This past weekend I went on an excursion which included Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado Springs in the itinerary. I’ve wanted to visit this castle for decades now and so have fulfilled a long time wanderlust urge. I’ve been to Colorado Springs numerous times in my life from childhood clear into adulthood but the fact is that there is so much to see in Colorado, in general, that it almost boggles my mind and I wonder if I’ll ever totally explore it- leave alone see every castle in the world, personally. In any case, I’m especially glad this particular foray was available to me in this space and time.
I went on a tour with long time good friends and a few strangers who have now joined the rank of friends based on our love of travel and exploring new places. We couldn’t have picked a better place to explore. Now, I know you’re thinking, ‘A castle in a small American Midwest town that very few people around the world know?’ Here me out. I’m not exactly a castle-defining purist who thinks that a castle has to have been built back in the Middle Ages in order for it to be considered or called a castle. For me, it’s more the spirit of the place, than if it fits my criteria of being authentic and historic. I’ll let you in on the dates, the names and the location and then you can decide for yourself if it’s a real castle. All I’ll say at this point is that Glen Eyrie feels so warm, welcoming and fabulous at the same time- if it isn’t authentic then I’d rather it not be! I really enjoyed this visit and I’ll go there again as soon as I can.
Glen Eyrie Castle was originally built for William Jackson Palmer’s wife, Queen. This railroad tycoon/engineer cum Civil War brigadier general discovered the location while he was surveying for the Kansas Pacific Railroad in the Pikes Peak region, which is a hundred and fifty miles south of Denver, back in 1869. The valley he broke ground to begin is a piggy back neighbor to Garden of the Gods, a natural red rock formation area that draws thousands of tourists and Colorado residents every summer.
Originally, the General purchased 10,000 acres of land at $1.25 per acre and a good part of what he bought became the town of Colorado Springs, eventually. At that time he called it Fountain Colony. The first building to go up was the carriage house and he bought an additional 2,225 acres to finish his plans. They lived in the large carriage house, which still stands today, until the large 22-room frame house was built. Construction continued through the years with added wings, a large frontal tower and even later expansions included a Great Hall which was finished last in 1903. From my tutorials on castles you would know that this castle was built in reverse since a keep with a solar was most often built before any other part of a castle. Eventually, many of the original parts of this house were dismantled for the improvements and expansions but the central chimney remains to the present.
During the 1881 reconstruction, a Scots landscape architect by the name of John Blair was hired. This Chicagoan gave the castle its name- Glen Eyrie- because he declared it when he spotted an eagle’s nest high up in a rock formation closest to the castle. It literally means Valley of the Eagle’s Nest. Mr. Blair is responsible for the beautiful grounds and the layout and also the moat that runs along the front of the castle, lined with massive limestone rocks. He also built several arched stone bridges and walkways that are absolutely beautiful to see during the tour.
A slightly elevated position of the castle lends strong beauty to this refaced edifice with stone from Bear Creek in Colorado and window casings framed with Indiana limestone. The colors that stand out most in the rock facing are exquisite and there are enough angles to the architecture to keep the eye interested for perhaps hours. Our tour started with a film in one of the anterooms telling the entire history of the castle and we started the tour with a chance to see what most tourists rarely get a chance to see: An underground tunnel which leads to and from the castle with the outside entrance hidden like a sally port. Colorado and Denver are famous for having such features for private and public buildings. There is a maze of underground tunnels in downtown Denver that lead from the Capitol Building to the Courthouse adjacent to it on the west and they even go further afield to the Brown Palace Hotel, some of the theatres and more. It’s a grand secret that I just revealed. Hmmm. At any rate, this was a great beginning to the tour and I believe I most enjoyed the Great Hall which was toward the end of the tour.
Construction of Glen Eyrie began in 1871 with a comparatively modest adobe and wood frame house which was painted a gilded green and had 22 rooms. The Palmers moved into the house within a years’ time but remodeling began to occur in less than a decade to include three fountains, the great tower, additional wings and rooms and electricity which imparted a special intercom system within the house. Glen Eyrie might be one of the first residences in the west to have telephone service! Yet this was only the modest beginning of the plans to turn it into a castle. Unfortunately for Mrs. Palmer, seeing the eventual transformation was not to be. Queen’s health failed rather early in life while in her young 40s. She and her three daughters moved back east, then eventually, to England in an attempt for her to gain her health back after a heart attack. (It is supposed that the high altitude of Colorado and the fact that they built in the mountains was partially to blame.) When she passed away after Christmas in 1894, General Palmer took Queen’s remains to England for burial and brought his three daughters back home to Glen Eyrie.
Even though his original reason for building Glen Eyrie had been lost, Palmer recommenced his plan to make a castle of Glen Eyrie and by 1903 the building and reconstruction was in full swing. During the two years in which the house was refaced in the stone as it is today, the General and his daughters traveled throughout Europe searching for fireplaces, artifacts and heirlooms for the castle. Every single fireplace in the castle is remarkable either for size or the beauty of the wood carvings. A year into the reconstruction, the castle was equipped with its own power system with two coal-fired water-tube Babcock and Willcox boilers with 200 hp, combined. These were connected with Chuse engines to DC generators supplying the entire castle.
Eventually, the extensive grounds were built upon with the Palmer Reservoir (now known as Eagle Lake) added, electric fences and gates surrounding the immediate property, gardens which included two hothouses and a rose garden with arbors and a sundial. A pasteurization plant was installed in the creamery and many technologically advanced improvements (for the times) were put in place. With all these conveniences which were ahead of their time can you imagine what the favorite pastime was outside the household? Horseback riding was it and both the general and his daughters rode over the extensive miles of trails along with guests when they visited. On one ride, with his daughters and a friend, in 1906, they were riding through the Garden of the Gods with the general riding a horse unfamiliar to him. At some point, his horse stumbled causing him to be thrown to the ground, breaking his neck, and he wound up paralyzed from the third rib down. He was always a cheerful and generous man, even though disabled but he only lived a few more years after this tragic accident. His passing was on March 13, 1909 at the age of 72 and his estate at that time was valued at $3,000,000! Two of his daughters married locally but moved away from the castle and the third, Dorothy, moved to England to become a social worker. The estate was eventually sold to two businessmen in 1916 with plans to make the grounds home to an exclusive country club.
Those plans didn’t work very well and so the estate was sold two more times to wealthy businessmen for much less than it’s market value and it also sat empty for more than a decade during the first half of the 20th century. Right about that time Billy Graham was contacted by a real estate broker about the castle because he was searching for a headquarters for his ministry. A Christian organization called The Navigators who took on the responsibility of counselor training and follow-ups for Billy Graham’s crusades became keenly interested in buying the estate for their purposes. They were given a deal when they stepped up for the bid and were given more acreage, 300 more for additional plans they had for summer camp and the reservoir. The sale was done in 1953 and they have held and improved the property since that time with a ministry which has become international- headquartering right there in Colorado Springs.
Our tour on Saturday included several rooms showing the wonderful features of the former home of General Palmer. My favorite rooms to see were the tea room (which gives a spectacular view of the front grounds and esplanade), the atrium added to one daughter’s room and the Great Hall which appeared to have chapel capabilities. I also adored every single fireplace I had the chance to see. I was intrigued with the general’s telephone booths and safes built into the wall paneling. He liked to keep his phone conversations private and everything secure. A man after my own heart! The topper of the tour came at the end when everyone was given the chance to ring the tower bells from outside, which are not obnoxiously loud. As a matter of fact they were quite sonorous. Not sure what that top note was- which should tell you something!
Glen Eyrie is not just a place to visit. There are always events- teas, holiday banquets and galas, concerts and you can hold your own conferences and events there, as well, for hire including weddings. Many holiday events include overnight stays in the rooms available within the castle and in the lodges on the estate which intriguingly includes the Pink House. There are regular programs and special retreats and discipleship retreats. With an extensive hospitality staff of hosts, chefs, event planners, state-of-the-art audio/visual teams this castle is ready for anything and everything. One room couldn’t be visited- it was the general’s room!- but only because someone was actually renting it!
I’m seriously considering on attending one of the upcoming holiday events just to get the full experience of the castle and the atmosphere. You feel perfectly at home here even though, in truth, it happens to be a museum. Go figure! Go!
3820 N. 30th St. Colo Spgs, 1-800-944-4536