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History of the Glen Eyrie Carriage House


by Susan Fletcher

In 1871 General William Jackson Palmer began construction on his new home in a peaceful valley a few miles away from the fledging townsite of Colorado Springs.  His landscape architect John Blair named this new estate Glen Eyrie – Valley of the Eagle’s Nest.  The Stable (now known as the Carriage House) was the first building completed on the Glen and served as living quarters to Palmer and his wife Queen for several months before the completion of their house. Rose Kingsley, a family friend, described a tea party that the couple held in the stable:

“At the very mouth of the canyon, close to a beautiful group of Douglass Pine and just above the little rushing mountain torrent…the Palmers are building a most charming large house, but until it is finished, they live in a sort of picnic way, in rooms ten by ten, portioned off from the loft over the stable…there were four cups, but no saucers, and we had borrowed two forks from the restaurant (the Log Cabin) so that we each had one. Their servant had cooked some excellent venison and “flap jacks” for us; and we had California honey, blackberry preserve, first rate coffee, and baked potatoes.””

Rose Kingsley, quoted in The Book of Colorado Springs, Page 32

After the Palmers moved in to their new house next to the Carriage House, the stable was home to Palmer’s famous horses. The stable hands expertly cared for Scrub Oak, Donner, Schoolboy, Forrest King, and The Moor.  On Palmer’s death, his horses were valued at $6,120 which is today around $144,000.  The building also housed carriages and contained living quarters for Palmer’s coachman and other male servants. Over the course of the forty years that Palmer owned the property, he expanded the stable to accommodate his growing collection of horses and coaches. In 1900 a renovation project added wings to the east and west of the original segment.  An additional renovation in 1906 added a further extension to the east. The grounds of the stable included a smoke house and a tunnel to the main house.

On October 27, 1906 General Palmer took a guest riding through Garden of the Gods. As they returned to Glen Eyrie Palmer’s horse Schoolboy stumbled and threw him, fracturing Palmer’s fourth vertebra. The general survived but was paralyzed for the rest of his life. During his illness his stable hands continued to care for his horses.  Palmer passed away in March 1909 after a period of declining health. After his death, his daughters decided to sell Glen Eyrie after an unsuccessful attempt to interest the City of Colorado Springs in purchasing the valley.

The 1914 Sale Prospectus describes the Stable as a Carriage House with accommodations for around ten carriages; thirteen single stalls; four box stalls and hospital box stall; loft; coach room; saddle room; harness room; kitchen and dining room; nine bedrooms and two baths.

A syndicate from Oklahoma purchased the Glen in 1915 for $150,000. They platted the valley for 150 luxurious villas, and set up in the Carriage House their Black Horse Tavern along the rear range as well as Elizabeth Martin’s Tea Room in the west arm.  With the nation embroiled in WWI and an influenza epidemic, the plan for the luxury villas failed. The Oklahoma Syndicate, unsuccessful in their venture, abandoned the Glen and the property changed hands again. Alexander Cochran, a rug manufacturer from New York purchased the Glen for $450,000.

The 1921 Report on the Cochran Estate describes the Main Stable as “a well constructed building of masonry walls finished in stucco with stone trimmings, tile roof and steam heat.” The internal layout had changed slightly since 1914 and there were now “14 stalls, 2 boxes, 2 hospital boxes, harness room, cleaning room, saddle room, horse wash, coach house and wash, servant’s quarters for ten men, head coachman’s house of three bedrooms, kitchen and bath and the loft.” The Report comments that the Stable had been “transformed into the Black Horse Tavern and has since been partly renovated to its original use as a stable…the stable is enclosed in a yard with high stone wall having turrets at two corners with tool houses in same.”

In 1927 Glen Eyrie was put up for auction. The 1927 Prospectus for Public Auction briefly describes the Stable as “substantially built and roomy stables and garage, size about 68 x 38 ft. Asbestos shingled roof. Contains accommodations for numerous cars.”  After the highest bidder failed to close the deal in 1927, the property remained on the market for over ten years.

During a period of near-abandonment in the 1930s the buildings of the estate deteriorated. Two families of care-takers, the Leuhrings and the Burghards, lived on the Glen. Despite their best efforts to maintain the property, time and weather took their toll on the old stable. During this time the Carriage House contained only one old Irish carriage and the water-cooled lawn mowers.

In 1938 George Strake, a Houston oil magnate, purchased Glen Eyrie. He used the property as a summer home and completed extensive renovations to the buildings and lawns.  In the late 1940s a flash flood roaring down Queen’s Canyon destroyed much of his hard work and he put the property back on the market in the early 1950s.

In 1953 The Navigators, a Christian ministry started in 1930s California, began looking for land to use as headquarters and a conference facility.  They entered into a partnership with Reverend Billy Graham to purchase Glen Eyrie for $340,000. After careful thought, Graham withdrew from the deal and turned the option to buy over solely to The Navigators.  At that point in the negotiation process, The Navigators had only six weeks to raise the $100,000 down payment, an amount that far exceeded their annual income. They sent fundraising letters to their supporters and began to pray. The generous response they received was overwhelming. In one letter a young woman described how she sold her wedding dress and wanted to give the proceeds to the Gen Eyrie fund, while her fiancé had sold his car for the campaign. Another woman sold the only piece of jewelry that she owned, and a taxi driver gave all the tip money that he had made in a month. In September 1953, with donations coming in at the very last minute, The Navigators came up with exactly enough money to purchase the Glen and signed the deal.

The Navigators’ work crews moved to Colorado Springs in the winter of 1953 and began to restore the buildings on the property. In an early example of adaptive reuse, they modified General Palmer’s Power Plant to accommodate staff offices.  The Carriage House has served numerous functions over the last sixty years. When John Crawford was Glen Eyrie Director, he took out the Stalls in the Carriage House and converted the space into carpentry and other shops. When Russ Reid became Director in 1970, the east wing was being used as a paint shop and for lawn maintenance and the rear room at the eastern end was the electrical shop. In the Johnson, Johnson & Roy Long Range Development Plan of 1984, Carl Johnson recommended that the Carriage House be adapted to a conference administration and reception center, with large shade tree and water basin in the courtyard.

During Dan Wooldridge’s tenure as Director, from 1993 to 1999, work in the Carriage House included repairing the roofs and courtyard and remodeling the kitchen. Wooldridge developed plans for renovating the Carriage House into premium guest rooms situated around a landscaped garden courtyard. This coincided with Restoration & Change: Stewardship at Glen Eyrie, the 1998 Master Plan for the Glen by Sebastian & Associates. This plan proposed that the Carriage House become conference housing for small executive groups and that the car park in front be removed. A new parking area would be situated to the east.

The Carriage House Archeological Survey was carried out by Suzanne Stone in 2004. This is a 46 page study that details the evolution of the building, identifying alterations to the original construction. Although not comprehensive, it is a helpful companion across the century to 2004. The Survey assumes that Palmer’s riding horses were stalled in what is now the Bookstore, whereas his carriage horses were kept in the Dining Room.

Restoration Project

In 2009,  the staff at Glen Eyrie undertook a multi-year restoration and repurposing of the Carriage House. In an excellent example of adaptive reuse, they sought to keep the historical integrity of the building while adapting it to fit the needs of their guests. During this process there were two main goals: to make the Carriage House a usable building for the modern age and to maintain the character of the building while bringing it up to code. In a long-range site plan, The Navigators sought to make the Carriage House the central business area for the property.  The plan for the old stable included a lobby for guests checking in for over-night stays, a bookstore and coffee shop, a space for the historic tours of the property, and meeting rooms. The staff wanted to preserve the character of the building and to make each of these renovations sympathetic to the Palmer era. The restoration process consisted of three main phases, beginning with the courtyard, followed by the renovation of the first floor, and finally the completion of the top floor.

During the 2005-2006 season the staff undertook the task of renovating the courtyard area of the Carriage House.  Prior to this renovation, the courtyard consisted of asphalt and gravel. The crew laid pavers and transformed this space into a visitor-friendly patio. On sunny days guests sit on the patio drinking coffee and soaking in the breath-taking scenery.

The second phase of the project began in 2008 with the remodeling of the ground floor. During the 1980s-1990s, The Navigators primarily used the rooms of the Carriage House for guest rooms and meeting space. As part of a long-range effort to concentrate all business with the public to the Carriage House, this second phase of the project included moving both the lobby for overnight guests and the Glen Eyrie bookstore from the castle into this building. The staff transformed a bare-bones meeting room into a beautiful lobby that welcomes visitors with historic photographs of the property and the Palmer family.  The space that had once been stalls for General Palmer’s horses became the bookstore.  Today guests can view the original rafters of the building, the historic windows, and the exposed original brickwork while sipping a cup of coffee in the bookstore cafe. The 1914 Black Horse Tavern dining room became a multi-purpose room that hosts large tour groups. The original stable doors and brickwork and keep the first floor renovations sympathetic to the Palmer era.

The third and final phase of the project began in the fall of 2009.  Staff members partnered with architect Dan McCalley of Abide Design and contractor Bryan Sherwood of Sherwood Construction for the initial design and planning. The work crew consisted of contractors, Glen Eyrie facilities staff, and skilled volunteers.  They gutted the second-floor bedrooms and began to reconstruct the space in accordance with the spirit of the original Palmer-era plans. The team rebuilt the structural support, installed a new flooring system, and restored the original hand-carved soffits. Over the years, the Carriage House had been divided into small guest rooms and this phase of construction restored the large, open spaces that once had served as Palmer’s Hayloft and Granary. These large spaces became meeting space for The Navigators and their guests.  In a nod to the nineteenth-century staff members of the Glen Eyrie property, the crew also restored the original Coachman’s Lounge, which now serves as a lounge for twenty-first century Glen staff.

The workers faced several challenges during this process.  The floor of the Hayloft had settled four inches over the years and it was necessary to re-support the floor.  The crew also found that post-Palmer era renovations had been hastily and poorly done. While the Palmer-era work was square and true, the later renovations had all kinds of structural problems, and our crews had to mitigate those in order to get back to the original quality of the building.

Energy efficiency was another challenge in the process. The crew wanted to maintain the character of the building by salvaging the original windows, but were concerned about the amount of energy that the windows let escape. They worked with a team to install nearly-invisible glass on the inside of the second-floor windows, allowing the original look of the windows to remain from the exterior while being energy efficient on the interior.  Additionally, the crew had to abandon the original plan to expose almost all of the brickwork on the second floor.  They liked the feel of the exposed brickwork on the upper floors but were faced with the reality of poor energy quality of so many uninsulated walls. In the end, they were able to keep a few exposed walls.

In the course of remodeling Carriage House upper, the crew salvaged almost all of the Southern Yellow Pine used as sub flooring.  Southern Yellow Pine is no longer widely available due to clear cut forestry practices over the last one hundred years.  Every piece of lumber was rotary stamped at the saw, from the “Bradley-Ramsey Lumber Company, Lake Charles, LA”.  The Bradley-Ramsey Company of Lake Charles was in operation from 1876 to 1906, the era of Palmer’s occupancy of Glen Eyrie.  After research to authenticate the lumber, the volunteers used a section of this lumber for a coat rack back board, which now hangs in the Coachman’s Lounge.

There were several lessons that the crew learned during this project. First of all, we learned that once we start tearing things apart we should be prepared for anything. The crew also came to appreciate the high quality of the Palmer-era construction and the amount of attention that his workers had paid to detail. The resulted in a very positive response from Glen Eyrie guests, who appreciate the warmth and charm of the historic building. This good reception has helped our staff rededicate themselves to the cause of preservation for the other buildings on the site.

The Navigators adapted the Carriage House for the needs of their twenty-first century guests, but the building also very much maintains its 1904 character. Most of the original leaded glass windows and several original doors remain. This restoration project is beneficial to the city of Colorado Springs because it preserves an important historic site – the estate of city founder General Palmer.

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