Touring The Rural West Slope: The historic Redstone Castle continues to fascinate with its opulence
ABOUT THE REDSTONE CASTLE
The Castle in Carbondale is open seven days a week through October. There is one tour daily at 1:30 p.m. During winter, it is only open on weekends. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for seniors. Children under 5 are free. For more information, call (970) 963-9656, or check out the website as http://www.redstonecastle.us.
In 1893, Colorado Fuel and Iron Company owner, John Cleveland Osgood, was 42 years old, handsome, wealthy beyond his wildest dreams … and still single.
In search of a wife, he travelled to New York, where he met and married a young socialite named Nannie Irene de Belote, who wrote romance novels.
During their honeymoon out West, he put her up in the Hotel Colorado, and left her there while he went hunting. While he was away, she partied — so much so, the proprietors requested that the couple never return.
Snubbed, Osgood decided to build a house of his own that would rival the famous hotel.
The plans to build Cleveholm Manor, later renamed Redstone Castle, had taken form.
Work on the magnificent structure commenced in 1899, and it was completed in 1902. Unfortunately, the first Mrs. Osgood never got to see it; John divorced her in 1898 after learning she was having an affair.
“She’d been travelling on her own, back and forth to Europe,” according to Castle manager Susan McEvoy, “And the discovery of the other man was quite scandalous.”
Nevertheless, John soon married again. The second Mrs. Osgood, a 20-something Swedish Countess named Alma Shelgrem, did get to enjoy the opulent, 24,000 square foot home — at least until she divorced John in 1914.
She also helped spend millions on the decorating.
Designed to resemble an English Tudor hunting lodge, it is built out of sandstone, stands four stories tall, and has 42 rooms with 14 fireplaces. John’s family crest was even chiseled into the wall above the largest one.
Gesturing to the third-story balcony that overlooks the living room, Susan shares, “Alma used to look down from a ‘peering window’ at the guests, to see what the ladies were wearing. She changed her own outfit accordingly.”
At the turn of the century, “guests didn’t just come for a visit, or for the weekend; they came for the season.”
Arriving at the Redstone train station one mile away, they were driven to the castle in one of many elegant carriages owned by the couple.
“It stopped in this fully-enclosed area called the ‘porte cochere,’” she explains at the beginning of each tour. “Liverymen met the driver and held the horses while guests stepped out. Cold lemonade or warm brandy was offered, and steamer trunks were unloaded onto the elevator.” She gestures toward the area directly underneath the courtyard clock. “Over there.” By the time guests got to their rooms, “every dress and top hat had been unpacked and hung in the closets.”
Teams of horses, after being watered at a large, block-style trough (filled from the mouth of an ornate dragon) were then driven out through exit doors and down the U-shaped driveway to the stable, which had 25 stalls.
“It was easier that way, since carriages can be difficult to back up.”
The Russian Tea room-style dining area had its share of black-tie dinners and distinguished guests, which included Teddy Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and both John Sr. and John Jr. Rockefeller.
When not seated together at mealtimes, the male and female guests of Redstone Castle had their own, special gathering places. Ladies went to the “music parlor,” where they read, played cards, or picked tunes out on the piano. Furnishings there included an enormous, gilded, “diamond dust” mirror, and “If you hold a flashlight up to it, you can see the sparkles.” As for men, they had their own, special “smoking room” on the bottom floor, furnished with a billiard table, heavy furniture, and a deep fireplace.
“It was the only area where the second wife, Alma, permitted John to smoke his cigars,” although he also had a tiny porch off of his bedroom where he could smoke, as well.
If maids or butlers were needed for any reason, pull-cords, which rang bells in their quarters, hung in every room. But since the house was built with electricity, special buttons were discreetly installed behind certain doors, as well. (The house had access to a hydroelectric plant that was built in the nearby Crystal River.)
Such a large staff was needed to run the house that there was actually more space for servants than for guests. In fact, an entire wing of the Redstone Castle held only them.
What is most fascinating about Redstone Castle is that “few things have changed over the last century. This isn’t a museum — it’s a home,” Susan points out.
Pictures that hang on the walls, as well as those on display in the library, show that the interior looks almost exactly the same as when Osgood walked the halls. They also clearly illustrate the extreme decadence of the era: take note of the green-dyed elephant leather that papers that room.
“John was ruthless — at least, that’s how he’s been described. You have to remember that back in those days, there were no government regulations. There was no income tax. Fortunes could be made easily. It wasn’t breeding or family which gave a man his name; it was the amount of his money. An industrialist like John Osgood was literally treated like royalty.”
Part of the reason Osgood gained such a large fortune was his timing. He arrived in Colorado in 1882, “right after the Meeker Massacre. Treaties had been broken, so things had opened up for the whites.”
Because he liked cheap labor, Osgood fought against lowering the 12-hour workday that was common back then, as well as raising any wages.
He also opposed the formation of labor unions.
Consequently, the minors went on strike. They’d been living in the cheap housing he’d provided for them, but were forced into tents during the turmoil. Osgood hired thugs to stand against them in 1914, and when war between the two groups broke out 13 women and children were killed.
“Alma returned to Europe not long after the Ludlow Massacre, as it was called,” Susan concludes.
By 1922, however, Osgood had found yet a third young wife, this one named Lucile Reid. Already in his 70s when he married her, he only survived another two to three years more due to lung cancer. Lucile ended up inheriting the entire lot — which included 550 acres of land, a 5,000-square-foot carriage house, a gamekeeper’s lodge, a greenhouse, two railroads, and 36 coal camps.
Oddly enough, when he designed the Castle, John clearly expected to have a family. It has fourth floor living quarters for the nanny — although those rooms are located on the completely opposite side of the house, about as far from the parents as possible.
“Nannies raised children, of course,” Sue said dryly.
Leading the way past that section, she walks down a short, narrow staircase into the actual nursery. “There are no other doors here,” she adds with a little smile. “Kids would have had to slip past the nanny’s bed if they wanted to escape. That wouldn’t have been possible.”
Lucile tried her best to support the house by turning it into a resort. After weathering first the Depression, then WWII, she’d had enough by 1944 and sold out for $100,000.
Since then Redstone Castle has had a number of owners, along the way being revamped as a Bed & Breakfast, a dude ranch, a country club (with golf course), and a wedding venue. In the 1970s, it was nearly torn down to make room for condominiums.
It was foreclosed on three times, auctioned off, and even seized by the IRS.
Yet the beautiful building continues to stand — and it definitely continues to fascinate all those who tour through it.
“It’s the Colorado version of Downtown Abbey,” Susan notes proudly, referring to the highly popular PBS series about an enormous British home and the family which occupies it.
Originally from Massachusetts, Susan grew up in a historic town close to Boston and has always had a passion for the past.
“I came to Colorado in 1979, and started out in the restaurant industry,” she explains, becoming a river rafting guide along the way.
Susan also likes to ski, hike and ice climb, plus she writes for a local newspaper, the Crystal Valley Echo.
She started working at the Redstone in 1996, helping cater for the weddings that were held there. Over a 17 year period she “transitioned through different owners until becoming the tour coordinator.”
The current owner, real estate mogul Ralli Dimitrius, “wants to eventually reopen it as an exclusive hotel and resort. He is actively working on the zoning for that right now.”
If and when that happens, the Redstone Castle will no longer be available for tours, so “anyone who is interested in seeing it needs to come on over while they can.” ❖