Western history

A Colorado Castle

Last Monday, I had the good fortunate to visit Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado Springs for a private tour. Our guide was Len Froisland, 25-year historian for the castle. Women Writing the West members Dianne Hartshorn, who portrays Queen Palmer around C. Springs, and publisher Doris Baker of Filter Press completed our group.

General William Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs and the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, originally built Glen Eyrie in 1872 when he married his wife, Mary Lincoln Mellon, known as “Queen”, a nickname since childhood. The house was restored in 1881, and again, beginning in 1902, when it took on the appearance of a stone castle. Palmer’s instruction to architects was to build a home that would endure for a thousand years. After one hundred years, the house has done very well. Currently, it is owned by the Navigators, a Christian organization, which maintains and utilizes the property as a retreat and conference center, with facilities open to the public for afternoon tea, bed and breakfast, and tours.

The house is remarkable. Inside, custom woodwork was used to decorate throughout. Special attention was given to fire prevention after Palmer’s Antlers Hotel burned in 1898. Palmer was extremely innovative in his attention to detail and his desire to create a self-sufficient compound for himself and his family. A power station, creamery, and greenhouses were built close at hand without disturbing the sprawling lawns, staggering vistas, and striking rock formations on the grounds tucked against the Rocky Mountain foothills. Scottish landscape artist, John Blair, designed the layout with beautiful landscape treatments, pathways and rock bridges. A school house was built in the early 1880’s to provide the children with private schooling, guarding them from possible kidnap during the raging railroad wars while rivals struggled to dominate transportation routes through the mountains.

During reconstruction of his home, William Palmer traveled throughout Europe with his daughters collecting artifacts and decorations to complete the mansion. Although most of those items are gone now, they have been replaced with similar furnishings. Many of his collected touches, such as Dutch tiles around fireplaces and fixtures, still exist. Queen died at the young age of 44 in 1894, before the castle was rebuilt, although the plan implemented some of her original ideas. William Palmer suffered a horseback riding accident in 1906 which left him paralyzed. He continued living life as best he could in the sprawling mansion until his death in 1909.

For more information, refer to:

General William Palmer: Railroad Pioneer
by Joyce B. Lohse
Filter Press, 2009, “A Now You Know Bio”