Visitors to Creekside Chalets along US Highway 50 can’t help but notice just a stone’s throw to the east is the driveway of the Old Yellow Honk House. Guests at Creekside Chalets who are outside can sometimes hear the sounds of passing cars honking at the old house, and are left to wonder why they do it, and how it came to be so.
Speculation has it that motorists do it for luck since the house has gained the reputation as a kind of bad omen or even haunted. Others suppose that it is because children at the house play too near the road. Both guesses, however, fail to explain the 100 or so honking cars that pass each day. Many of the motorists who toot their horns probably don’t even know why they do it, other than their parents did it before them. To find the answers and unlock the secrets of the Old Yellow Honk House, you have to go back in time to where it all began.
The story begins in 1873, when Lt. William Marshall, of the Wheeler Survey Expedition, came upon the pass that would be named in his honor as Marshall Pass. In the few short years that followed, the plot of land would progress from being a part of Amasa Feather’s ranch (purchased for $75 and a sewing machine) to the fastest growing camp in the area in 1879, with more than 1,000 miners calling Maysville home.
Named after Lt. Marshall’s hometown of Maysville, Kentucky, the smelting camp turned boomtown would quickly boast two newspapers, two smelters, two hotels, a bank, and a lumberyard. All of which sprouted up between 1879 and 1883. Things got wild so quickly that even locals mistook the name of their own town as Marysville, and neighboring community members who visited the town referred to it plainly as “Crazy Camp.”
More than a few unfortunate souls could be lingering around the area to lend credence to the belief that drivers now honk to keep the spirits at bay. One such example, as reported by the Delta Chief Newspaper on July 18, 1883, whereby “James Lynn, accompanied by a Swede, started from Maysville to Salida, and at White’s ranch were met by two holdups named Dennis Haggerty and Henry Donahue. Haggerty shot Lynn through the body, and Donahue pounded the Swede almost to death with a club. Both were found in a dying condition, their pockets rifled and their money gone. Haggerty and Donahue were arrested and recognized by the dying men as their assailants. They were jailed at Maysville. That night at a late hour the guard was overpowered and the murderers taken from the jail and hung.”
But, like so many Western mining camps, the boom quickly led to a bust, and with the completion of the railroad spur in 1883, mining fizzled, and other significant strikes called men further west or ever deeper into the mountains. As residents left and businesses closed their doors for good, only men like Civil War veteran Ebenezer Chapin stayed on. The waning trade at his ‘Chapin and Ronk Staple and Fancy Grocery,’ opened in 1881, was buoyed by also owning a dairy, along with the largest herd of cattle in Maysville.
Ebenezer’s son, Oscar Chapin, would marry Nancy (Nannie), and it would be she who ultimately purchased the land from Captain A.W. Harrington, upon which Oscar would build the Yellow House in 1900. The house was typical of the period, in a somewhat smaller, yet still Victorian style, with some added gingerbread adornment, a turret-shaped front room protruding out in a half circle from the main house, and a corner sitting room, allowing a view to both the East and West of the road. Then, for reasons lost to history, Oscar, having collected a pension from the state of $10, and having completed work on the home, up and left for the greener pastures of California, where he would die in 1910.
The Chapin family retained the home for many years, and the Yellow House is rumored to have paid its own way as a boarding house for miners and railroaders during the trying economic times of the 1920s and 30s. So, one might think that perhaps the spirits might be the reason after all, for the honks today. Perhaps Oscar Chapin, returned home in spirit to reclaim the house he built with his own hands or Nancy (Nannie Chapin) keeping watch over it. But, the real secret behind the Honk House Mystery lies in a different kind of spirit altogether.
In about 1933, a painter named Harry Miller arrived in the area from Portland, Oregon. It was he and his wife, Theresa, who would buy the property in 1940 and lend much notoriety to the home. Harry, aside from being a beloved school bus driver in the Maysville and Piñon Grove area, also was known for being friendly toward everyone he met and always greeting folks, even strangers, with a warm smile. That alone must have seemed a rare quality in a time when older folks could still remember highway men murders and lynch mobs in “Old Crazy Camp.”
Harry also enjoyed living in the Yellow House. His favorite place to sit, in fact, was in that corner sitting room sticking out to allow him an uninterrupted view of the road. It was there, you see, surrounded by those windows, where Harry was known to sit between 1940 and his death in 1976. During each of those 36 years, whenever Harry sat in those windows or worked outside in the yard, he would look up, smile warmly, and wave. He would not do this only for friends and neighbors, but for everyone who passed. The Old Yellow House became a beacon of friendliness for passing vehicles. So much so, in fact, that whenever they drove by and encountered such a kind and loving spirit, they just, well, honked.
If you are a visitor to Creekside Chalets, honk when you pass the Yellow House. Think of Harry Miller and make sure to give them a smile and a wave as they go by. Remember the warm and loving spirits that fill the canyons here.
Sources: Colorado Central Magazine, October 1997; Delta Chief News, Various Dates; Cogenweb.com; https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov; Library of Congress Newspaper Collections; https://kdvr.com/2016/05/23/what-the-beep-colorados-yellow-honk-house-phenomenon/