YMCA of the Rockies- Original Wind River Lodge
In 1902, Guy Robert LaCoste constructed the original Wind River Lodge as part of his effort to become a key player in the tourist boom sweeping the area. In 1909 the YMCA purchased the lodge, surrounding buildings, and land for $8.500 from LaCoste's Estes Park Land and Investment Company. In 1910, the YMCA moved the lodge to the center of the camp's operations. With guest registration rising, an expansion to the building was added in 1924 and included a new center structure and a west wing. In the 1970s, it was scheduled for demolition but Lula W. Dorsey, a longtime supporter of the YMCA of the Rockies, provided funds for the west wing expansion to become a museum celebrating the history of the YMCA.
Backstory and Context
Guy LaCoste, who worked in the newspaper business in Denver as an editor for the Denver Post, visited Estes Park in the late 1890s where he recognized the growing popularity of Estes Park and its potential for the tourism industry. Determined to be part of this growth, LaCoste took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 and staked a claim for 360 acres east of Emerald Mountain. In order to fulfill the requirements of the act, LaCoste built a small dugout on the slope of Bible Point and moved his parents up to the property. While maintaining his newspaper career, LaCoste continued to purchase land as it came available, which resulted in his property growing to 1,000 acres total.
In 1901, with partners George D. Sullivan and Arthur B. West, LaCoste incorporated the Estes Park Land and Investment Company with a stated purpose of buying, selling, and leasing real estate, and constructing hotels and inns. The company built the Wind River Lodge and it officially opened in the summer of 1902. Built in the rustic Western Stick style, familiar to the style found in the Adirondack camps on the East Coast, the lodge possessed a broad roof made of local timber, porch posts and railings made from local trees, and log siding made from native Ponderosa pines with the bark still intact. The aesthetic was that of a rustic building, despite being a framed construction. Overall, the Wind River Lodge was seen as a rustic manor used by the wealthy for relaxation and recreation in the mountains. Over several years, LaCoste increased the number of properties at this location to include a more substantial homestead cabin next to his original dugout, two guest log cabins, and tent cabins. The Western Stick style was used in these additional buildings too. While LaCoste attempted to purchase more land from the Earl of Dunraven, another land speculator in the Estes Park valley, his plans never materialized, and by 1907, LaCoste had moved from Estes Park and sold his interest (334 acres) to the Estes Park Land and Investment Company. With LaCoste's departure, F. O. Stanley filled the void. He along with Burton D. Sanborn, bought up large portions of Dunraven's holdings.
In 1907, the newly formed Western Conference of the Young Men's Christian Association began looking for a permanent location where they could hold annual conferences and a summer school for leaders in the YMCA. A group of six conference attendees, under the direction of William Sweet, set out from their meeting site in Grand Lake, Colorado and headed over the continental divide towards Estes Park. Sweet, a Denver investment banker, was appointed chairman of the new committee charged with finding a new home for the conference. After a day's travel, the group found themselves at the Wind River Lodge in Estes Park. Sweet already owned property in the town and knew of the Lodge's existence. Moreover, as a local investment banker, he was familiar with the various landowners and corporations eager to sell or purchase property in the Estes Park valley. After some discussion among the conference goers, it was decided that the 1908 western conference should be held at the Wind River Lodge, and in the late spring of 1909 the YMCA finally took control of the property, paying $8,500 to the Estes Park Land and Investment Company. In 1910, the YMCA moved the lodge and several cabins to a more central location on the property to better serve conference attendees.
The popularity of the camp increased and by the early 1920s more families were coming up to the YMCA of Estes Park. This placed a strain on the existing facilities. The Board wanted to build a new lodge, but had a tight budget and instead opted to expand the Wind River Lodge. This addition consisted of a lobby on the first floor and guest rooms on the second floor. Meanwhile, the west end expansion provided additional accommodations such as bathrooms and shower rooms downstairs and guest rooms upstairs. With the new addition came changes to the roof line and the removal of the Western Stick ornamentation to the roof and the upper siding and the addition of plaster and features more common in mock-Tudor architecture. Despite these changes, the camp buildings retained their rustic charm and, today, newer buildings are constructed with the same rustic aesthetic.
Expansion of the camp continued through the 1960s and 1970s with the construction of more modern lodges and cabins. Compared to these new living spaces, the Wind River Lodge looked cramped and old fashioned. The Board decided to demolish the lodge since the cost to modernize it was too prohibitive and its location was perfect for a new conference space. The lodge, however, was important historically for the Y and for the growth of Estes Park's tourist industry. Some long time supporters of the YMCA of the Rockies lamented the proposed destruction of the lodge and decided to take action. Lula W. Dorsey heard of the plans to demolish the lodge and proposed that the 1924 expansion become a museum to celebrate the history of the YMCA of the Rockies. Her family had been involved with the YMCA of the Rockies since the late 1910s and she was well respected among the board members, who took up her offer. Once again, the lodge building was on the move. The west wing of the lodge was moved to its current location where it houses the Lula W. Dorsey Museum. The Ruesch auditorium and Aspen Dining now occupy the site once filled by the Wind River Lodge.
Today, near the Coleman Cabin, a rock and plaque marks the place where the original Wind River Lodge once stood.
Melton, Jack R. Melton, Lulabeth. YMCA of the Rockies: Reflections, Traditions and Vision. Estes Park, CO. YMCA of the Rockies, 2006.