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Europeans might be surprised to find that one truly genuine castle exists in America and it happens to be right here in Denver ! Don’t let the fact that it was not built in the Middle Ages deter you from understanding the verity of my claim. Richthofen Castle, which was built by Baron Walter von Richthofen around 1882, was designed along the same architectural lines as his ancestral home with great hand-chiseled stone blocks quarried from Castle Rock, Colorado. Built in the Romanesque style initially it has a Tudor-style addition, boasts of 35 rooms, a great tower and is completely surrounded with outer walls and a gatehouse with embellishments to the keep such as a Barbarossa gargoyle and the von Richthofen schildmauer (coat-of-arms) high in the tower above the front entrance. It was apparently meant to be a replica of the original castle which was in the vicinity of Silesia, now Poland territory. Richthofen was born in Kriesenitz in 1848 which was German territory then but is also now within Poland borders.
In the beginning, the Denver estate boasted 320 acres of ground, a portion of which the Baron turned into a health and recreational resort with backing from German and English funds available to him. The full building proposal was never completed and the abstract is on file at the State Historical Society of Colorado as the Colorado Carlsbad Kur-Garten. To understand how this came about you would have to know that the Baron came from Prussian nobility, was a soldier and had done common labor such as being a one-time section hand. He also was the kind of man who believed in making his dreams come true.
This uncle of the world-famous Baron Manfred von Richthofen (the WWI flying ace that Snoopy of the newspaper comic strip, Peanuts, has Halloween fantasies about !) fought in the Franco-Prussian and Austro-German wars himself and escaped to America to leave behind the regimented life of military to pursue other aspirations. One of those aspirations was to strike it rich. He arrived in Colorado with a construction crew in the 1870s with pick and shovel in hand and later invested his money in several mining properties with his own money.
Like many of these miners, he moved his home to Denver- albeit in the non-fashionable Montclair district (the fashionable district was the historic Quality Hill area which is now part of downtown Denver)- bought hundreds of acres so that he could own horses and really spread out. For his resort he laid out a park, transplanted trees and shrubs from the mountains (Denver started out almost barren of trees and foliage) and built a greenhouse. He also stocked the area with deer, antelope and bears, dug a moat around the property plus placed bridle paths around the property.
Since the Baron was an expert horseman and hunter he purchased entire stables of thoroughbreds and built his own stables, plus a racetrack and imported dogs for hunting ! Next, a 300-foot underground passageway was built to annex the stables, a milk house with expensive dairy cows (it was believed, at the time, that special Jersey cows supplied the proper milk cure for TB), a 300-room hotel and spa (complete with swimming pools and bathhouses) and an art gallery. (The art gallery was later turned into a casino and residential development since his half-million dollar collection of art was considered lewd by the public!)
After his divorce he met and married his second wife, Louise Ferguson, in Denver although she was born in England. Reluctant to move into his castle at first, she was won over by his romantic generosity. They became very devoted to each other and together feted Denver and royalty quite lavishly. Unfortunately, his happiness with his true love didn’t last very long. By 1893, when the silver mines took a plunge, he tried desperately to save his multi-million dollar development but couldn’t stop the tide of troubles created by the silver crash. All those who invested or had stakes in the mines suffered without exception and took heavy monetary losses.
However, Walter was undaunted and when he saw that the usual avenues wouldn’t work he took jobs of various kinds, at one point traveling all over Colorado with a wagon selling books. By 1898 he was broken in health and his spirits- dying at the age of fifty ! Even so, his dreams didn’t completely die. The Phipps sanitarium took over his plans for the health resort and built their hospital in that section of the city.
Baroness Louise had no children from the marriage and lived quietly in a Denver hotel seeking volunteer civic and patriotic work and lived to a good old age- dying in 1934. What fortune was left was given to a brother who had helped her after Walter’s death. A German syndicate had saved Richthofen Castle but it was sold several times to be used as a club until early in the 1900s.
Around 1903, Edwin B. Hendrie, a mining foundry joint heir, took it over for $40,000 and remodeled it putting about $200,000 into the structure refining the interior into a more palatial home but mindful of keeping the German architectural integrity. Specifically he finished the stairway in dark oak with walls of bronze and gold hand-tooled leather. The dining room was finished in natural light oak adding lead-barred windows and additional French doors. The library was finished in ivory and both dining room and library opened onto spacious, separate sun porches. His final touch there was to hang huge, bronze chandeliers. Because of his extensive and simple but elegant additions Richthofen may be the only royal castle in existence which is completely finished inside as well as outside. He is responsible for the Tudor west wing and tile roofing on the towers and parapets using the same Castle Rock quarry to match the original stone which the Baron used with the initial building. In addition, he moved the carved sandstone Barbarossa bust to the new wing. He finished his work by adding the gatehouse to accommodate servants.
Hendrie’s son-in-law, William W. Grant moved into the house in 1910 and resided there until Edwin Hendrie passed away in 1937. William added a modern south wing addition with the help of a notable Denver architect by the name of Jules Jacques Benois Benedict in 1924. ( Benedict, born in Chicago, attended the E’cole des Beaux Arts and built many nationally registered historical buildings in Denver and Colorado including Highlands Ranch and Littleton Town Hall.)
One year after William took over Richthofen Castle a sensationalized murder took place outside of its walls and three passing eyewitnesses saw the female defendant, Gertrude Patterson, leaning over Charles Patterson, her husband. Even though she told a stableman and servant at Richthofen that he had shot himself, it was found later that the entrance of the gunshot wounds were all in his back. Well covered by the newspapers in the early 20th century, a book was written about the incident and trial by a Denver lawyer in 2003 titled, “Alienation of Affection” which has a fictionalized flavor to it expounded on with titles from newspaper headlines.
Around 1945 the John Thams family, who already owned land (the Elephant Corral) took the castle on and then sold it to another titled owner, Etienne Pereyni, (a Hungarian) once again entertaining royal guests clear into the mid-20th century with his wife Katharine nee’ Morrell (daughter of a pioneer Leadville family). During the 1940s they sold off much of the original grounds which was parceled out to homebuilders but lived there until 1971.
The milk house that Richthofen had constructed a short distance away, was built in the fashion of a German health spa and this molkerei was retained long after being surrounded by Montclair Park, now a city park with a small playground and tennis court. There is believed to be a tunnel leading from the Molkerei to Richthofen Castle but no evidence has been found of it. Today it is the Montclair Civic Building serving as a multipurpose hall to the surrounding community.
Thus the history of this still magnificent castle has kept to its origins with complimentary additions. At present no further expansion inside the complex is possible because of the proliferation of trees which has grown up within the outer walls. Today it is surrounded by a residential section built on a different grid and so well hidden from view that you can only see it if you stand just outside its walls. The square tower, however, can be seen from a few blocks away in any direction of its perimeter. Presently it is privately owned. Tours were given decades ago but are rare and only given to a privileged few. Check out my new American Castles photo album when it goes up for more views of the castle and the people connected with this marvelous edifice.
The Castle Lady
bringing you castles from all over the globe !