Writing my historical novel Never Done familiarized
me with my father’s side of the family. It also piqued my curiosity about the
many places in Colorado my great-grandmother lived. In 2018, I decided to visit
some of those towns. My sisters wanted to go with me, so the three of us met in
Durango, rented a car, and drove all the way to Naturita, making stops in
Silverton, Telluride and Ophir.
I made reservations for us to stay at the historic Strater Hotel in Durango. Built in 1887, it is the same hotel Clara admires in Never Done when she and Vincent are living there. In chapter 52, Clara is a guest there for a couple of nights. Staying in the hotel was, for me and my sisters, like staying in a museum. All of the walls were
wallpapered in old-fashioned prints. Most of the trim was real wood and hand carved. Beautiful antique furniture decorated the lobby as well
as the guest rooms.
Inside the hotel is the famous or infamous Diamond Belle
Saloon. In my story, Vincent spent some time there. My sisters and I had a dish
of ice cream and took pictures of one another outside.
Day two we drove to Silverton. This is a hair-raising drive most people make this trip by train, but the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad had been shut down due to a wild fire. We stayed at Alma House, built in 1898 and converted into a boarding house for miners in 1902. With its carefully restored interior, antique furniture, and quaint touches like coffee and pastries outside our door first thing in the morning, staying there gave the impression of stepping back in time. Betty and Albert also served us an amazing miner’s breakfast that was delicious.
one of the sinks in Alma House
Our grandmother, Anna Colmer Grimes, was born and raised in
Silverton. We visited the court house to see if we could find where she lived. We
looked through many records, found several with her parent’s names on them, but
no home address. In Never Done, Anna is the character Emma, married to
We also visited the San Juan County Historical Society’s
Mining Heritage Center. The exhibits, realistic underground tunnel, and mining
equipment gave us a good look at what it took to extract silver ore.
We spent two nights in Telluride. Once just another mining town, this one is now an upscale tourist
mecca. Staying there didn’t give us the same historic feel we experienced in
Durango and Silverton, but we had fun shopping and riding the gondola.
While we were in Telluride, we drove to what was
once the small mining community of Ophir Loop. Not much remains of this grubby
little place where, in Never Done, Clara manages a hotel.
Near the abandoned site once called Ophir Loop, we saw the scars that remain on
Silver Mountain, deforestation created when the Silver Bell Mine dumped tons of
crushed rock and other tailings down its sides. Mining was eventually halted because of it.
Finally, we reached Naturita where our father was born. We
hadn’t been to the small town since we were too young to remember We were hoping to find the house our father was born in, but didn’t have enough information. However, with the help of the local librarian, we did find
the hotel our father’s parents (Charley and Emma in Never Done) managed.
Here is a picture taken in 1918 of the hotel as it looked
This was how the renovated hotel looked when we saw it. The
false front’s arched cutouts hide the original rectangular window frames. Though we brought a picture of the original hotel with us, we never would have connected it to this one if we hadn't had help.
Naturita has a small museum. The entire collection is housed in one
room, and it was in that room we found something even more exciting than the
hotel. There, in a glass case, was displayed a letter written in 1895 by our
great-great grandfather, Jonathan Wainwright Tripler (Albert in Never Done). J.W. Tripler was in the cattle business in Naturita. This amazing find gave me goosebumps, made me wish I had done more as a history major than just write about it.