All good mysteries require a crime, a culprit, and a savvy sleuth to connect the two. Creede, a former mining town at the mouth of Willow Creek Canyon in the silvery San Juans, never lacked for any of these ingredients. Bob Ford, the supposed killer of Jesse James, operated a dance hall there at one time, while Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith swindled ne'er-do-wells at his own gambling hall down the road. Famed Dodge City sheriff Bat Masterson managed another saloon and reportedly instilled a little law and order in the town through his hard-won reputation alone. These men, along with the town's other notable and nefarious characters, could populate a dozen or more crime novels. Yet their dramatic stories, told and retold by historians for more than a century now, lack mystery. But connoisseurs of historical conundrums need not lament. The Creede Historical Society, while preserving the town's Denver & Rio Grande Railway depot with assistance from the State Historical Fund, discovered an architectural puzzle that will satiate any mystery lover's appetite. Although the depot's story lacks a crime, it includes all the other elements of a great mystery.
The story began in 1999 when the Creede Historical Society received a State Historical Fund grant to assess the depot's worsening structural problems. During the assessment, project participants discovered archival and physical evidence that filled several gaps in the depot's construction history.
Creede's historians already knew that the Denver & Rio Grande Railway built the depot in 1893. The town newspaper, The Creede Candle, documented the construction of a "large and roomy structure, in keeping with the immense amount of business transacted at this station." However, historians did not know when workers constructed the building's defining element, a distinctive cross-gable roof. The original blueprints, dated November 11, 1892, depict a simple side-gable structure, with only a hint of a cross gable shown in light construction lines. Another set of blueprints, this time dated "1/19/3," clearly show the cross gable. This evidence suggests that workers constructed the original side-gable structure in 1893 and added the cross gable ten years later.
Proving the historian's adage that information can be considered factual only if it is confirmed by separate and reliable sources, the project's partners disproved the theory that the cross gable was built a decade after the rest of the structure by combining new documentary and physical evidence. First, researchers found a photograph of a funeral procession at the depot, showing a completed cross gable, dated 1893. Second, Jones & Kolb, the architectural firm hired to conduct the historic structure assessment, investigated the attic, discovering that the original side gable had been framed-but only partially sheathed and shingled-before the cross gable was framed over it. This evidence suggests that the cross gable was what architects and contractors now refer to as a "change order." The depot's builders almost finished the side gable as planned, but, for an unknown reason, changed their minds and built the cross gable.
During the historic structure assessment, architects laid other mysteries to rest. The original blueprints call for a structure measuring 84 feet long, while the actual building measures 96 feet long. Further investigation of the attic revealed a row of rafters with residual wall elements below, twelve feet from the building's south end (at the 84-foot mark). Yet the roof framing continues the full 96 feet. Jones & Kolb concluded that this enlargement, like the cross gable, was a change order.
The architects found another construction anomaly while exploring the structure's crawlspace. They determined that the north half of the building has two sets of floor joists, one built directly on top of the other. Observing that the upper floor is level with the railroad tracks, Jones & Kolb concluded that the builders framed the original floor too low relative to the tracks, and raised the floor to the correct level by adding a second set of floor joists.
Beyond doing the detective work, Jones & Kolb assessed the historic structure's condition and made recommendations for repairs and preservation. Among other problems, they found rotten foundation timbers and siding resulting from poor drainage, severely deteriorated paint and roofing materials, and moderately deteriorated siding and fenestration. The Creede Historical Society received two additional State Historical Fund grants totaling over $98,000 to address these problems. In all, the SHF has awarded more than $140,000 to restore the Rio Grande Depot.
Today, the Creede History Museum looks forward to hosting over four thousand patrons per year in its restored and structurally sound D&RG depot. But the lessons learned during the building's assessment have not been forgotten. The Society realized that the construction anomalies should not be relegated to the footnotes of SHF grant reports. These change orders may represent historical change itself. In 1892 Cy Warmen commented on his town's silver boom and big-city vigor with the words, "It's day all day in the day-time, And there is no night in Creede." Perhaps the depot's builders had that around-the-clock hustle in mind when they added another twelve feet to the depot's south side and crowned its roof with an elegant cross gable.