Restoring the Yellow House at Maysville

Article by Erik Moore

Local History – October 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

Wouldn’t it be neat to move to the mountains, buy some splendid but decrepit old Victorian house, fix it up, open up a bed and breakfast, then live happily ever after? We did that, but we had to get to the ever-after part before things started going happily.

Cheri was born and raised in Littleton. I began my Colorado career at the age of nine months when my family moved to Denver. We are aging baby boomers now. We quit the city in 1983 and moved to Salida.

Many times while driving down Monarch Pass, we had remarked on the forlorn dignity and beauty of the old yellow house at the edge of Maysville. The roof had gaping holes, most of the windows were broken, doors were off the hinges, and there were no electric wires or indoor pipes to speak of. Many rodents, birds, and bats were in residence. Previous recent owners had done a lot of tear-out work, and the place was a mess.

I made inquiries early on and discovered that no bank would lend a penny on the property. After the Climax Mine shut down, the local real-estate market was, shall we say, less than robust? No company would even underwrite fire insurance.

What a shame, we thought.

Then, around Christmas of 1987, something happened. I had my first, and to this date, only, experience with something that I thought to be a ghost.

I was heading home from a drilling job at the Sunnyside mine in Silverton. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I’d had too much tequila the day before. At any rate, I had the clear impression of an old man, standing outside by the alcove, trying to wave me over. The classic chill ran down my spine. I slowed and stared. He had a whitish glow around him, as ghosts are supposed to, and as he waved, he seemed to indicate that I should stop fooling around with whatever I was doing and do something with the house.

I don’t know what made me think that, but the chill stayed with me all the way to Salida.

The next day I drove back to the house. I stepped inside. No ghost, but there was a different Realtor’s sign than when we had first looked the place over.

The man said he would take any reasonable offer for terms, but that he wanted $50,000. I paid him $5,000 down and in the way of these things, became the owner of the yellow house.

It was only then that I learned about Harry.

Often when we would wander the property, passing cars would honk. Even if my truck was out of sight in the back, every so often cars would honk. It was baff ling, until an old-time local told me about Harry and Theresa Miller, previous long-term owners.

Theresa, it seems was an artist. She would paint in the sunny round room near the highway. Harry would often sit in the alcove and wave to the passing cars. People would honk back.

Theresa died first, and Harry followed a few years later. Robert Kyricos of Gunnison took this photo in 1975. He said no matter how much he honked, Harry wouldn’t turn around. Maybe he was missing Theresa.

That chill returned, but there was a definite friendly flavor to it. People still honk for Harry and the legend now holds that he helps people over Monarch Pass. I have heard anecdotes that some people don’t honk, and they have accidents.

I don’t know, but I think Harry helps if he can.

He certainly helped us. Things kept happening that by rights shouldn’t have. Cheri’s brother, a licensed contractor, happened along at just this time, needing a place for himself and his three little girls for a while.

I knew as much about construction loans as you know about diamond drilling. He showed us how to write up a proposal. We must have caught Larry Smith of Salida Building & Loan on one of those “Oh, what the hell” days. They lent us a bunch of money to fix it up.

Cheri’s brother went to Guatemala and then a friend of Cheri’s knew this guy who knew construction stuff. Steve Ruggles really made the whole thing possible. He did all the smart stuff and I did the stupid stuff. His dad helped a lot, too (with the smart stuff). We put in a furnace and ducting, entirely new woodwork, plumbing, and electricity.

I got a helluva deal on a glass-fronted woodstove (whom we call “Chuck.”)

We put on new siding and roofing, straightened the windows, put glass back into them, sanded and scraped and painted and sanded and scraped and painted and…well, you know. We put a shower in so we didn’t have to keep renting one at the Poncha Truck Stop.

The renowned woodcrafter Ben Oswald was so desperate for money that he agreed to do the kitchen at what was for him a ridiculously low price.

U.S. Worst–sorry, U.S. West –put in a half a mile of underground cable, a pole, and two lines and charged us $220. (Tell me that isn’t supernatural!)

We needed a sink and Patty’s dad just happened to have one lying in his barn. Somebody else had a commode. Cheri found an old clawfoot bathtub at the Cotopaxi dump. The pump lay outside under a small glacier all winter, and when I put it down the hole it worked. We guessed at the roof color–it was perfect.

Over the four or five years we worked on it, things just kept falling into place. It was never a money pit. Things just kept working out our way.

In November of 1993 we opened The Yellow House Bed & Breakfast just as Chaffee County was being “discovered.” The Poor Farm was about the only competition.

I used to manage a guest ranch outside of Tucson. I worked restaurants as a bartender. I even pulled a couple of years as an actor with The Second City in Chicago. I put in my obligatory year at Monarch Lodge. So you could say I have experience working with the public.

I’ve never to this day been in a bed and breakfast (other than my own). They always seemed too prissy and it always gave me the creeps to think of staying with people I don’t know. Yet people raved over the place. Everybody seemed to feel right at home. We did good business right away.

I decided to quit drilling. We were going to run the B&B. I learned to make willow furniture and sold everything I made right out of the front yard. We put two hot tubs outside next to the North Fork and rented them out for five bucks an hour. We got a thing to take VISA and Mastercard. The Chamber of Commerce Vaqueros came over and gave us our first dollar.

It was our dream come true.

A year later we were divorced.

Put it down to stress. We had quit drinking six months before. So with clear heads we made a fundamental discovery.

We just hate tourists. Touroids. Flatlanders. Texans. New Yorkers. Californians. Lycra lemmings. Children who have been spared the rod. Yappy little dogs. The cellulite elite. Unhorsed Winnebago warriors.

I mean, gee whiz! We’d wake up in the morning and there would be people asking for French toast without animal or dairy products. They wanted tofu muffins. They wanted dolphin-safe coffee. They felt a daring wild abandon when I would talk them into Cheri’s blueberry and walnut pancakes smothered in Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup alongside real bacon and eggs–“What the hell, honey, we are on vacation.”

These people think they are in the middle of nowhere. What do you people do around here? This is the Wild West, the savage untamed wilderness. Anything goes. Can you get us a reservation to go hiking on one of the safe trails?

There are hundreds of these little bubble families, insulated and isolated from everything but their entertainment agenda. They don’t really allow bears to run loose here, do they? Minivans would pull up and entire families would walk in just to use the bathroom and then walk out. You should have told us in your brochure that it rains every afternoon!

People snuck into the hot tubs late at night. People would knock on the door at one in the morning and haggle. Why can’t we put eight people in one room for the same price?

Cheri moved to the Springs. I went drilling in Mexico. I had a series of people manage the place and they managed to drive it right into the ground. It’s very true that nobody will take care of your business like you will. I damn near sold the place.

Cheri and I didn’t speak for nearly two years.

When I’d come home from work and give the managers a break I would sit in the alcove in a willow rocker I had made with Harry in mind. At times, late at night alone with only the sound of the North Fork rushing by I would sometimes think I heard a voice. It seemed to say: “You dummy! You damned dummy!”

Then about a year ago, when I was working in Sinaloa, something told me to call Cheri. I did and we got back together a couple of months later.

When we had first looked at the yellow house still in its rags of neglect, Cheri had found an old skeleton key in the front door. She had hung on to it all this time–still has it. She also hung on to our wedding rings.

And we’ve still hung on to the yellow house. Harry is smiling. People are honking. The phone is still ringing. I tell them we are no longer a B&B.

I tell them to try Utah.

As indicated, Erik Moore no longer offers accommodations in Maysville, but he still aids and abets in the process of removing rocks from the ground when he’s away from the Yellow House.