Cottage Camp

Cottage Camp Information

Cottage Court Exterior

Cottage Court Exterior

In about 1915, the first motel in Grand Lake was built. It still stands and is thought by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Colorado Historical Society to be the oldest, original motel in the country. The Grand Lake Area Historical Society determined that this building must be preserved and restored, so we moved the Cottage Court to prevent its being demolished. It is now placed on a site which the Society hopes to develop like the Cottage Court’s original setting. The historical society has moved the four cabins, all connected with small carports between them. It is still on the old road, but diagonally across the street from their original location. We plan to restore them so they are as they would have been in the early years. We’re not going to open them as a motel, but folks will be able to learn about automobile tourism, an important part of Grand Lake’s historic legacy. It will join the Kauffman House as a unique, one-of-a-kind museum … another important piece of Grand Lake’s history.

725 Lake Avenue << View the Map >>
Grand Lake, Colorado 80447

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Smith-Eslick Cottage Court History
The Smith-Eslick family built what they called the Cottage Court, later referred to as Eslick’s Cottage Camp and Eslick’s Cabins. It was originally right on the old road into Town. The road wound past the present Daven Haven, turned into the present Vine Street and then into Grand Avenue. There the cottages sat among the trees, offering a pleasant setting for travelers.

This was an overnight accommodation for automobile travelers, i.e. an early “motel” in today’s terms. This also explains the four cabins separated by open “car ports”, all joined by a common roof. The patterned, bark slabbing typifies the exteriors of many old buildings in Grand Lake. Even more amazing is the fact that history experts from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Colorado Historical Society believe that the Cottage Court is probably the oldest original motel structure in the United States. This is quite a distinction!

The historical significance of the Cottage Court lies in its relationship to automobile tourism and economic vitality in a remote mountain community. Grand Lake Village, situated on the largest natural lake in Colorado and surrounded by majestic peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Never Summer Range is in a pocket of stunning natural beauty. First found by Ute Indians and then hunter/trappers in the 1870s, a mining boom in the 1880s brought enough commercial activity to establish the Village. However, the advent of the automobile in the early 1900s defined tourism and recreation for the masses as the economic engine that would drive the community then as well as now.

The Smith – Eslick Cottage Court is named for three generations of the same family who built the structure around 1915 and operated the business into the mid-20th century. P.H. Smith was a sawmill owner/operator, skilled in construction, and a hotelier and land owner. The Cottage Court was built on land owned by Smith, and his experience accommodating hotel guests prepared his daughter, Georgia, and her husband, Alfred Eslick, to operate the Cottage Court. Clyde Eslick, a grandson of Smith, married Grace Stroebel, and the couple continued operating the business and contributing to the community in a variety of ways. Each Cottage Court room included a bed, fold-down table, chair and wood stove. This was a step-up in comfort over more primitive auto camps to which travelers carried all their own supplies.

In the early 20th century the chance to drive a personal car through majestic high mountain scenery and wildlife habitat, plus being able to find affordable, comfortable overnight accommodations were new and exciting. Wearing a cowboy hat and boots “out on the frontier” might afford a chance to see a real cowboy or Indian! The Cottage Court and others like it prospered. The Village of Grand Lake prospered. This was the beginning of the auto tourism industry that even today supports all mountain communities like Grand Lake which are rich in scenic attractions and recreational opportunities. The simple Smith – Eslick structure has survived essentially unchanged for almost 95 years as a tangible reminder of how earlier generations might have vacationed.

Recently the fate of the Cottage Court was in jeopardy. It sat on land owned by the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre and faced demolition to make way for construction of a new theater. The Grand Lake Area Historical Society (GLAHS), true to its mission to preserve, protect, and promote history in the area, has embarked on a major effort to preserve and restore the structure. A nearby lot (still on the old original road into town) has been purchased for placement of the building while additional funds are being raised for an adjoining lot. The total of one acre will allow for optimal placement of the Cottage Court with room for creation of the Grand Lake History Park. The Court will be restored with early motel furnishings, and a park environment will recreate the original wooded setting. This is expected to be a one-of-a-kind educational experience for visitors with an opportunity to pause for a picnic, just as early Cottage Court guests must have done.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Pictorial History, by Kenneth Jessen, 2008.
The Playground Trail, The National Park-to-Park Highway: To and Through the National Parks of the West, by Lee and Jane Whitely, 2003
Archives of the Grand Lake Area Historical Society

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