The Spite Fence

"Mrs. Stoiber's Spite Fence"
From a conversation with my mother, Sara Maxwell Baily, about 1990.
Photo taken by Jesse S. Baily, D.D.S., ca 1910

My mother said that around 1910, my grandfather Jesse Baily, D.D.S. took this photo from the front yard of his house of Silverton's Reese St. The image shows the Root house (later Maxwell) across the street and down the block, with the Molighe house next door. The big, dark object in between it and the next house was what was commonly referred to as a "Spite Fence," and was built by the colorful Silverton mining queen Lena Stoiber. Stoiber owned the "Molighe" house and the vacant lot between it and the next house up the block belonging to the Hand family. Stoiber apparently had been feuding with the Hands and to annoy them built the "fence." When Stoiber lived in Silverton, she constructed several spite fences, but none survive. The one shown in Dr. Baily's photo had been torn down several years before my mother and father purchased the Root house in 1920. The fence also had a lean-to attached on the side facing the Hands where Stoiber reportedly kept a pig, some chickens, and a cow.

Mrs. Stoiber, known around the mines as "Captain Jack," was a controversial figure in the mining activities of the period. Her husband, Edward G. Stoiber and his brother Gustav Stoiber (Gus), were German mining engineers who developed the very productive Silver Lake gold mine, and Lena ran the operation, did the hiring and firing, and ruled the fiefdom with an iron fist. Lena Stoiber sold the Silver Lake about 1908 to the Guggenheims who operated it until the late 1920s when the Mayflower Co. took it over.

(From Mark Evans, the Rainbow Route, Silverton)

Mrs. Stoiber had several homes built over her lifetime. She and Ed had at least two homes constructed in Silverton while the mine was being developed, including a beautiful house on Reese St. for Gus and his family and, in 1895, designed and built a fabulous home for themselves patterned after a German country estate, which they named Waldheim. Waldheim was about a mile up the Animas River Canyon from Silverton on a bluff near the railroad, but was dismantled during the 1930s and shipped to Durango where the lumber and other materials were used to build a beautiful home in nearby Hermosa for the Silverton couple, Claude and Evelyn Gooch Deering. Ed and Lena Stoiber commissioned the building of an extravagant mansion at 1022 Humbolt St. near Cheeseman Park in Denver before he died in Paris in 1906 and, in 1907, Stoiberhof was completed. Stoiberhof is now known as the Stoiber-Reed (Rood)-Humphreys Mansion. Gustav Stoiber died suddenly in 1905.

After Ed Stoiber died, Lena apparently married a captain in the British army who died shortly thereafter and in 1909 married Hugh R. Rood, a wealthy lumber man from Washington state who perished on the Titanic in 1912. She was married at least once more and died in Stressa, Italy, where she had lived out her last years. According to people from Colorado who had visited her there, her twenty dogs sat around the dinner table with napkins tucked under their collars. Lena Stoiber's only heir was her half-brother, Alfred Harrison, who lived across the street from my mother's family on Reese St.

Longtime Silverton resident, Mr. Merrill Doud, told my mother that the last time Mrs. Stoiber visited Silverton she came in on a Saturday train. He had met the train at the station and took her to Reese St. to make sure her spite fence was still there. She then turned around and went straight back to Denver!

Photo taken in the late 1990s from the same angle as the above photo showed the Maxwell/Root and Molighe houses as they looked then.
Photo taken by Nathan Osborn Maxwell Baily.


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