Cripple Creek District Museum
Midland Terminal Railroad Depot
Museum History: In 1953, in an effort to promote heritage tourism and preserve the rich history of the Gold Rush era, several prominent Cripple Creek citizens founded the Cripple Creek District Museum. Among them were stage producer Blevin Davis, philanthropist Richard Johnson, Dorothy Mackin of melodrama fame, and numerous pioneer descendants.
Throughout its history, the Museum has contributed to the economic well being of the Cripple Creek area, in part, by hosting numerous events for the area communities. Distinguished event guests have included Prince Palahvi (brother to the Shaw of Iran), Mamie Eisenhower, Steve Spielberg, Kentucky Governor Paul Patton, and at least three former residents of note: Colorado Governor Ralph Carr, would traveler and radio announcer Lowell Thomas, and world-famous astrologer Linda Goodman. Also, the Museum has played a key advisory role in preservation projects, such as the restoration of Cripple Creek City Hall, in the acquisition of local historic properties, and the establishment of other area museums.
The Immediate Objective: The immediate need was to obtain a Historic Structure Assessment of the MTRD.
History and Structure of the Midland Terminal Railroad Depot: Since its opening in 1895, the Midland Terminal Railroad Depot (MTRD) is one of the only two commercial properties in Cripple Creek to survive the horrific fires of 1896. This structure and the Trading and Transfer buildings are located on the current Museum grounds.
The Colorado Midland Railroad was an ambitious undertaking, and the MTRD was its crown jewel. The Midland Railroad was the only standard-gauge line to service Cripple Creek; for 54 years it was the main (ultimately, only) rail service into America’s richest gold camp. In the 1930s and 1940s, however, with competition from the automobile, it became obsolete. The MTRD closed in 1949; in 1953, it was purchased and reopened as the Cripple Creek District Museum.
The construction of this building is impressive. The architect, a Mr. Murphy from Kansas, designed the three-story rectangular building to accommodate two freight rooms, separate waiting rooms for men and women travelers, a cantilevered spiral staircase with handrails master-crafted from steamed walnut, and several Railroad offices. Circa 1916, the top floor was converted into a plush Station Master’s apartment. The building has a sandstone block foundation. The two upper levels are constructed of locally produced red brick accented by large wood-frame divided-light windows. The main entry is defined by a three-story tower, the upper level of which features a covered balcony with an ornately carved handrail. The roof is a simple gable design with wood decorative trim at each gable’s end. Overall, the building is an icon of turn-of-the-century commercial architecture. It is one of the few remaining representatives of early Cripple Creek construction funded by the Gold Rush.
The Preservation Mission: Obtaining a Historic Structure Assessment was the first step in assuring the continuation of this unique venue for the preservation and exhibition of a significant period of State and National history.
Currently, the Museum receives about 10,000 visitors per year.
However, the aging of the structure along with normal visitor wear and tear will ultimately result in irreversible damage to the character-defining features of the building. Because the roof was beginning to leak, a roof condition assessment was needed as soon as possible. Also of concern was site and foundation drainage, as there is evidence of erosion of the soft sandstone foundation. Furthermore, many interior features are showing signs of deterioration.
The HSA allowed the Museum to continue its mission of educating the public while establishing a plan for additional efforts and funding for preservation in the near future. Also, the HSA allowed the Museum to set the precedent for historic preservation for the rest of the local historic communities to follow.
Funding and Phases
Funding for $10,000 was received from the State Historical Fund.
The Historic Structure Assessment was completed in 2014.
Kathy Reynolds, Museum Director
Robert Swickert, Preservation Architect
Charise Boomsma, Preservation Consultant, M.A. in Architectural History, University of Colorado