The county seat (1875, 6,695 feet), at the junction of Soda Creek and the Yampa River, was established by James H. Crawford and named for the chugging sound of one of its more exuberant springs. Crawford and a group of investors platted a grid town which captured the county seat from the older mining town of Hahns Peak in 1894.
After the Moffat railroad arrived in 1909, Steamboat became one of the largest cattle and sheep shipping points in the United States. Haying and ranching were the main businesses until after World War II, when Steamboat boomed as a ski town celebrated for deep powder snow. Skiing had been the favorite local sport since the 1914 founding of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Norwegian Carl Howelsen (“The Flying Norseman”) laid out the Howelsen Hill Ski Jump and launched one of America's first winter carnivals, with cowboys skiing behind horses and the high school band marching on skis. Despite the quaint local festivities, travelers on U.S. 40 scurried past this ranching town located in a snow bowl averaging 164 inches a year. The town was so desperate for tourists that the Women's Club offered free baby sitting.
Population remained under 2,000 until the 1960s, when the ski business began to draw visitors. The population soared to 7,000 by the mid-1990s. Plans for the huge Catamount Lake Ski area, which has weathered local controversy and a U.S. Forest Service Environmental Impact Assessment, suggest that Steamboat Springs will keep bubbling. Despite the ski boom, no zoning ordinances until 1971, a lack of local preservation ordinances, and the opening of a Wal-Mart (1992), Steamboat has preserved much of its architectural heritage. This is evident along the stretch of U.S. 40 known as Lincoln Avenue, a 100-foot-wide main street once used for cattle drives. Some of the commercial structures, as well as outlying residences, exhibit the sandstone mined a mile south of town on the east shoulder of Emerald Mountain.
Among local stonemasons was the skier Carl Howelsen, whose craftsmanship is exemplified by the Furlong Building (c. 1920), 810 Lincoln Avenue, as well as the First National Bank in Craig, Moffat County (1918) and the Solandt Memorial Hospital in Hayden (1917). Local sandstone also enhances the First National Bank (1888), 803 Lincoln Avenue.
Notable Modernist work includes Denver architect Eugene Sternberg's Hillcrest Apartments (1959), 302 11th Street, and the Yampa Valley Electric Company (1956), 32 10th Street, the latter of Roman brick with ribbon windows, a flat roof, and a facade that showcases local stone. The Colorado Mountain College campus features polygonal red brick buildings (1967, Nixon and Jones) with flat, projecting roofs.
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