What would life have been like living in Northwest Colorado in this isolated cabin on Yellow Jacket Pass, known today as the Diamond Window Cabin? When Park J. Gardner built this homestead cabin in the early 1900s, Yellow Jacket Pass was the main route into Steamboat Springs. Horse drawn stagecoaches and wagons made the three-day trip from the railroad station at Wolcott through Yampa to Steamboat Springs from the late 1880s through 1909, when the Moffat Railroad began to provide passenger and freight service to the county.
And life was hard – very hard. In November 1918, Gardner’s wife Ada, his only daughter Lucille, and her infant son died within a week during the great influenza outbreak. Gardner and his son John continued to ranch on the 168-acre homestead until 1931. The cabin was last lived in during the 1950s. By 2008, it had nearly collapsed. Thankfully, Historic Routt County saved the cabin in 2009.
The cabin once overlooked a lush river valley until the late 1980s when Stagecoach Reservoir was built. Today the reservoir is a state park and its dam generates enough energy annually to power 500 homes. This cabin was included in the 600 acres purchased by the Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1995. John Fetcher and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District facilitated the purchase. The property is now protected by a conservation easement and managed for winter wildlife habitat.
Preservation of historic landmarks in the Yampa Valley, such as the Diamond Window Cabin, is important. If the homesteader cabins and connections to the landscape are lost, residents and visitors will have no idea what happened in Routt County. It’s important to remember the story of P. J. Gardner and his family to honor the legacy that they left behind and to realize how much life has changed today.
HRC led the effort to preserve the cabin as an historic landmark. HRC raised the necessary funds that were needed to stabilize the foundation, repair and replace damaged logs, reconstruct the roof and re-establish proper drainage, bringing the cabin back to its 1985 appearance when it was vacant but standing tall. An interpretive sign also has been installed.
Historical Background: Historic Routt County successfully nominated the cabin to the Routt County Register of Historic Places in 2005. Careful investigations of the Diamond Window Cabin in the summer of 2006 revealed historic local newspapers glued to the interior dating from 1906. The earliest Routt County records show the purchase of the U.S. patent for the property in 1911 by homesteader Park J. (PJ) Gardner after he proved up on his parcel, but local historian, Jim Kendall, has documented the construction date to 1903.
When the railroad arrived in Wolcott in 1888, a route was established from Steamboat Springs over Yellow Jacket Pass (RCR 14) through Yampa, Toponas, and McCoy for stagecoaches and freight. The cabin was built close to this important road, about 18 miles from Steamboat Springs and now close to the Stagecoach Reservoir. Over the past 100 years, this picturesque cabin, with its unusual diamond window in the front gable, has become a favorite local landmark.
The cabin was occupied through the 1950s. Bruce Henderson purchased the parcel in 1956. In 1995, he sold it to the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The property is now under conservation easement for elk habitat to mitigate the construction of the Stagecoach Reservoir.