointed at a large heavily-rooted evergreen above Anderson Ranch and said “that’s my favorite tree.”

It was mine too when I was 7. I’m left reassured that those who commit to living here bring with them an open mind and heart, allowing their own impact on the town to stay in balance with how the community can influence their lives. Embracing the honest, yet perhaps less glamorous past, and recognizing that keeping our little pile of logs in the shape of a cabin is a worthwhile endeavor.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.


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