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Pitkin County Press Releases

Posted on: August 31, 2020

Historic Emma house ready for use

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The historic Mather House at Emma Open Space is ready for its third century of occupants after a long-needed restoration project funded by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.

The $500,760 project was done by Key Elements Construction with guidance from county historic preservation officer Suzannah Reid of Reid Architects. It included the removal of non-historic additions and separate, non-historic structures, all to the rear of the house; the removal of asbestos and reconstruction of interior walls; installation of new windows; improvements to the old building’s electrical system; the sanding and re-staining of a hardwood floor on the main level; and much more. Two underground cisterns discovered on the property were removed, including one containing 4,000 gallons of water that predated modern plumbing in the home. A natural gas heating system with a boiler was removed and the house was converted to electric baseboard heat.

Working on the old home had its challenges. “Nothing was plumb, level or square,” said Key Elements site supervisor Sonny Rains. The original stone foundation however, was in amazing condition, he reported. And then there were the interesting artifacts tucked inside walls and such (see the Mather House photos).

Reid was consulted throughout the four-month project to ensure details of historic importance were protected. “I’m really excited that Open Space took this on as a true preservation project on a building that’s so iconic to residents of the valley,” she said.

Passersby will likely notice a new roof and sparkling paint on what had been a decidedly tired exterior. The house originally sported exposed brick, but it was painted white at some point during its long tenure. Two coats of primer and a new coat of white have been applied. The house and the adjacent buildings at Emma are visible from Hwy. 82 and the Rio Grande Trail, as well as from the Basalt-Emma Trail, which passes directly in front of the buildings.

“The buildings at Emma are iconic. They’re unique examples of a time when Emma was at the epicenter of ranching life in the midvalley,” said Gary Tennenbaum, director of Open Space and Trails. “We’d like to think the Mather House is ready for another one-hundred years of use.”

The home was constructed in the late 1800s by Charles Mather, an entrepreneur who also built the nearby Emma Store buildings at the one-time stagecoach and then rail stop, located just west of Basalt. The buildings were acquired by the county in 2008 as part of the purchase of the 12.5-acre Emma Townsite. The Town of Basalt contributed to the acquisition. The Townsite parcel also includes Mather’s landmark Emma Store and warehouse. The property is part of the larger Emma Open Space, which also encompasses the agricultural property on the opposite side of Hwy. 82 that is home to lessee Two Roots Farm.

Open Space and Trails previously restored the exterior of the store buildings and a smaller brick building on the property with a contribution from the State Historic Fund to prevent the historic structures from collapse.

The 1,493-square-foot house, which has been vacant for nearly two years, will be rented to the operator of Two Roots Farm under Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority guidelines – returning a farmer to a home that has previously housed other old-time ranching families who worked the land at Emma.

Contact: Gary Tennenbaum, director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, 970-920-5355 | gary.tennenbaum@pitkincounty.com


The historic Mather House


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