Home > A Brief History > Recreation & Tourism > Auto Tourist Camps & Newcomers

A Brief History of Lake City:
Recreation & Tourism, 1915-1954

Auto Tourist Camps & Newcomers

Brochures published in the mid 1930s by the local merchants' organization tout Lake City as "Colorado's Newest Vacationland."

In 1937, five "auto tourist camps" opened: the Trail's End cabins (in Wade's Addition), Lake Shore Inn, Ramsey Cabins (now Iron Kettle Cabins) at 201 Gunnison, and T Mountain View.  Also in 1937, Elizabeth Ray and her son Joel Swank opened the Lake City Hotel and Town Tavern in the Bank Block at 231 Silver Street; they operated the business through 1946.  The Town Square cabins opened at 231 Gunnison in 1939.

These "camps" consisted of a ten or so one- and two-room log cabins laid in a square around a central courtyard that contained a shared washroom/shower house.

Following the tourist cabin trend, the Occidental Hotel located on the southeast corner of Silver and Fourth streets added a few cabins on the east side of the alley in 1936 (these later became part of G&M Cabins facing Gunnison Avenue).  Although aging, the Occidental Hotel and Pueblo House continued as cheap lodgings, until the Occidental burned to the ground in 1944.  The Pueblo House closed its doors soon after. 

In the late 1940s, other resorts developed along the Lake Fork, consisting of rustic cabins and private trout fishing.  These included Valley View Ranch, V. C. Bar Ranch, and The Texan on the upper Lake Fork, and the San Juan Ranch (no longer extant) north of town.

During World War II, gas and tire rationing discouraged leisure travel throughout Colorado and the U.S.  Tourism in Lake City dwindled somewhat, but rebounded immediately after the war.

In the late 1940s, an influx of outside investors built tourist lodging in town and along the upper Lake Fork.  Availability of inexpensive real estate encouraged development of auto courts and motels, as well as construction of summer homes.

Developers bought up scores of lots, paying as little as $2.50 per lot.  Hinsdale County Commissioners sold whole blocks to stimulate the local economy, real estate that has reverted to the county through unpaid property taxes.

"Lake City Booms Again" proclaimed a Denver Post article in 1949, "Texans by the hundreds are flocking here."*  Long-time citizens viewed the newcomers with mixed feelings:  "Some local residents regarded them as trespassers while others welcomed them as carefree spenders."**

The newcomers gained control of the local Chamber of Commerce in what was called the "Revolt of the 1940s," insisting on long-needed improvements to county roads, clamoring for reliable electricity, and printing enticing brochures that promoted Hinsdale County's myriad recreation opportunities.

To lure sportsmen, Chamber members developed fish lakes near the summit of Slumgullion Pass in 1954 and marketed the vicinity as "Hinsdale, the County of Lakes."  Anyone donating over $100 could have a lake named for himself or herself: Lake Pat Maloney, Lake Hildegard, Lake Slug Stewart, Lake Frank Walker, Lake Art Weaver, Lake Emory Carper, Lake Zekli. 

Encouraged by cheap real estate and by abundance logs and lumber harvested from local timber stands, construction of auto tourist camps and auto court motels continued for two decades following the war.  Builders during this period included Joel Swank, A. P. "Brick" Griffith, George Griffith, Ernie Masten, Clarence E. Wright, William C. Wright, and Cline Shaver.

Denver businessmen Austin Houghton and Emery Bagley developed the Lake Fork Cabins (now the Alpine Village) in 1947-1948 on former marshland at the northwest corner of town.

Also, motels were being constructed, reflecting increased tourism and visitors' expectations of modern amenities, such as private bathrooms and housekeeping services.  Among these was the Lone Pine at 220 - 230 Gunnison, three long units of attached units arranged in a U-shaped courtyard in 1948.  George Edwards opened the Matterhorn Motel in 1949. 

>>Next: 1950s to 1970s: Tourism Infrastructure & Promotion

<<Previous:  1930s & 1940s: The Allure of Lawlessness

*    Robert E. Holliway, "Lake City Booms Again." Denver Post, August 9, 1949.

**    "Lake City Expects Tourist Trade Growth," Denver: Denver Post, Denver, September 14, 1958, p. 30C.

 Town of Lake City, PO Box 544, Lake City, CO  81235.  970-944-2333.  
Town Square Cabins, built 1938.  219-231 Gunnison Avenue. Click on image for larger pop-up view.
Lake Fork Cabins (now Alpine Village), built 1947-1949.  627 Silver Street. Click on image for larger pop-up view.