Some say that the store began because of sniffling. Others say it was because of sneezing. Still others say it was because of timothy and clover.
Turns out, they’re all correct.
This story starts in a time when men were men and women were glad of it.
In the early part of the 20th century, in Milford Township, Ohio, a man named Francis Marion Light, and his wife, Carrie were making their living. During the winter, Francis taught as a schoolteacher, and during the summer, he was a farmer. His ancestors had come to the United States from Switzerland, on the Winter Galley, in search of religious freedom (no, not the Mayflower, though the stories do sound similar). The Light’s were Mennonites, and they used their home, which they built out of heavy limestone, as a place of worship. During the French and Indian War, their home was a refuge for as many as sixty families during an Indian siege. It became known as “Light’s Fort,” and still stands today, bearing a plaque, reading:
Home and Refuge of Johannes Leicht (John Light)
d. 1759 Light’s Fort built 1742
Placed by Tulpehocken Chapter of the Daughters of American Colonists
Frank’s ancestors searched for religious freedom, but Frank and Carrie Light were in desperate need of something else: clean air. A farmers life is full of dust and grass, and pollen, and Frank had asthma. His asthma was so terrible, in fact, that it impeded his work greatly. In search of fresh air, Frank considered Colorado. So, he made a trip in 1903 and discovered a much better climate. To make sure, he wrote to the Commercial Club of a little town called Steamboat Springs (later to become the Chamber of Commerce). His letter was handed over to Mr. Burroughs, cashier and vice president of the Milner Bank and Trust Co., asking about the year-round climate and population.
With the worsening of his health, Frank made the decision to move to the Rocky Mountains.
After selling the farm, the Light family purchased tickets on the Rio Grand Railroad to Wolcott, Colorado. How many Light’s were there?
Frank and his wife Carrie had seven children; Clarence 17, Olin 15, Marie 12, Hazel 9, Audrey 7, Wayne 5 and Emerson Day, just 11 months. On March 30, 1905, the family boarded a four-horse Concord stagecoach bound for Steamboat Springs. The first stop was Yampa, where they dined on a hearty meal of elk stew and slept at the then-famous Antlers Hotel.
March 31 was a cold, blustery day.
17 year-old Clarence sat up on top of the stagecoach with the drive to catch the first glimpse of his new home. To ward of the cold, he borrowed the drivers bearskin coat. He kept questioning the driver impatiently about when he would hear the chugging of the the spring; the driver told him he would hear it the closer they got.
After finally arriving in Steamboat Springs, the Light family spent the night at the Sheridan Hotel, and met Mrs. McGittigan, the proprietor. Mrs. McGittigen was very generous to the newly-arrived family, and offered to let them use a two-room cabin she owned at the back of her hotel for their home.
F.M. Light began his work immediately; he visited the town’s founder, James Crawford, and other well-established citizens. He quickly decided that he would open a men’s furnishings store, despite the fact that there were already several clothing stores in business. He was confident in his entrepreneurship, and asked his two eldest sons, Clarence and Olin if they would rather have more education, or work with him in the store. They pondered the question, and agreed to go into business with their father.
Frank knew he needed to start out right, so he studied various business approaches and causes of business failure. His study led him to 3 main conclusions:
Frank decided he needed to purchase a piece of property, and began searching. He chose a spot:
830 Lincoln Avenue
The land was bought for $1,200 on April 1, 1905, and a bricklayer was hired. The store’s developments were big news for the small town, and The Routt County Sentinel reported on each step of the process:
Frank Light then traveled to Denver by stagecoach, to order merchandise. Again, The Sentinel broadcast the news:
Opening day, November 9, 1905, just seven months after having arrived in Steamboat Springs), F.M. Light & Sons opened its doors for business. It was a freezing cold day, with a foot of snow on the ground.
Sales were disappointing; just $11.50 ($224.65 in 2005 dollars).
November was not a good month, and neither was December, but the Light’s took heart. Frank believed Steamboat Springs would become a prosperous town because of the ranching in the surrounding area. He felt an economy based on producing a living form land lent itself to a stable business base.
Inventory had grown and consisted of work clothes from the Sweet Orr Co., work gloves from the Frank Russell Glove Co., overshoes from the Colorado Rubber Co. and hats form the John B. Stetson Hat Co. In those days a good Stetson hat could be purchases for $5!