Colorado's High Castles

Red Stone Castle near Carbondale now operates as a boutique hotel. Photo courtesy of Red Stone Castle.

Red Stone Castle near Carbondale now operates as a boutique hotel. Photo courtesy of Red Stone Castle.

Colorado’s towering monuments to historic characters

 By Jordyn MacDonald

Mountains are not the only symbols that scrape the sky in colorful Colorado. Hidden among or near the state’s towering peaks are elaborate European-inspired castles built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Erika Warzel, state preservation planning manager at the Colorado History Center, said they “are not castles in the way that we think of real castles that are fortified and living spaces for kings in Europe.” 

Rather, the buildings were constructed to show off the permanence of organizations and the wealth of magnates during the early years of Colorado. 

A number of castles throughout the state are on the National Register of Historic Places. Some feature tours and host events, offering the perfect opportunities to celebrate contemporary gatherings while taking a step back in Colorado time. 

Westminster Castle overlooks downtown Denver from its perch near West 83rd Avenue and Federal Boulevard. Photo: © KitLeong / Adobe Stock

Westminster Castle overlooks downtown Denver from its perch near West 83rd Avenue and Federal Boulevard. Photo: © KitLeong / Adobe Stock

Westminster Castle

The suburb of Westminster is home to a castle that has featured education throughout its history. 

“Westminster University was built in 1892 by the Presbyterian church that wanted to develop the university and call it the Princeton of the West,” Warzel said.

Originally, Westminster University was in the town of Harris, but the town was renamed Westminster after the university in 1911. 

After becoming an all-male university in 1915, it almost closed because of the World War I draft. The only aspect of the university that survived was the law program, which merged with Denver University Law in the 1950s.

In 1920, the Christian group Pillar of Fire bought the structure and remains the owner. It currently operates as Belleview Christian School. The red, Richardsonian Romanesque-style castle, which penetrates the skyline for miles around, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Red Stone Castle

Settled into a hillside in Carbondale, the Red Stone Castle was built for John Osgood, a coal magnate who developed the Colorado Fuel Company.

In the early 1900s, Osgood was one of the wealthiest people in the United States and entertained J.D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Teddy Roosevelt at his estate. 

Prior to his castle’s construction, Osgood created the village of Red Stone to provide housing and other amenities for miners and their families. Warzel said Osgood hired the same architects to design the small village and the Red Stone Castle. Completed in 1903, the 23,000-square-foot castle was finished in a 16th century English architectural style. 

According to Warzel, the estate was closed in 1913 due to suspected financial troubles. In 1925, Osgood reopened the castle, where he died the year after.

After passing through numerous owners, the estate was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The castle, purchased in 2016 by Steve and April Carver, currently operates as a boutique hotel and offers tours. 

Cherokee Ranch and Castle is located in Sedalia and is surrounded by a ranch that hosts a plethora of wildlife. Photo courtesy of Cherokee Ranch and Castle.

Cherokee Ranch and Castle is located in Sedalia and is surrounded by a ranch that hosts a plethora of wildlife. Photo courtesy of Cherokee Ranch and Castle.

Cherokee Ranch and Castle

Cherokee Ranch and Castle in Sedalia, 35 miles south of Denver, includes a wildlife sanctuary thanks to Mildred “Tweet” Kimball’s work on acclimating a breed of Texas cattle to the thinner, colder Colorado air. 

Originally, Charles Alfred Johnson built the castle in Sedalia in the 1920s. Johnson was prominent in the Denver Chamber of Commerce and worked for the Denver Mountain Park System. Architect Burnham Hoyt was chosen to design the 10,000-square-foot estate.  

“Hoyt was kind of given free reign of the design, so he decided to emulate 16th century Scottish castles,” Warzel said. “He decided that he needed some masons that actually knew how to do the stone work that he wanted done, so he hired some Cornish mine workers, who were known for their stone craft.” 

The miners left their jobs in Wyoming to come and build the castle using stone from a nearby quarry on the property, Warzel said. 

Construction was finished in 1926. Johnson named it Charlford Castle after his son Charlie and his wife’s son Gifford.  

Johnson left in 1949, and the castle was sold to Tweet Kimball. Since becoming a wildlife sanctuary, the castle is available for tours and hosts weddings and other events. 

Glen Eyrie

In 1870, William Jackson Palmer picked the beautiful and then-empty landscapes of western Colorado Springs to build his castle. 

Just north of what is now Garden of the Gods is the land Palmer selected for his castle. Along with this castle, he also played a huge role in the founding of the town of Colorado Springs.

The magnificent structure, built in 1903 and 1904, features Tudor revival architecture. Later named Glen Eyrie, the castle has 67 rooms and more than 20 fireplaces. There was a bowling alley in the basement, and a balcony for an orchestra in the largest hall. 

It was also basically self-sustaining.

“(Palmer) had a dairy, granary, was raising cows and growing crops,” Warzel said.

She added that Palmer also opened his estate to tourists. Palmer wanted the drive up to the castle to snake through unique sandstone formations. 

After his death, Palmer’s daughters tried to donate the castle to the city but were denied due to high maintenance costs. The castle was purchased by the Navigators, a Christian ministry, in 1953 and has remained mostly unchanged to this day.

Glen Eyrie currently hosts tours, retreats and events such as tea parties and weddings.

Warzel said these castles are historic gems that deserve a visit. 

“These are the grandest and most visually prominent buildings that Colorado has,” Warzel said. “If people do not appreciate those, they are not going to appreciate the lesser-known historic places. This can be a great entry point for all people to appreciate historic architecture and the historic stories.”

Jordyn MacDonald is finishing up her English and history degrees at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.