About 1911, 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 has determined that this building must be preserved and restored.
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
An unassuming, rustic, rectangular structure sits along the edge of the main street into the mountain village of Grand Lake, Colorado. 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.
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. 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.
GLAHS members met with property heirs to discuss how to restore the Cottage Court however they finally sold it to the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre as it sat on land owned by the theatre. When the RMRT started construction on their new theater the Cottage Court’s future was in jeopardy. Eventually, RMRT sold the Cottage Court to the GLAHS on the condition that the structure be moved from their land.
GLAHS considered 22 different potential sites before moving the Cottage Court to save it from destruction. The chosen site is located on the corner of Lake Avenue and Vine Street, also owned by the Smith-Eslick family making it an authentic and historically correct location for the Cottage Court. It is also located along the original road into town and beside the town’s water distribution ditch.
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 temporary 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.