The Wyman Hotel
The Wyman Building
Louis Wyman Jr.
Some buildings seem to reflect the personality of the men who built them. They endure the passing years with little change, honoring their builder’s vision and strength. The Wyman building at Silverton, Colorado is just such an edifice. It pleases me along with my older sister and younger brother, as it would have pleased my father, that his building, now well past the 75 year mark will continue to be useful, with a hotel for tourists on the top floor.
My father, an emigrant from Germany, first came to Silverton about 1875. He was just a lad in his late teens. The only thing he owned at that time was the horse he rode. He had spent the previous winter in New Mexico, on Raton Pass, helping “ Uncle Dick Wooten” with the winter traffic on his toll road. Wooten, no relation to my father, was a scout, trader, trapper and road builder. He was known as Uncle Dick throughout the Southwest.
In the spring of 1876 Louis Wyman Sr. headed for Silverton, Colorado where, so he heard, you could shovel silver up off the streets. He found it wasn’t quite that simple. During the ensuing years he went broke several times, trying to get a business started. But by 1887 he had together a fairly large freighting outfit and was handling all the supplies for The Silver Lake Mine.
By 1900 the aerial trams had been built. Pack mule teams, and ore wagons were destined to fade from the scene. In a very short time this colorful period of the West’s development slipped away into the pages and pictures of our history books.
My father sold his entire freighting outfit to the British Government. Mules and pack saddles, six horse teams, and wagons. Everything down to the manure forks, and horseshoes. He trailed the outfit east to St. Louis where everything was loaded onto river barges which made their way to New Orleans. From there, my father’s freighting outfit went by ocean freighter to South Africa, where it was used to transport supplies for the British Army during the Boer War.
Once out of the freighting business the Senior Wyman turned his attention to real estate. In 1902 he built the Wyman Building on the same site where his old freighting office had been.
The red sand stone for the masonry came from a quarry up South Mineral Creek. While the stone masons were laying up the walls, he was cutting into two fine slabs of stone the image of his beloved pack mules. The finished pieces were set high on the facade of the building, where they remain to this day.
He planned his building to meet the needs of early-day Silverton. The old-timers had laid out the town with streets running north & south, east & west, true to the compass. Main Street running north & south, seemed to divide the town in half. Both sides of Main Street were given over to the business district, and as many of Silverton’s thirty-two saloons as there was room for.
The east side of the town was the scene of a roaring night life common to every wide-open mining town. It was well equipped with dance halls and houses of pleasure, such as the Diamond Bell, The Bon Ton, The Laundry, The Tremont, The Ethiopian Temple of Pleasure and numerous others, where a gentleman out on a spree could find plenty of entertainment.
The west side was host to schools, churches and family homes. Whether this arrangement was planned or not, I don’t know, but it worked out well. The main problem was that on the west side of town there were no buildings or halls where people could meet for parties or dances. So my father planned his building to take care of that need. At that time Silverton was an isolated mining town and it’s social life was centered around lodges & clubs. The Odd Fellows, The Moose, The Machabees, and The Woodsmen of the World. All of them were holding meetings wherever they could. And of course they couldn’t dance in the churches. Most of the lodges had a chapter for the their ladies, who also had their sewing circles and church organizations.
So my father designed the top floor of his building to take care of Silverton’s social needs. A large part of the space was given over to a ballroom and lodge hall, with an adjoining banquet room. Both halls were well furnished and equipped with anterooms as well as a lounge for the ladies. For many years the top floor was busy with some activity almost every night.
Also upstairs were two three room office suites that faced Main Street. These were usually occupied by dentist’s and mining companies. Dr. Baily, a dentist, had his office in the north suite for many years. He straightened my front teeth in that upstairs corner room. He was followed by Doctor’s Morris, Finsilver, and Dr. Grouel.
The south suite usually had one mining company or another as a tenant. They seemed to come and go every month or so. I got to know the tenants during my high school years when I helped out as a janitor, keeping the old steam boiler fired up to heat the place through the long winter months.
Finding tenants for the two large, street level storerooms seemed a problem. McCrimmon Dry Goods and Ladies Wear occupied the south side for a number of years. The Silverton Electric Light Company moved in briefly, and some small business came and went, sometimes without paying their rent. The Silverton Commercial Club used the north side as a clubroom for a short time. But the storeroom never seemed to have an appeal as a business location.
With the demonization of silver, the old mining town of Silverton was knocked to it’s knee’s. Many buildings on both sides of town stood empty and cold. As World War I wound down, base metals held the spotlight again and Silverton was able to hang on. The Senior Wyman made one last effort to save his building by making a deal with the Graden Merchantile Company of Durango, Colorado. They were to bring a department store to Silverton—the town’s first—occupying the entire upstairs floor.
When the remodeling was finished, the south room held a ladies furnishings and dry goods department. The archway between the two rooms were opened, and a grocery, meat market and bakery filled the north side. If Graden had stocked the store with new mechandise, he might have made it. But the people of Silverton weren’t about to buy the bargain - basement and out-of-style goods the store offered. However, the grocery, meat market and bakery did a fair business. After a year or so, the department store folded and went back to Durango.
For many years after that, the building stood idle. The automobile and roads had come to the San Juan’s and Silverton was no longer an isolated mining camp. The town simply dropped it’s social life for the family car. But my father never stopped trying. It wasn’t his nature to give up.
But, then a leg injury turned cancerous. On a black December day in 1924, we placed his coffin on a sled, drawn by a team of mules. A fitting cortege for his last trip.
After Senior Wyman’s passing, D .M. Wyman, my younger brother took up the battle to save the building, even mortgaging his home to pay the property tax and defeat a tax-title vulture trying to acquire the old edifice. I have always been grateful to Dave for making that effort. After settling the tax lien, he sold the building to Mr. Grant Gifford at a give-away price. It was the best deal he could hope for.
Mr. Gifford used the downstairs rooms as a warm winter garage and storage for the crew that drove back and forth to the Mayflower Mine and Mill each day. The upstairs he converted into apartments. This arrangement lasted until the Mayflower Mine closed down.
The Wyman building then passed to several more owners in succession, each different and taking a toll from the sturdy old structure. The outlook at that time for the town was bleak.
But then tourists discovered the San Juan Country, and railroad buffs found the narrow gauge from Durango to Silverton. So Silverton and the Wyman Building have survived.
Mr. Don Stott acquired title to the old building and brought it back to something like it’s original condition, again accommodating public demand. The Wyman building became a Hotel, catering to the seasonal tourist trade.
Today The Wyman Hotel & Inn is owned and operated by Rodger & Tana Wrublik in the spirit of the old west. It’s furnishings are indicative of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Louis Wyman Sr. Would be proud of his building, despite the hard times it has survived, and is still structurally sound. Like the town in which it has stood for more than three quarters of a century, the building has a bright future. My father built well.