Habitat for Humanity of Teller County, Colorado
Cripple Creek, Colorado is a former gold mining settlement in Teller County, located 44 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. The site of major gold strikes in the 1890s, the highly intact town in its entirety was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961. Ore and gold mining persisted but declined in the twentieth century, and by 1970 the population had dropped to 425. The legalization of gambling in 1991 brought casinos and renewed economic activity to Cripple Creek, but housing demand and population have concentrated elsewhere in the county, stunting local growth.
In Colorado, the State Historical Fund (SHF)—which distributes grants to historic preservation projects statewide—receives 22.4 percent of total statewide gaming tax revenues each year. Because gaming interests have located in Cripple Creek, it is one of three Colorado cities that receives money directly from the SHF, providing a significant annual funding source for local historic preservation projects.
Habitat for Humanity of Teller County (HHTC) was organized in 2000 to better serve the rural community beyond nearby Colorado Springs. The affiliate has constructed 21 homes in ten years, and in 2006 began its first rehabilitation project—the relocation of four historic 1890s miners’ cottages.
Acquisition & Site Selection
In 2005, then Economic Development Director of Cripple Creek Jack Quinlivan saw an opportunity: four Victorian cottages, two owned by each of two local gaming interests, sat vacant across the road from a newly constructed casino. While the entire town is a National Historic Landmark, the houses themselves were located outside of the local downtown historic district, excluding them from the jurisdiction of Cripple Creek’s Historic Preservation Commission. Underused and threatened by neglect, the buildings’ future was unclear.
Quinlivan approached the gaming interests, proposing that they donate the cottages to Habitat for Humanity. Tapping State Historical Fund monies, the City of Cripple Creek would provide the new land and cover the cost of relocation and new street infrastructure, as well as a $50,000 matching grant for siding, roofing and windows. The gaming companies agreed to the plan, and Habitat for Humanity of Teller County accepted the challenge of rehabilitating the homes—planning to sell them to families according to the traditional Habitat model. In addition to the city’s substantial infrastructure improvements, the local electric company extended power lines to the homes free of charge.
Although the preferred preservation option is that historic structures remain in their original locations--indeed, many structures in Cripple Creek, including homes, have been rehabbed and restored on their original sites--the unique condition of the houses' donation, and the city's offer of land, made relocation more viable.
As a condition of funding the project, the city required that Habitat’s rehab meet with the approval of the Cripple Creek Historic Preservation Commission—even though the houses’ new location was outside of the local historic district. Because there were no formal design guidelines for this section of town, Habitat used the underlying tenets of the local ordinance as a guide. The process produced a new streetscape that fills a blank in the city’s original planned grid. Once the buildings were in their new locations, the Habitat construction team stabilized old sheathing and selectively replaced deteriorated sections with new wood siding that matched the profile of the original. Skilled volunteer woodworkers—one of whom had worked for Jackie Kennedy during her time in the White House—provided a high level of craftsmanship, repairing original features where possible. Wooden windows replaced deteriorated original units.
Because the cottages were originally located on level ground but were being relocated to a steep hill location, Habitat worked with an architect to situate the structures safely, adding rear basement-level additions that complemented the character of the original building while addressing the visible hillside location and making the houses large enough for a modern family. While the hillside relocation and new basement facade alters the apparent scale and even entry experience of the houses, the simplified additions differentiate themselves as contemporary building campaigns and create usable space out of challenging site conditions.
While the cottages’ exteriors were restored, the interiors were taken back to the original hand-hew studs. The interior modernization process allowed for the inadequate original newspaper insulation to be replaced and for modern appliances, electrical, and heating systems to be installed, helping the homes achieve Energy Star certification and be better suited to their environment.
Although the relocation and reorientation of the cottages has removed the buildings from their original context, their preservation and reuse is a success for the city. Kathy Stockton, Cripple Creek’s Historic Preservation, Building and Planning Manager, noted that the homes were in bad shape and may have been demolished without any input from the Historic Preservation Commission, but instead, they have four new owners who are thrilled with their housing and get to live in a unique piece of local history.
The three-way partnership has generated a series of benefits:
- Four historic cottages were moved and rehabilitated instead of being demolished
- Affordable housing stock was expanded by leveraging historic preservation funds and without constructing public housing facilities
- The City of Cripple Creek expanded its tax base and infrastructure
- Employees of the donor gaming interest now reside in the houses; the local businesses contributed to the housing of their workers.
- The unique deployment of resources achieved a larger finished product than either Habitat or the City of Cripple Creek could’ve completed on its own for equivalent cost.
According to HHTC Executive Director Jill Sievers, the project resulted in other benefits as well. In addition to bringing exposure to her affiliate, the rehabs attracted a more diverse group of funders with whom HHTC continues to maintain strong relationships. The Myron Stratton Home, a care facility and grant fund endowed by the fortune of a Cripple Creek miner, provided a large grant because of the project’s tie to the mining industry. The A.V. Hunter Trust, a Colorado philanthropy established by a banker who dealt with mining interests, provided funding in part because Hunter himself had once owned one of the cottages. Another grant came from the Quick Foundation, a small Colorado charity with an interest in historic preservation.
Beyond funding, though, Sievers said that the project has built a “we can do it” attitude at her affiliate; when considering rehabs she would encourage other affiliates to “jump in and do it”.
All photos courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Teller County.