We had been up to the top of Pike’s Peak (considered America’s Mountain) and all around it, so we thought we knew a lot about the town nestled at the foot of Pike’s Peak. We make frequent pilgrimages to Manitou Springs to collect water from our favorite spring, the Cheyenne Spring, and sample many of the others. We learned a lot of its colorful history and watched in horror when the fires in and around Manitou Springs made national headlines. We’ve eaten at most of the restaurants, and thought we knew the town pretty well. But we hadn’t been to one of its most prominent landmarks, Miramont Castle. Since we had seen most everything in and around Manitou, it was hard to believe there was anything resembling a castle in its midst. So, on one of our trips to fill our water jugs and faithfully stop at the Colorado Custard Company (no trip to Manitou is complete without it), we decided to check out the castle.
It turns out, there really IS a 14,000 square foot castle nestled at the foot of Pike’s Peak. It is a huge building located on Capitol Hill Avenue, just off the main drag in Manitou—I don’t know how we missed seeing it in the past. It has its own eclectic and interesting history, and makes for an interesting visit. We did not take a formal tour, but the lady at the desk did a remarkable job filling us in on what not to miss.
First of all, the name. “Miramont” means looking at the mountain; and in this case, the main mountain is Pike’s Peak. I’m not sure you have a really good view of Pike’s Peak from anywhere in Manitou, but every window in the castle does look out on some of the surrounding mountains. Built in Victorian times and able to boast of hosting presidents and the wealthy, the 42 rooms available to visit are replete with authentic Victorian furnishings. For those looking for a more savory experience than just a tour, the castle holds several opportunities to enjoy high tea in the magnificent Queen’s Parlour Tea Room which features Victorian fare made fresh daily.
Miramont Castle was built from 1895-97 as the personal residence of Father Jean Baptiste Francolon and his mother. Originally from France, Fr Francolon relocated to Manitou Springs for the sake of his health, and became the parish priest for Our Lady of Perpetual Help. His house at that time was located where the upper parking lot of the castle is today, and was donated to the Sisters of Mercy to be used as a sanitarium. He then built Miramont, but shortly thereafter the Francolons went back to France and never returned to Miramont. The sanitarium was destroyed by fire, so Miramont became the sanitorium after it was purchased by the Sisters of Mercy. In 1946 it was sold to private investors who divided it into apartments for soldiers returning from World War II, and was renamed “Castle Apartments”. Subsequently it fell into disrepair and neglect, and changed hands eleven times over the next thirty years until the Manitou Springs Historical Society saved it from condemnation by purchasing it and creating the museum that it is today.
The structure itself is really remarkable—all the floors are stepped up the side of a mountain so that each floor can open to the outside at ground level. It had all the luxuries of the time, including indoor plumbing, steam heat and electricity. Nothing was too good for the owner of this castle.
When you enter the castle and begin your self tour (in what is really the basement), the first thing you see is a tribute to firefighters, and what is considered a Fire Museum. It shows fire memorabilia from 1880. In the days of the castle, this was where the furnace was and where coal was stored.
From here, you mount a grand sweeping staircase to the next level where you will see the Queen’s Parlour Tea Room and a great hall to the left. In the hall, you see the music alcove, a large Moorish arch above, and a 20-ton red sandstone fireplace. You also visit an impressive dining room and serving kitchen with walls two feet thick. This was originally an exterior wall before the east wing was added.
On your right, there are a series of small and unusual rooms. There is the entrance to the chairlift stairwell, as well as a small locked closet with glass so you can observe the only remaining original wallpaper. The wallpaper could be lethal if consumed, as the pattern was set with an arsenic compound so that the color would not run.
From there, you turn into a remarkable eight-sided chapel, which was originally the dining room. When you go through the brightly lit chapel you are at the base of the grand staircase, and ascend to the third floor.
Here you find a vast seven-sided solarium to the right, with a roof with an 18’ crown. The original glass ceiling (long gone) provided the necessary light to perform required surgery when it was a sanitorium. Here you have access to a public restroom, which was originally a covered veranda.
Their newest exhibit is called “The Spoils of War” and is as fascinating as it is disconcerting. The glass cases are filled with artifacts from the Civil War to present day wars. Included in the displays are a great deal of Nazi memorabilia, which somehow seems at odds with the serentity of the beautiful castle and its pristine location.
After the requisite visit to the gift shop you see the servants’ quarters, which are predictably small, and emanate from their own separate cramped staircase. The most interesting aspect of this part of the castle is that these quarters were not considered living space at the time the castle was built, and were not even shown on the building plans, and thereby not taxed.
You may then go back through the gift shop on the top level and exit to the Victorian Garden, along with a Tuberculosis Hut on the upper parking area. There is not much to the garden in the winter, but there are seating areas with nice views of surrounding mountains and foothills.
All in all, it was worth the small price of admission to wander through a truly remarkable and nearly hidden castle at the base of the most famous mountain in America, Pike’s Peak. It, along with the myriad of springs in the town, is a reminder that Manitou Springs was once believed to contain considerable “healing” resources. Now, it is a fun place to visit and collect wonderful spring water.