by Laurel Watson, M.A., Curator, Hayden Musuem 

SET IN THE WESTERN portion of Routt County along Hwy 40, the Town of Hayden is a charming example of a western town that is alive with both the feel of yesteryear, with its picturesque tree lined streets and historic downtown, mixed with all the modern conveniences of larger towns. It has survived economic booms and busts, showing its residents’ adaptability to change, while remaining the quintessential western home town where people know their neighbors and friendliness is a norm. 

The history of the Hayden area goes back farther than any written history of the region. The area has been seasonally inhabited for thousands of years by Native Americans, including the Yamparika Utes. It was not until 1868 and the Ute Treaty that a swath of Northwest Colorado—what is now Routt County and Moffat countywas opened up for settlement and the Natives were relegated to the White River Reservation near present day Meeker. Famed geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden embarked on his U.S. Geographical and

Geological survey of newly acquired territories which included the Northwest Colorado area and noted all of the abundant features of the region, from water, flora and fauna to mineral resources. He must have been fond of his campsite in northwest Colorado, as he marked the area Haydenville on his maps in his survey, which was published in 1873. 

This area was pre-emptively settled in 1874 as the Bear River Colony, a settlement venture organized by Porter Smart and his two sons Gordon and Albert Smart, the latter two taking up land claims while establishing a post office and trading post just north of present day Hayden downtown. It was in the Smarts’ U.S. post office application that Haydenville was shortened to Hayden. Shortly after Colorado became a state in 1876, Routt County was carved out of the northwestern portion of the newly formed state and Hayden was appointed the County seat due to its central location until a general election of the population could be held. The Smarts along with JB Thompson constructed the first county courthouse and awaited the influx of settlers. However, due to the remote location and proximity to the White River Indian Reservation settlement was slow. 

Tensions at the White River Reservation between the Indian agent Nathan Meeker and the Utes would come to a head in September of 1879, causing hostilities at the White River Reservation and subsequent Battle of Milk Creek—what was referred to for years as the ‘Meeker Massacre’. Many of the area’s earliest settlers, including the Smarts, fled the area never to return. It was not until the 1880s that greater numbers of permanent settlers arrived and the town of Hayden developed.

One of the early permanent settlers was William R. Walker, a native of North Carolina, who arrived in 1881 along with his son Martin Walker. Together they purchased preemption land claims from William’s brother in law, Samuel Reid, who had arrived earlier that same year. William Walker became an influential leader of Hayden and Routt County and was elected to serve as a Routt County Commissioner from 1883 to 1885. 

Walker, along with Samuel Reid, developed one of Routt County’s earliest irrigation ditches. They filed for 8.75 cfs of water from the Yampa River from the Division of Water Resources on May 1, 1882. The water was adjudicated to the Walker Irrigation ditch September 22, 1892 and holds the priority number of two on the Yampa River. This ditch, which winds through the Town of Hayden south to the Breeze Basin area, is one of the oldest constructed irrigation ditches in Routt County and has been in continuous use since its inception allowing for agriculture to flourish in the area. 

William Walker along with his son Martin Walker, and Samuel Donelson, (William’s son in law), saw the need to develop plans for a town settlement for the growing area. They drew up plans for the townsite and filed a plat for the Town of Hayden on January 15th 1894 {Routt County Plat Book}. These Town lots paralleled Walker’s Lane which did not run true north and south but rather was a ‘meandering cow path’ William Walker had fenced to use for moving his cattle to and from his pasture land in the south and his homestead to the north near the river, which settlers had started using as a road {History of Hayden and West Routt County 1876-1989, Rose Cobb, p. 310}. Commercial lots were established on the west side of Walker’s Lane, which would later be called Walnut St., and business buildings started to emerge. By the time Hayden incorporated in March of 1906, the Town boasted two hotels, a livery, a school, two mercantile stores, a saloon, a restaurant, a doctor’s office, a church and a Town band. Hayden’s future was made even brighter with the prospect of David Moffat’s transcontinental railroad being constructed through town connecting Hayden to distant markets making Hayden the halfway point between Denver and Salt Lake City. 

Ushering the railroad into the area was not only the agricultural wealth but also the abundant coal fields, which prompted the rise of coal camps along the rail line. These coal mines added to the prosperity of the region and attracted more settlers to the area, some of whom worked at the coal mines during the winter and took up homestead lands to ranch during the warmer months. An advertisement in the local paper noted all of the opportunity and wealth that West Routt offered from livestock raising to farming (of which there was an abundance of cash crops such as hay, oats, timothy, winter wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, lettuce and strawberries) to natural mineral wealth including coal, both bituminous and anthracite, water, timber and open land. Hayden was set to boom! However, much of this anticipated economic growth diffused when David Moffat abruptly died and his dream of a transcontinental railroad (though constructed thru Hayden) failed to be constructed past Craig, Colorado, ending dreams of a transcontinental railroad through Northwest Colorado. The area had little time to see the 

setback as the United States was pulled into World War I and war efforts became the main focus of the area. After the War, Hayden would erect one of the first modern hospitals, the Solandt Memorial Hospital, dedicated to its beloved local doctor who died in a tragic automobile accident while tending to a patient on a house call. No sooner had the War ended then the area was hit with the Spanish flu epidemic that pummeled the rest of the country. The Great Depression, would also affect Hayden and stymied much of the anticipated growth from earlier pre war years. 

Hayden persisted through the various economic ups and downs of the country with the emergence of the energy economy. One of the largest power plants in the region, the Hayden Station, was built in the 1960’s and, ushering in the modern economy, the Yampa Valley Regional Airport opened in 1966. The opening of the nearby ski resort of Steamboat in the 1960’s also played a role in the economy of the Valley. Through it all, Hayden has retained its agricultural identity and home town feel. 

Today, Hayden has much to offer with community assets including a large library, a new pre-k-12 school, a new recreation community and performing arts center and a local museum. For outdoor enthusiasts Hayden has beautiful parks and outdoor recreation within walking distance such as the Dry Creek Park, the downtown Park and the Routt County Fairgrounds. The Yampa River Park on Hwy 40 offers access to the river and a number of activities year round. National forest can be found going out of Town- Flattops wilderness to the South, California Park to the north. Other Hayden amenities include a grocery and hardware store, an auto parts, liquor store and restaurants, including Wild Goose coffee shop and Embers pizzeria both set in the historic granary which has become a non profit gathering space with concert series and events. The Yampa Valley Brewery offers microbrews and there are two ala carte food trucks, Sage and Spirit at the Brewery and the other serving Cajun food on Hwy 40. Downtown there are a number of small businesses that are set in historical buildings including a barber shop, Iron Wheel bike shop, Axial Arts Architecture, the Roost Home decor and the Rebekahs Lodge thrift store. There is also auto repair at Bear Valley Co-op gas station and a large Kum and Go convenience store. During the summer months a weekly Farmers Market is held along Walnut Street offering a variety of local produce and artisan crafts. Set in the old Solandt Hospital overlooking the town are doctors and dentist offices, and there is a pediatrician office downtown. The Haven at the east end of town offers assisted care and sports medicine. Opportunities abound for housing such as Dry Creek Village and Lake Village and the Valley View Business Park which provides for light industrial and live and work space. 

From the Hey-day to today, Hayden remains a community of adaptation, transformation, innovation and exploration. LW 

ELEVATE THE ARTS: Visit the town of Hayden. Stop in at the Hayden Heritage Center Museum and learn more about their local history. 

Read Laurel’s book, The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit: Historic Red-light Districts of Routt and Moffat Counties.