Miramont Castle Museum
Manitou Springs, Colorado
The Museum’s History: In 1865, the tract on which Miramont Castle was later constructed was owned by Colonel John Chivington, who commanded the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. Later, the ownership of the land transferred to the Colorado Springs Company, of which General William Jackson Palmer was part owner. Then in 1892, Father John Baptiste Francolon, a Catholic priest, purchased the parcels on which the Castle now sits. He, with the help of local carpenter Angus Gillis, designed the Miramont Castle. When Francolon left Colorado in 1900, he deeded Miramont to the Sisters of Mercy, who used the building as a tuberculosis sanitarium, which closed in 1928 because of financial hardship. However, the Sisters continued to use the building from 1928 to 1946 as a retreat, until it was sold to nine successive owners. In 1976, the Manitou Springs Historical Society learned that the neglected building was slated for demolition and purchased the Castle for $60,000. A Colorado Centennial-Bicentennial grant was given to study and restore the building in 1976, and in 1977, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Society now owns and operates the Museum, which is open to the public year-round.
Immediate Objective: The Manitou Springs Historical Society first obtained a grant for the completion of a Historic Structure Assessment. They moved forward with implementing the recommendations from the Assessment, and have completed a critical phase of masonry stabilization and repairs to the exterior walls.
History of the Museum’s Structure: The 14,000 square foot structure consists of at least nine distinct architectural styles. Its two-foot thick walls are of Manitou Greenstone, hand-quarried by local mason William Frizzell. The native Manitou Greenstone is a very soft and porous material widely used in the area at the turn of the 19th Century. It is a character-defining historic material in the City of Manitou Springs Historic District Design Guidelines. Quarried from approximately 1890-1940, it is no longer quarried or available for purchase. Similar in composition and red color to sandstone, it is unique for the green veins of lichen that grow in layers within the rock. While the growth contributes to the beauty of the stone, it tends to flake and deteriorate as the organic material splits and invades the rock structure, thus subjecting the stone to water infiltration and erosion. Years of exposure to the weather and the nature of the stone itself render it vulnerable to deterioration; hence the need for preservation measures.
The Castle’s foundation, nestled into a solid rock hillside, is four stories, with exits from each floor. The interior is a representation of late 19th Century culture. Interior features include a grand entry with a porte-cochere and wide staircase leading up to a sitting room with a 200-ton stone fireplace. A 100-foot long gallery housed an impressive art collection. Among the forty-plus rooms in Miramont are an eight-sided room and a sixteen-sided room. The original floor plan included at least five fireplaces, running water, and electricity.
The Preservation Mission: Preservation of Miramont Castle is a long-range project. The exterior masonry is but the first, and most critical, step, in the comprehensive work necessary to preserve and interpret the heritage of Manitou Springs for at least another 115 years.
Funding and Phases
2010: Historic Structure Assessment - $10,000 grant from the State Historical Fund
2012: Masonry Stabilization and Restoration - $56,744 grant from State Historical Fund with local fundraising cash match
Peggie Yager, MSHS Treasurer
Tim Stroh, Preservation Architect
Charise Boomsma, Grant and Project Director, M.A. in Architectural History, University of Colorado