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Disappointment Valley’s Last Remaining Pioneer Cabin

Photo courtesy of The Denver Post.

We’re flat-out addicted to the allure of abandoned places. So we’ve sent Liz on a mission to hop alphabetically from state-to-state exploring bygone structures steeped in history and mystery. This week, we’re exploring the Lizzy Knight Cabin in — yes, this an actual place name — Disappointment Valley, Colorado!
I had off from work for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and found myself with the luxury of being able to flip through TV channels on a Monday afternoon. I smiled upon finding Little House on a Prairie; the books, on which the show is based, were a favorite of mine growing up. I used to dream of being a pioneer, traveling across the plains in my covered wagon on my way to a newly-constructed, snug log cabin in the woods. It is fitting that this week I am writing my column about the great state of Colorado, a place storied for its log cabins and pioneer history. The Lizzy Knight Cabin is the last remaining pioneer structure in this part of Colorado, and has recently been placed on Colorado Preservation Inc.’s Most Endangered Places List. Let’s help save this pioneer-era gem!


Photo courtesy of The Cortez Journal.

First, the backstory: Elizabeth Knight was born in England in 1842, and grew up not like many other females in the mid-nineteenth century. After her first husband left her, she took up blacksmithing to care for herself and her daughter. Upon marrying again, Elizabeth and her family immigrated to America where dreams of striking it rich out West led them to a small Colorado mining town. Lizzy continued in the blacksmithing business, saving the money she made to set up a dairy business in the historic mining town of Rico.
After divorcing for the second time (which I’m sure raised eyebrows in a small, late- nineteenth century mining town), Lizzy shocked her neighbors again when she married her daughter’s ex-husband, Henry Knight! In 1881, the newly-married couple built the cabin now known as the Lizzie Knight Cabin in Disappointment Valley, Colorado.

Photo courtesy of The Cortez Journal.

Constructed of notched cedar, cottonwood, and pine logs, the one-story cabin is approximately 300 to 400 square feet and includes an earthen cellar. The cabin is a simple, one room pioneer cabin, constructed of long, horizontal logs fitted together at the cabin’s corners. Its front façade has a single window and doorway.
While smaller than most studio apartments in New York City, Lizzy and her husband not only lived in their cabin for decades, they ran businesses out of it as well. Neighboring settlers visited the Knight homestead for social and business needs. Lizzy ran a store which supplied every-day goods and food to her neighbors. Her husband became the area’s first postmaster and Lizzy assisted in running the post office, also from her small cabin. Lizzy worked and lived in her cabin until her death in 1914. Her husband, having been several years Lizzy’s junior, inhabited the cabin until his death in the 1930s.

Photo courtesy of The Cortez Journal.

The addition of a tin roof and severe deterioration of the logs and earthen floor and cellar have been the only changes to the cabin since it was abandoned approximately 80 years ago. The Knight’s original homestead encompassed approximately 160 acres, which is now owned by Lizzy Knight’s great, great, great granddaughter. Talks of stabilizing the cabin have been discussed. A large degree of work is required, including finding the correct wood to restore the logs and filling in the dirt foundation which erosion has washed away. The 2012 listing on Colorado Preservation Inc.’s Most Endangered Place’s List has restored hope in some that the cabin will be saved. As the last remaining historical structure from pioneer settlement in the area, and an important part of the community’s social and business history, the Lizzy Knight cabin stands as a reminder of the strong-willed, ahead-of-her-time pioneer female who inhabited it.
Liz was raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the home of New Hope, Doylestown, and several other idyllic, flawlessly-restored and preserved towns. Upon returning to the Philadelphia area post-grad school, Liz purchased a circa 1940’s, Normandy-style row home which features the original wood floors, vintage glass door knobs and slate roof from when it was constructed. She is on the board of a historic Swedish cabin and working in the real estate development field while making a go of a career in preservation.


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