AVON — Stand in Avon’s City Market parking lot and face east. You’re looking at Bill’s place.
Bill Nottingham’s family ranch covered most of what is now Avon and Beaver Creek, almost everything between Dowd Junction and what’s now western Avon.
Part of it is a string of big box stores now, but it used to be a picturesque ranch.
It also used to be an airport, the Avon STOLport — STOL for Short Takeoff and Landing — maybe short on distance but long on thrills. Before that it was a wide level hayfield, stretching west of what’s now Wal-Mart, perfect for landing an airplane.
Bill took that ride as often as possible. He owned and piloted his own plane, and when he landed he didn’t have far to taxi to the house.
Bill attended elementary school in Avon, and graduated Eagle County High School in 1945. After that he worked the family ranch.
If you had the chance to ask him about development changing the valley, he’d smile softly and say, “That’s progress.”
Ranching roots run deep
William Emmett Nottingham Jr. was 86 when he died last week at the family ranch in Burns. The memorial will be private.
“He lived a lot of life. You could never get it all down on paper,” said his daughter, Susan Nottingham.
Like most people in the valley in those days, Bill watched with some bemusement when a bunch of upstarts decided they wanted to build a ski area. And like most people in the valley, he made a little money in the construction business.
They had a gravel, sand, asphalt and heavy equipment business that he ran with his sons, Randy and Stephen.
But Bill Nottingham was a rancher to his very marrow. The valley changed, but Bill didn’t. Ranching has run in his family’s veins for more than a century and a half.
When Beaver Creek became more than a dream, all eyes turned to the Nottingham ranch. Bill’s eyes turned to Burns Hole, one of the West’s most beautiful spots, about 30 miles north of Dotsero on the Colorado River Road.
Burns Hole Bill
Part of Bill Nottingham’s ranch was the setting for one of Western writer Zane Grey’s novels, “The Mysterious Rider.”
The Benton family owned the land when Grey was writing about it. John Benton, the patriarch, was killed in a small plane crash in 1992. None of his children were interested in ranching, so Bill Nottingham bought the ranch.
Bill’s family, as we told you, owned much of the land on the valley floor between Dowd Junction and western Avon. They acquired the land a piece at a time as his grandmother bought homesteads as other people pulled out.
That ranch eventually became the Beaver Creek ski resort.
That, along with a lifetime of hard work, is how he came up with the money to put together the Burns Hole ranch.
“He loved being a rancher,” Susan said.
They started buying land in Burns Hole in 1982 as other ranchers pulled out. They added Benton’s ranch in 1992 and that put them at more than 20,000 acres, one of Colorado’s largest and most beautiful ranches.
He used to look out across that land and smile.
“People would ask him about regrets, about whether he regretted the development,” Susan said. “He lived life the way he wanted to. He’d just smile and say, ‘That’s progress!’”
William’s Wild West tale
William, Bill’s grandfather, first came to Colorado and the Eagle Valley around 1880 to work the mines.
The story goes that William wandered through two rocky cliffs that separated Gore Creek from the Eagle River and down into a sagebrush-covered valley. He settled in Red Cliff, but he enjoyed the sunlight too much to work underground in the mines for long. He started looking around for a spot to start ranching.
The late local historians Frank and Imogene Doll tell the tale this way.
William found a piece of land that seemed to call to his soul, but there were squatters living there in a dug out. He gave them $100 for the land and another $100 for the shed, a princely sum in those days.
William filed to homestead 160 acres of land — the number of acres you could acquire under the Homestead Act, America’s way to encourage settling the nation’s interior. William found three partners to file on adjoining 160 parcels, making the total ranch 640 acres.
One of William’s partners was named Swift, another Hurd, and another was a cowboy whose name has been lost to the winds of history. Ranching so disagreed with the cowboy that he committed suicide and left no will. The other three men divided his parcel among them.
As the story goes, Hurd got in an argument with Nottingham and killed him. Then Hurd married Nottingham’s wife.
William had five children, three boys and two girls. One was Emmett, Bill’s dad.
So, next time you’re strolling through Avon, smile and look up at Beaver Creek, and know you’re enjoying Bill’s place.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.