Dr. Bob Brokering always wanted a little log cabin in the woods, so when his wife was in Europe, he bought one.
Only it wasn’t little. It was the historic miners’ boardinghouse adjacent to the Animas River outside Silverton near Eureka – 11,000 square feet of uninsulated and unheated rooms, pack-rat nests, sagging ceilings and bedrooms with no interior doors. He loved it. For his wife, Terri, affection took a little longer.
Dr. Bob is a board-certified family physician and Terri a nurse. They’ve been a team for decades. So turning a three-story, unfinished, 1929 boardinghouse into one of the premiere settings for weddings, reunions and retreats on Colorado’s Western Slope took time. And money. And patience. And skill.
Dr. Bob has plenty of those attributes. How else do you get a drink named after you at Montanya Distillers Tasting Room in Silverton? Just sample “Dr. Bob’s Snake Oil.”
He’s proud of delivering “a few hundred” babies, and he worked as an emergency room physician in Glenwood Springs, Telluride, Delta, Rifle, Meeker and Kremmling. Dr. Bob admits he’s “taken out some bullets” and once was paid in mutton, but nothing in his medical practice prepared him for renovating a vintage boardinghouse.
While working on the project, including listing it on the National Register of Historic Places, Dr. Bob made time to open a Saturday medical clinic in Silverton. Because San Juan County and town had no physician, he volunteered. Occasionally, he was paid in doorknobs and antique cameras.
“The people of Silverton sniffed out that there was a live doctor in the area so they’d come to the boardinghouse and hang around looking sick. Then he’d say, ‘See me at 10 a.m. at the fire hall.’ By noon there’d still be a line of people around the corner,” says longtime friend Steve Shute. Dr. Bob even offered a special prize for one of KSUT’s radio auctions – a vasectomy.
When not curing patients, he was renovating his historic boardinghouse.
Making the structure habitable was a labor of love assisted in part by members of their Presbyterian church congregation from Glenwood Springs. Historian and archivist Nik Kendziorski of Fort Lewis College says Eureka Lodge is “one of the best-preserved and largest boardinghouses still standing in the San Juan Mountains.”
The views are magnificent. The property straddles the Animas River and steep slopes nearby include Eureka Mountain (12,929 feet) and Niagara Peak (13,807 feet). The boardinghouse’s third floor is at exactly 10,000 feet.
“One of the first weekends we were working, we found our children (early teens) walking the 4-inch I-beam across the river (a 50-foot drop), so a deck on the metal bridge was the first order of business,” Terri says.
Because original construction ceased in fall 1929 at the start of the Great Depression, everything needed to be repaired or finished, including electrical and plumbing systems.
“The boardinghouse exists today as a three-story time capsule,” Kendziorski says. “The pencil marks of the quality-control inspector for the wooden wainscoting still remain. Almost no interior painting, staining or plastering has ever occurred, and the huge basement boiler was never utilized.
“The bedrooms contain plumbing for sinks for each miner,” he says. “Because the fixtures never arrived, the galvanized pipe is stubbed into the walls and plugged with wooden stoppers pounded in 85 years ago.”
Terri says: “The first two years we spent cleaning out debris and putting on doors to keep out creatures. Marmots and pine ferrets (pack rats) had taken up residence.”
On weekends Dr. Bob and Terri wore white biohazard suits and respirators to remove wooden ceilings and pull down pack-rat nests.
“We replaced the ceilings, one board at a time, because when they were removed they had to be cleaned of years of accumulated stain, grime and animal droppings,” Terri says.
Making the structure habitable with in-floor heat and crawl-space insulation in the 11,000-square-foot building, gave the couple time to think. Together, they also sanded all the wooden floors.
One time, the Brokerings had their family at the boardinghouse when avalanches crossed their driveway and closed the road to Silverton. They thought they had everything they needed – wine, beer, liquor, food, warm clothes – until they ran out of toilet paper. Now, they plan better.
Another night, the couple arrived in the dark and had to cross an open area where avalanches occasionally slam down. One did. Dr. Bob yelled for Terri to run. They both barely made it.
“Just the wind from the avalanche blew me ass over applecart,” Dr. Bob says. “I now have a healthy respect for avalanches.”
Eight years ago, the Brokerings opened the historic Martin Mining Complex nine miles from Silverton. Now christened Eureka Lodge and catering to small groups, this unique “miner’s hotel” at 106-by-33 feet comes complete with an eight-person hot tub, 18 bedrooms with two bathrooms down the hall and geothermal heat from a natural hot spring at the back of their mine.
In late fall, the hot tub becomes popular.
“If we get more than nine in there, it displaces water and then the pumps don’t work. But, depending on alcohol, we’ve had 17,” Dr. Bob says with a smile.
A wonderful venue, the lodge has been used by local school districts for retreats and also by California corporate groups.
“But there’s no bellhop and no elevator, either,” Terri admonishes.
That didn’t matter to us. My wife and I booked it a few years back for our 30th wedding anniversary and had a delightful time. The river literally “runs through it,” bisecting their 43 acres, which are protected by a conservation easement held by the Animas Conservancy and monitored by La Plata Open Space Conservancy. This is one of the first conservation easements on historic mining claims in the San Juans providing habitat protection for the federally endangered Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly, the Canada lynx and sensitive grasses.
“The Brokering Conservation Easement sets a precedent for protection of the Animas River – from the headwaters to the confluence with the San Juan,” the Animas Conservancy says. “The easement will protect in perpetuity the beauty of the land, and it limits future development. No additional buildings can be constructed.”
Set in a mix of spruce and fir trees, the lodge is accessed via snowmobiles or skis in the winter. I will never forget my wild snowmobile ride into the boardinghouse on New Year’s Eve with Dr. Bob at the throttle. He has quite a sense of humor, which is why his 1948 International flatbed farm truck is nicknamed “Speedy Pete.”
They’ve never advertised. Eureka Lodge stays full because of rave reviews from previous guests who admire the rooms filled with fishing rods, wooden skis with cable bindings, French Impressionist posters and hand-painted saws.
Dr. Bob finished the south-facing front porch, which is a marvelous place to sit and listen to the river. This year, they hosted several weddings, a memorial service, and a bat mitzvah or formal coming out party for young Jewish girls from Los Angeles.
We’ll always return. And there’s no stopping Dr. Bob.
Now, he wants to find a vintage International Harvester school bus to match his old farm truck, and he just bought a historic brick garage in Silverton for storage and for living quarters. Working on the boardinghouse, he broke both a rib and his back, but he’s unstoppable. No wonder they named a drink after him.
Andrew Gulliford is a professor of history and environmental studies at Fort Lewis College. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.