Eleanor Harrington remembers Tincup … and a lot more

Article by Martha Quillen

Local Historian/Writer – October 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

When you meet Eleanor Harrington, it’s hard to believe that she arrived in Central Colorado forty-five years ago with a husband and two sons.

Only Eleanor’s stories give a clue to her age. Tall and attractive, she looks like she could still easily walk a country mile and more — but she hates to have her picture taken.

“I always wanted to be one of those anonymous women who live interesting, mysterious lives that no one knows about,” she laughs.

Instead, she’s the author of two books about the Tin Cup area, and two tour guides, one about Gunnison and another about Buena Vista. She participates in the Chaffee County Writer’s Exchange, serves as secretary for the Tin Cup Cemetery Committee, and is a vocal advocate for paving the rest of Cottonwood Pass. Her books feature local color and lively anecdotes based upon dozens of interviews with Taylor Park residents, both past and present.

But her life didn’t begin in Tin Cup.

Eleanor and her first husband, Maurice Perry, came to Colorado from St. Albans, Vermont after their son suffered from a severe respiratory infection.

“We were talking about going west, when the doctor said, `I would advise you to get him out of this climate. We headed toward Arizona, but that was during the time when tires were rationed and so forth. We got to Colorado Springs where we saw an ad for retreads in the Denver Post, and we ended up living in Denver.”

Although she’s now spent several decades collecting stories about Tin Cup, the first time she saw it, Eleanor wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the place. In her book Taylor Park, Shangri-la, she recalls, “It was a dreary day in August, 1951. Before ever reaching Tin Cup, I asked, `How could anyone want to drive 40 miles off the main highway over these horrible roads just to go fishing!’

“We were there to consider trading our Aurora home as a downpayment on the Tin Cup Fishing Cabins. I was not in favor of this; I was sure I’d reached the end of the world and would die there with no one around to attend my funeral.”

But Eleanor’s husband Maurice fell in love with Taylor Park that day. “He fell in love with the mountains. He loved to fish, and he loved to hunt,” Eleanor recalls. Maurice had dreamed about owning a motel for years, and he was ill; he had undergone a cancer operation in 1949, and his health seemed to be declining. Thus, when it came to buying the motel in Tin Cup, “I just had to do it,” Eleanor says now.

With their two sons, Bill, 10, and Peter, 6, the couple arrived in Tin Cup to take possession of their new summer resort in September, 1951. The property included twelve rental cabins located on two streets, living quarters, and a hand-operated gas pump. There was no electricity, no running water, and no telephone, but “there was one of those little houses out in the back with a half moon,” Eleanor quips.

“We took over on Labor Day, that’s the great exodus, you know. Everyone leaves, and we had to leave November 1 because of the weather. In the meantime, Maurice added on a room to the front of the house we lived in — which became the store.”

Only three months later, on December 9, 1951, Maurice Perry died at the age of thirty-six.

“I was thirty-one. Actually, the day I went down to apply for Social Security was my birthday; I had turned thirty-two.”

After Maurice’s death, Eleanor’s mother and lawyer urged Eleanor to sell the Tin Cup Cabins, but Eleanor wasn’t ready to give up. “I had to prove to them that Maurice was right, that this could be turned into a paying proposition, and a good one.”

So Tin Cup became her home from the end of May to the first of November, but in the winters, Eleanor returned to Denver, where her sons went to school. “A year after his father died, Peter got spinal meningitis. After that, my mother came out to help me. Peter was better, but my mother knew I was alone, so she came to help.”

Eleanor’s mother, Helen Limoges, had been housekeeping for a priest in St. Albans, Vermont, before she stayed with her daughter for two years.

“We never had running water, but we got two generators, so we had lights. Eventually, I got quite modern. I loved cooking on a wood stove. You know, you can cook some of the best roasts in the world on the top of a wood stove.

“But I did finally put in a gas stove. We used the tanks, the hundred pound cylinders, and we put gas in some of the cabins… But we never had phones.”

Eleanor sold the resort in 1959. “It was such hard work, I probably should have done it sooner,” she admits. But Eleanor had grown to love Tin Cup, and although she left the cabin court behind, she took the stories of Tin Cup with her.

Outside of Tin Cup, Eleanor led a varied life. She lived in Ohio City for two years. She went to the Park School of Business to become a medical secretary, worked as a telephone operator, reported for the Augusta Gazette in Kansas, operated a dinnerhouse, worked for Dr. Veltri in Salida, served as a Salida stringer for the Pueblo Chieftain, and kept house for her son Peter in Littleton. “I was a bit of a gypsy,” she says.

Wherever she happened to be, however, Eleanor still told stories and collected memorabilia and pictures from Tin Cup.

But she didn’t actually think about writing a book. “My sister pushed me into it, Thank God,” she says. “I was given pictures, and people told me stories, and I met people…”

But the idea of a book didn’t really gel until the early 1970’s. “Then my sister, Marie Limoges, called and told me that a friend of hers had relatives from California who had been born and raised in Tin Cup, and that they were coming for a visit.” Marie thought Eleanor should meet with them.

The former Tin Cup residents were sisters, Frances Morris Taft and Nettie Morris Roy. Eleanor went to Tin Cup with them, and tape-recorded their memories.

“Actually, I hadn’t really started collecting until I talked to Frances and Nettie, and it was so much fun hearing these stories. I hadn’t realized I was a history buff until then.” After that, Eleanor began to seriously collect information about Tin Cup. “I started contacting other people that they had the names and addresses of. Some were born there. One was a schoolteacher. I got letters from all of them.”

Eleanor also started visiting people who had once lived in Taylor Park, but curiously enough, she didn’t visit Tin Cup between 1974 and 1985.

“In 1985, I went to visit friends there, and they were showing me pictures, and I thought, `I have more pictures than this.'”

On that visit with Tom and Becky Williamson, Eleanor saw Tin Cup once again, and talked about old times with her friends. “And that got me fired up; they just fired me up. On my way home I thought, `I have got to do something.’ I went home, that was in September, and I had the book written by December.”

“I was keeping house and babysitting for my son and daughter-in-law at the time, and I used to say to them, the house isn’t getting very clean. But they said, `that’s all right, Mom, write.’ And I wrote. I had the book ready for the printer by December.”

One of the people Eleanor interviewed for the book was Dan Harrington. Eleanor had known Dan when she lived in Tin Cup, but had lost touch with him — until a friend told her to get in touch with Harrington because he knew a lot of history.

Eleanor met Harrington at a restaurant in Denver to talk about history, and they continued to meet while she wrote, I Remember Tin Cup. They were married in 1987, and moved to Buena Vista in 1989. Her book includes sections on the Harringtons and the Korns, Dan’s maternal grandparents.

Eleanor’s books also include voluminous information about the Tin Cup Cemetery. As she tells it, “I’ve always been interested in cemeteries. If my mother were alive today she would say, `Oh, for heaven’s sake, when Eleanor was five years old she liked to go to cemeteries.’

“Although, of course, it wasn’t five years of age. But when I was really young, I used to love to read the writing on the stones. I was always interested in old cemeteries, as soon as I could read.”

Referring to the condition of the Tin Cup Cemetery less than a decade ago, Eleanor says, “It was a sorry mess. Winter storms had blown down big trees, blocking walkways. It was all sorts of things; people took markers, and other markers were breaking.”

But in recent years, residents in Tin Cup and Taylor Park have joined together to repair the damage — and Dan and Eleanor Harrington, and Eleanor’s son, Bill Perry, have all been active in the community’s efforts to restore the cemetery.

Today, the Harringtons divide their time between Buena Vista and Tin Cup, where they have a pioneer home handed down through Dan’s family.

Martha Quillen edits Colorado Central in Salida, and also likes to visit cemeteries.