The dominant housing style in Old Town Lafayette is called a Miner’s Cottage, a simple, one-story, non-ornamental structure exemplified by the small footprint and a pyramid roof. Some do have side gables, but the style is generally one-story with less than 700 square feet and is considered a Vernacular style of architecture — a structure built without the aid of an architect or designer.
The vast majority of the Old Town Lafayette homes in this style were built and owned by the miners themselves. Only about a dozen or so Miner’s Cottages were built by the coal companies. That handful of company homes were purchased by former coal miners and moved into Lafayette from surrounding coal camps – the Columbine, Mitchell, Simpson, Vulcan and Gladstone.
The coal companies built almost all of their (now moved) cottages during the Long Strike of 1910 through 1914. About 30 total were built at the Simpson Mine. Gladstone had two; Vulcan had five and the Mitchell had one. The rest were built at the Columbine Mine northeast of Lafayette after 1920.
Local coal miners building and owning their own homes outside of the coal camp was the exception in southern Colorado coal towns. When strikes took place, and there were a lot of them in Colorado, a southern Colorado mine owner could just kick out the coal miner renting the company house and send the whole family on its way. But not in Lafayette and other Northern Coal Field locales. Because local coal miners owned their own houses and lived away from the mine property, they still had a roof over their heads when stuff hit the fan. This was a thorn in the side of coal company owners — they hated it.
The Miner’s Cottage was in great favor between 1895 and 1930. The facade is symmetrically balanced around the porch. In some areas the porch is full height, but in Lafayette there are examples of single-story gables or hipped roofs at the porches.
It is considered a very practical styling, because a relatively simple house can be adorned with Neoclassical elements to enhance the design and give it a sense of importance and cultural expression.
Homes in Lafayette normally integrate the Neoclassical elements in the porch or front of the house. These elements include columns, entablatures, and piano nobiles. Some houses employed very simple craftsmanship to produce these elements.
A significant variant in local homes is that the front door is rarely centered on the porch. Most windows are rectangular with vertical orientation and double-hung sashes.
Dwindling demand for coal combined with the Great Depression of the 1930s forced Rocky Mountain Fuel Company to close mines and liquidate assets. Smaller buildings at the closed coal camps that could be moved were sold, while the larger structures such as the wood-frame tipple and the machine shops were either disassembled and dumped down the main shaft, or were simply torched and then the remains pushed into the mine shafts after the embers had cooled.
Although the Simpson mine closed in 1926, the company rented its inventory of small coal camp cottages to miners working at the Columbine northeast of town. Rent ranged from $5 to $12 per month.
Seven larger homes for the engineers and superintendents of the mine lined the north edge of the Simpson property, now the north side of the 7000 and 800 blocks of East Simpson. Twenty six smaller cottages were constructed south of the mine’s tipple in 1910, after the start of the Long Strike.
The majority of the miner’s cottages were square with a pointed, hipped roof and were under 600 square feet. The smaller Type E house was 20 feet wide on the front side and had a simple cantilevered overhang on the front stoop. It was designed by Northern Coal draftsman R.A. Pierce. The larger Type H house was 24 feet on each side and had a hipped roof and a hipped front porch overhang supported by two posts. One gable-end cottage, House No. 40, was also constructed.
Starting in 1933, RM Fuel began selling its Simpson mine housing inventory to Lafayette residents. Prices ranged from $50 to $200 for each house. Nine Type E houses and 4 Type H houses were sold between 1933 to 1939. Later bills of sale stipulated that the structure be moved within 30 days.
One of the house purchasers was Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico native Victoria “Vicky” Gerardo Martinez (1894-1991), who married Cresencio Martinez in the 1920s. Vicky arrived at the Columbine mine in 1925 and she and Cresencio later moved to the Simpson camp in Lafayette. In 1935 she bought Simpson mine house #36, a four-room Type E house, for $125 from Rocky Mountain Fuel Company. The house was moved about 1/2 mile south to a lot at 800 Dounce Street in Lafayette. RM Fuel sold her the 1/2-acre lot for $150.
Oliver Clyncke (1900-1981), a cattle hauler who had a peg leg, was considered the structure-moving meister of the time, and is credited with moving many structures in town in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Oftentimes a house-in-transit was placed on timber skids or rolled on round poles. Chuck Waneka remembers his father, William P. Waneka, helping move the Capitol mine office in the 1920s. Mover Joseph Kneebone attached wagon wheels to the house, and two teams of horses pulled the structure to its new home at 311 E. Oak Street in the First Union neighborhood.
RM Fuel also sold most of the 82 homes at the Columbine mine northeast of Lafayette, the majority of which went to Weld County and Brighton residents. Local buyers of mine houses included Frank Brugger, George Waneka, Sam Espinoza and Lawrence Amicarella. Most of the structures from the Vulcan mine went to Louisville, except for the powder house, which was purchased by Lafayette store owner George Bermont.
Vicky Martinez’s house on Dounce Street in Lafayette was passed down to her neighbors, the Ortega Family, and Art Ortega Jr. is the owner of record in 2017.
By the late 1940s, the last coal mining remnants at the site of the Simpson mine included huge mounds of coal slack and broken shale pulled up from the depths over a period of four decades. The mounds of tailings also contained a large amount of red ash, a byproduct of the coal slack’s spontaneous combustion.
Toward the center of the mostly flat but weed-infested 38-acre property was a fenced area marking the open mine shaft, about the top 50 feet still exposed to the elements but partially covered by a mixture of concrete and rebar. Frank Pankoski (1907-1983), who had purchased the Simpson mine property (from Simpson St. south to Emma St.) for $900 in 1946, caved in the rest of the original Spencer shaft — renamed the Simpson shaft — using four dynamite charges, one at each corner of the fence.
In the early 1960s, the coal dump was portioned out to Frank A. “Shiny” Banyai who used the tailings for fill under his newly built trailer court at E. Cleveland Street and Burlington Avenue. According to the late Chuck Waneka, the old coal dump at the Standard mine east of Lafayette was also reused as road base at the Erie Airpark.
When George Bermont (1866-1947) bought the Vulcan mine’s stone and brick powder house from Rocky Mountain Fuel Co. in 1937, he definitely got more than he bargained for.
For at least a decade after the building’s purchase, and many years after the last Vulcan mine structure had been demolished, the locked stone structure sat undisturbed. According to Chuck Waneka, at some point someone trying to break into the bolted structure removed some of the corner bricks, enough to see what was inside. After discovering still-full kegs of black powder, the attempted illegal entry ceased.
Turns out there was a pretty good reason that George Bermont had taken a pass on moving the building.
The construction of area coal camp housing came in two phases. The first was 1890 through about 1902, when most of the structures constructed were either two-story boarding houses or homes for mine managers. The 1,000 sq. ft. homes were built for the superintendent, mine foreman, pit foreman, machine foreman and fire boss. These homes — the early Type B, Type C and the 1910 Type K — often had turned posts and stained glass windows. The smaller, usually 600 sq. ft. coal camp cottages came in the second wave of building — 1910 to 1914 — and had simple, straight eaves and a hipped pyramid roof that finished in a point. Those were generally Type E and Type H houses.
The Rocky Mountain Fuel Co., which inherited most of the Northern Coal Field mine camp structures after the Oct. 1911 purchase of Northern Coal and Coke Co., sold its properties in two waves: 1933 to 1939 when the company was struggling because of a decrease in demand for coal, and 1943 to 1946 when the company was in receivership and most of its assets were being sold. Structures from every mine except for the Columbine would have been built between 1900 and 1915. All Columbine mine structures were built in the 1920s.
Identifying a mine camp structure:
• For hipped-roof homes, a peaked roof that comes to a point. Other than the early 1907 Type C structure, of which only a handful were built, no hipped-roof coal camp cottages had a flattened peak.
• It was common during the early 1900s for the 2 x 4 hipped roof rafters to sit on top of the ceiling joists instead of being attached directly to the side walls.
• Structures built for the mine’s managers generally had a curved eave.
• Mine camp housing was always built with even-numbered dimensions (i.e. 20 feet by 24 feet) and always built to the exact foot mark (i.e. 20 feet, 0 inches).
• In addition to being more affordable, the smaller rectangular or square footprint structures were easier to move.
• Although shown on company blueprints, no known mine camp structures had an eyebrow dormer on the roof.
Some content copied from Lafayette Historic Preservation Board documents. (Very little of it, though, because I’m lazy but not that lazy.)
Rocky Mountain Fuel Company bills of sale for company homes sold 1920 through 1946.