The Rio Grande Hotel was built in the spring of 1892, when Creede faced a severe housing shortage as thousands of prospectors arrived into town on the recently completed railroad. The hotel withstood the town’s major 1892 fire and is a rare example of an early mining-camp boarding house. After being used for many decades as a private residence, the hotel once again serves as a boarding house, providing living quarters for Creede Repertory Theatre staff and artists.
The town of Creede got its start in 1890, after Nicholas Creede discovered silver along East Willow Creek in the fall of 1889. Several mining camps quickly took shape in the area. The first and closest to Nicholas Creede’s Holy Moses Mine was Willow Camp, soon renamed Creede. As more people moved to the area in 1890, settlement spilled down the canyon to new the camps of Stringtown and Jimtown, located in a larger valley with more room for growth. Sometime between 1890 and 1892, the more populous new settlement of Jimtown took on the name Creede, and the original Creede was renamed Upper Creede.
The Creede area’s population began to grow even faster when the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad reached town in December 1891. By early 1892, people were pouring into Creede at the rate of several hundred per day. Railcars were packed so full that they did not have any standing room left. The town and surrounding hills soon grew to a population of 10,000.
The problem with this rapid growth was that Creede had very little housing. So many newcomers needed housing that the Pullman Company parked some of its sleeper cars on a sidetrack and rented them as rooms. By March, building materials had been shipped in, and new wooden structures were going up all over town.
Soon Creede had nearly 100 hotels and boarding houses, including the Rio Grande Hotel, a two-story wood-frame structure built in the spring of 1892. The hotel’s original owner is unknown. With its convenient location near the railroad depot, the hotel was probably built by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad as a residence for the company’s workers. Some locals still call the building the Railroader’s Hotel.
On June 5, 1892, a huge fire ripped through Creede’s pine-and-pitch structures, quickly destroying part of the business district. Photographs show that the Rio Grande Hotel, which stood slightly above the town on a small hill, survived the fire, as did other structures not directly connected to the burning buildings. Local businessmen soon rebuilt on the rubble; several were back in business the same day. Some businesses and residents moved to other mining camps, however, and the town never fully recovered from the fire.
The repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893 made silver nearly worthless and caused the area’s mines to close.
After the Boom
Demand for housing in Creede declined rapidly after 1893. As a result, the Rio Grande Hotel was sold to D. L. Motz in 1897 and converted into a single-family residence. Later the property belonged to Theodore Wheeler, a prominent local politician active from the 1910s to the 1930s. After serving as home to several generations of the Wheeler family, the building stood vacant for a few years in the 1970s. Ernest and Enid Hageman acquired it in 1977 and made several alterations to the structure, including new siding, windows, and shutters.
In 1983 the Creede Repertory Theatre (CRT) bought the Rio Grande Hotel for use as housing for staff and visiting artists. By the late 1990s the building was in bad need of repairs. With the help of a State Historical Fund grant, CRT raised more than $1 million to cover archaeological investigations at the site and restorations of the building’s interior and exterior. The project—headed by Del Norte architect Mark Jones and completed in 2001—made the restored hotel into the centerpiece of CRT’s residential campus, which also includes three new apartment-style dorms.